The Quakers will certainly have their work cut out for them this weekend.
Penn field hockey will open its season against second-ranked University of North Carolina and No. 14 Wake Forest, as part of the ACC and Ivy League Conference Crossover.
Penn has lost to North Carolina (2-0) in each of the past two seasons, so hopefully the third time will be the charm for the Red and Blue. The other matchup versus Wake Forest (1-1) will mark the first time that the two teams have ever met.
North Carolina has already started the season hot, bouncing two top-twenty teams in No. 5 Michigan (0-2) and No. 20 Iowa (1-1). History consistently repeats itself for the Tar Heels, as the team has either won it all or finished runner-up in the NCAA tournament six out of the past twelve years.
While offense is certainly an important part of the game, the Quakers have been prioritizing improving defense.
“We’ve also been focusing on very patient defense and not just diving in, because if we dive in they will just go around us since they are a very skilled team,” junior center forward Alexa Schneck said.
As for Wake Forest, its comeback upset of Michigan this past Saturday proves that it will be a tough opponent come tournament time. Since their early exit to Maryland in last year's NCAA Tournament, the Demon Deacons have been playing with a chip on their shoulder.
The home field advantage of Ellen Vagelos Field, coupled with the opportunity to compete against probable deep-run NCAA Tournament teams, is exhilarating for a squad still working to find its identity after losing All-American and four-time First Team All-Ivy member Alexa Hoover.
“We actually gained nine freshman this year, and they have all stepped up,” Schneck said. “Our team has been extremely strong. [Hoover] was extremely talented, but we still are as competitive a team in terms of Ivy and NCAA.”
Although Hoover won’t be suiting up this season, she will be gracing the sideline as the team's new Director of Operations for the 2018-19 season.
Entering this weekend, the team knows that it can make great strides even without picking up a win.
“Just knowing that we can hang with No. 2 and No. 14 in the nation would just be a huge confidence booster and definitely lead us to success in our other long-term goals," Schneck said.
For the Quakers, those long-term goals involve claiming their first Ivy League title since 2004. Experiences against stacked competition this weekend and a grueling schedule moving forward make Penn field hockey an intriguing team to be watched this fall.