Most people thought that a conference championship contest between the two regular season co-champions of the Ivy League would go back and forth.
But Penn and Princeton women’s lacrosse took that to an entirely new level.
Yet in a game that included a staggering seven ties after the opening goal was scored, including four in the second half, the No. 2 seed Quakers never could quite finish their cat-and-mouse game with the No. 1 host. Penn never led in the contest, and Princeton scored the game’s final three goals, earning a 13-10 victory and the accompanying automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament.
“It was a lot of fight, and I think it was a lot different from the last game [when Princeton beat Penn, 21-8, in the regular season],” Penn coach Karin Corbett told Philly College Sports after. “I think that today, we came out to attack and to win, and we played that way. So I was really proud of my team, after being beat so badly, to come in, get behind, and still feel that they can compete for all 60 minutes.”
With the win, Princeton becomes the first school in Ivy League history to win the conference tournament four times. Entering Sunday, both Penn and Princeton had three titles to their respective names, with the other six schools in the conference combining for only two.
And in the latest edition of the epic rivalry that includes the conference’s undisputed top two programs of the 21st century, it was clear that Sunday afternoon would be yet another instant classic from the onset.
Only 11 days after demolishing Penn in the regular season, No. 15 Princeton (12-5, 6-1 Ivy) seemed ready to carry that momentum by building a 2-0 lead in the opening three minutes. But immediately after, Penn sophomore Gabby Rosenzweig put up a trio of goals in a five-minute span, evening the score at three apiece only 10 minutes into the game.
The tone of the game looked like a shootout at that point, but the defenses took over from there — and calling the contest physical would be an understatement. Back and forth the two teams went, constantly bodying one another for loose balls and committing fouls on both ends, with the one constant being that No. 13 Penn (13-4, 6-1) would never get ahead.
After the Quakers cut the lead to 7-6 at halftime, the second half saw tie scores at 7-7, 8-8, 9-9, and 10-10, putting a rowdy Princeton crowd on the edge of its seats as crunch time approached.
Tied at 10 apiece entering the last 10 minutes, though, it was the host who would find another gear to boost themselves to a season sweep of Penn. Princeton goalie Sam Fish made several clutch saves to keep Penn’s comeback effort at bay, finishing with 11 stops compared to Penn’s Mikaila Cheeseman’s eight. On the other end, Princeton sophomore Tess D’Orsi scored two goals in that final stretch, carrying the Tigers to a game-ending 3-0 run.
In addition to D'Orsi's four goals, junior Elizabeth George and freshman Kyla Sears also had hat tricks, as the three stars combined to match Penn's total of 10. And though Penn won the faceoff draw 17-8 (after losing it, 26-6, in Friday's semifinal win over Dartmouth), Princeton's physicality forced 16 Penn turnovers.
“It’s a couple of things. One, we didn’t finish. We had some wide open looks, we didn’t finish. Our eight-meters [free position shots] weren’t very good, and our ground balls,” Corbett said. “I told our team, those three things were our difference makers. I thought our defense played well, but we weren’t getting second chances on the attack, and on those ground balls on both ends of the field, they were all over that.”
Princeton moves to 2-1 all-time against Penn in the Ivy League championship game, with all three games coming in the past five postseasons.
Speaking of postseasons, while Princeton has earned the Ivy League’s automatic bid, Penn earned an at large spot to the NCAA Tournament, where the Quakers will hit the road to play against No. 19 Penn State (10-9, 3-3 Big Ten) at Stony Brook. This will be a rematch of the 2016 national quarterfinals, where the unseeded Nittany Lions upset the No. 7 Quakers, 8-4.
The winner of the matchup between the in-state rivals will then play Stony Brook (19-0, 7-0 America East), which received a controversially low No. 5 seed despite finishing as Division I's lone undefeated team. Before that, though, Penn's first round matchup will take place at a time to be determined on Friday. The full NCAA Tournament bracket can be seen here.