The last time Penn men’s lacrosse was the Ivy League champion, coach Mike Murphy was still playing college lacrosse for Duke.
“Whew, that makes me feel old,” Murphy said with a laugh.
Thirty-one years later, Murphy was on the sidelines when the Quakers made history by capturing their fifth Ivy League title in program history. Despite being picked in some preseason polls to finish in the bottom half of the conference, No. 5 Penn dominated Dartmouth on Saturday in a 22-6 contest to capture its first outright Ivy League title since 1986 and the third in program history.
“I don’t think we spend too much time looking at those polls, whether we’re at the bottom of them or the top of them,” Murphy said. “I think the main reason we’re here today is because our seniors understand the importance of focusing on the work, ourselves, and improving daily by taking it one game at a time.”
On Saturday afternoon, Penn (8-3, 6-0 Ivy) outshot the Big Green (2-10, 0-5), 64-27, while winning 26-of-31 faceoff opportunities. Junior attackman Adam Goldner chipped in five goals while freshman midfielder Sam Handley added four of his own.
“It’s important to win such a high percentage of faceoffs, but we also operate at a selfless pace,” Murphy said. “When we score, we get the ball back and generate a shot pretty quickly. We also played great defense, had good clears and ride-backs, and that got us a lot of offensive success.”
The Big Green opened the scoring on a goal by sophomore attackman George Prince, but Penn senior midfielder Tyler Dunn found senior attackman Simon Mathias, who evened the score on a man-down opportunity. Dunn found Handley three minutes later to give the Red and Blue their first lead of the game — one that they would not give up for the remainder of the game.
Penn continued its scoring to take a 5-1 lead to cap off the first quarter. In the second, junior attackman and leading Big Green scorer Ben Martin slipped by the defense and buried a goal in the top right part of the net to stop the five-goal Quaker run. Goldner answered just 38 seconds later, igniting a 7-2 run to send the Red and Blue into halftime with a 12-4 lead.
“A lot of our runs were thanks to [junior faceoff man] Kyle Gallagher, who was pulling off some acrobatic moves that I’ve never seen before,” Dunn said. “It was also because of our ability to share the ball and not really care about our egos or anything, and just letting the ball come to everyone.”
As the reserves entered the game, cheers began to sound on the benches, and it was clear that the Red and Blue were going to become outright Ivy League champions for the first time in 33 years.
“I think a lot of our success is due to our personnel, since we were scoring goals with our third and fourth midfield lines and making really nice plays, and also because this team embraces the pace at which coach [Mike] Abbott’s offense operates,” Murphy said. “I’ve been telling these guys all year: This is the best and deepest team that I’ve had in my 10 years here.”
Murphy noted that the team improved on the defensive side — something he stressed that the team needed to work on after last week’s win at Harvard.
“We really played better as a team today, and that was the focus for us,” Murphy said. “We still had a couple lapses today defensively, and we still have some things we need to work on, but by and large, we played better defense. Our whole M.O. this year has been improvement, so that’s gonna be our focus.”
The game also marked the final regular season game at Franklin Field for the team’s seniors, including Dunn and goalie Reed Junkin.
Next up, the Quakers will travel to Wilton, Conn. to take on Vermont to finish off regular season play. Their sights remain set on the first week of May, when they'll travel to Columbia's Kraft Field for the Ivy League Tournament. Though the Quakers had already clinched the No. 1 seed in the tournament, today's win provides them with even more momentum heading into next month.