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Freshman attack Julia Russo has made an immediate impact for Penn field hockey, leading the team with nine shots on goal.

Credit: Chase Sutton

Penn field hockey is back in action at home this weekend against Ivy League foe Harvard and City Six competitor Temple.

Coming off of a 1-0 shutout of Cornell and a painful 2-1 loss to No. 6 Syracuse, No. 19 Penn (4-4) will face an uphill battle against No. 8 Harvard (6-1), who crushed Yale, 6-0, in its Ivy opener this past weekend. The day after playing Harvard, the Quakers will look to get their fourth win in four years over Temple (2-7).

Despite last year’s lopsided 6-0 loss to Harvard, coach Colleen Fink is optimistic about the team’s chances this time around. She noted that on the way up to Harvard last season, the team learned they had lost their starting goalkeeper to an ACL tear, resulting in then-sophomore Ava Rosati's first start for the Red and Blue. 

“This year, we have a totally different set of circumstances," Fink said. “Going into the Syracuse game and leaving it, my mindset is that this team can play any team on any given day. I think we are very talented, we work incredibly hard, and if we tighten up simple execution, we will find more success.”

Her optimism is based on the solid performances of many of the players: the Quakers’ defense, rich in experience with the likes of returners Karen Seid, Paige Meily (2017 honorable All-Ivy selection), Kelsey Mendell, Reese Vogel and Katelyn Mark, has shown grit and determination against highly-ranked opposition. 

Rosati has also become a sturdy mainstay in goal for Penn, making 41 saves and conceding 17 goals this season. Eight of the goals were conceded against No. 1 North Carolina, meaning that the Quakers have maintained an extremely tight-knit defense by giving up only nine goals in the other seven games played.

The offense has also rallied around each other as a team, with all players, old and new, delivering impressive performances to quickly diminish thoughts of any sort of “void” left by 2018 graduate Alexa Hoover, who is Penn field hockey’s all-time highest goal scorer. One of the new stars happens to be senior Rachel Mirkin, who has scored three goals and assisted on one this year. Two of her goals were game-winners against then-No. 14 Wake Forest and Villanova.

“We are a great team and have improved a lot this season already," Mirkin said. “I think [Hoover] was a great player, but we have been working very well as a team and have a lot of depth. We are very confident, and just need to keep putting in the work to get the results we want.”

Mirkin had scored three goals during the entirety of her Penn career before this season.

The Quakers also seem to be building experience on the fly, as freshmen Julia Russo and Maddy Fagan have broken into the starting line up, with the former scoring her first collegiate goal, unassisted, in the thriller against Syracuse. 

“No matter what, you always have to work hard to get to where you want to go," Russo said. "One of the biggest things that has helped me is the team; it’s a whole team effort and everyone just helps each other out.”

With confidence brimming from a strong showing against Syracuse, and the ever-growing faith in the talent and potential of a young team, the 41st meeting between Penn and Harvard will definitely set the tone for the rest of Ivy play. 

And despite Penn's losing record against Temple, the Quakers expressed confidence that the experience gained from a tough schedule has given them an edge ahead of their clash with the Owls. Fink echoed her players ahead of their big weekend.

“I think we are capable and are right there with the best and the brightest. We just need to keep on working and attacking, and we can beat any team any day.”