PRINCETON, N.J. — Playing in arguably its biggest game of the past three years, Penn field hockey gave its best on Saturday afternoon. But sometimes, your best isn’t quite good enough.
Facing No. 5 Princeton with an opportunity to earn the highest-ranked win of coach Colleen Fink’s nine-year career, the unranked Quakers led at the half, but came up just short in a heartbreaking 3-2 loss. Since Penn needed a win to be considered for an at-large spot in the NCAA Tournament, the loss ends the Quakers’ season.
“It’s frustrating, and I think we’re right there with any team,” Fink said. “We’re capable of competing and winning and being really successful, and that’s why we play the schedule that we play. We clearly have a couple of things to work on, but I think we’re on the verge of becoming a premier, nationally recognized program.”
The Quakers (9-8, 5-2 Ivy) were playing their best foe since an 8-0 loss to current No. 1 UNC, but one wouldn’t have known it at all based on how the game opened.
Only seven minutes in, junior forward Alexa Schneck poked a loose ball past Princeton goalie Grace Baylis. And even after Princeton (13-4, 6-1) evened things up with a well-executed short corner play, Schneck came back to give the Quakers the lead at the half, deflecting a long pass from senior Sofia Palacios into the net.
“Our strategy was to have striking balls because of their wider press, and we found the gaps really well,” said Schneck, who finished second in the conference with eight goals in seven Ivy games. “They marked very tight, so I think it was easier to back-door them when a striking ball came in, like the [second goal].”
Penn led in both goals and shots in the opening half, but the Tigers dominated time of possession after the break. Princeton scored two straight goals, the latter of which came on a rebound with 14 minutes left, to put Penn in desperation mode the rest of the way.
The Quakers caught a break when Princeton defender Annabeth Donovan received a yellow card with five minutes left, and Penn then went empty-net for the final three minutes, but the equalizer never came. Even after senior defender Paige Meily made a fantastic body save with 1:21 to go to keep the deficit at one, the Quakers couldn’t cross midfield in the final minute, forcing their upset bid to come up just short.
“We knew we were coming in here ready to fight, and we knew we were ready to win,” senior defender Karen Seid said. “We put it all out there, so there was nothing more we could’ve done. We didn’t want it to end this way, but we put our hearts on that field, and there’s nothing more you can ask.”
Despite the loss, Penn finished with five Ivy League wins for the first time since 2015, and only the third time in Fink’s career. The Quakers have now finished in the league’s top three in five of the past six years, though they haven’t won a title since 2004.
Because No. 6 Harvard (16-1, 7-0) beat Columbia on Saturday, the Crimson clinched the league championship, while the Tigers beat out Penn for second place.
“It’s great momentum for us to move forward. The two games we lost were by one goal,” Schneck said. “One more goal, and we could be Ivy champs.”
Having scored 10 of Penn’s 22 goals this season, Schneck will be seizing an even greater leadership role with next year’s group, which will return seven of 11 starters from a team that came so close to breaking Penn’s title skid.
And if, or when, the Quakers do break that barrier, they won’t be forgetting those who laid the groundwork for it.
“The stuff we saw today was incredible, and that’s what we need moving forward,” Schneck said. “These five incredible seniors have taught us a lot, and they definitely left their imprint on the program.
“We just have to keep working harder, and it’ll come.”