That was a close one.
Narrowly escaping the clutches of unranked Vermont, No. 4 Penn men’s lacrosse found a way to secure its ninth straight win of the season in an unexpected 12-10 nail-biter.
Freshman midfielder Sam Handley came up clutch for the Quakers (9-3, 6-0 Ivy), netting two of his four goals in the last seven minutes of the game to give Penn its final two-goal advantage.
“[Handley] has steadily gained confidence and grown his role,” coach Mike Murphy said. “He continues to do things very well and at a very high level of consistency.”
Despite Handley’s heroics, Vermont (7-6, 4-2 America East) had many opportunities to pull off an upset or at least tie the game late, especially after a Penn turnover with less than a minute and a half remaining. The Catamounts, however, were unable to capitalize, giving the Red and Blue the win.
The Quakers, now finished with the regular season play, will roll into next week’s Ivy League Tournament at Columbia with a lot of momentum and NCAA Championship hopes.
Penn currently shares the longest active winning streak in Division I men’s lacrosse with No. 1 Penn State, which defeated Penn earlier in the season by a single goal.
Besides Penn maintaining its nine-game hot streak, junior attackman Adam Goldner, who contributed two goals in the victory, made history, netting his 46th score of the season. Goldner set a Penn record for goals in a season and has now scored the ninth most goals of any Quaker all-time with 85. He is also on a 21-game scoring streak.
“We’ve been around for 119 years, so [Goldner’s record] is not insignificant,” Murphy said.
Multiple Quakers filled up the record books in the win, with senior attackman Simon Mathias also extending his goal-scoring streak to 32, which currently leads the nation. Mathias also holds the nation’s second-longest point-scoring streak, which spans the entirety of his 55-game career.
“It’s not surprising that [Mathias] has a streak, and it’s not surprising that he’s working his way up our all-time list of goals scored and points scored,” Murphy said. “His value for us this year is even greater than his point contribution. His leadership has been tremendous.”
The sheer talent of this Penn team has undoubtedly carried it to new heights this season, but the ability of the Quakers to spread the ball around and create opportunities might be the deciding factor heading into the postseason.
Penn’s team-oriented framework was on display against Vermont, as the team's first four goals came from four different players. Furthermore, the Quakers have shown a knack for finding the open man throughout the season, with close to 60% of their goals coming off assists.
While the game did demonstrate what has worked for Penn all season, it also shed a light on the team’s weaknesses, specifically turnovers. The Quakers finished with six more turnovers than the Catamounts with seven of their 17 total being forced by Vermont.
This problem has plagued the Quakers, who have committed 20 more turnovers than their opponents and forced 10 fewer on the season.
Fortunately for the team, Penn’s efficiency on offense has so far outweighed their issues with maintaining possession, but as the stakes are heightened and the competition becomes fiercer, the Quakers will have to find a way to protect the ball even more.
“We’re not going to be perfect; we’re not trying to be perfect,” Murphy said. “But those are areas we’ll have to shore up before the Ivy Tournament next week.”
Next up on the schedule is Brown in the semifinals of the four-team tournament, which will also feature Yale and Cornell.
Penn’s confidence is certainly peaking at the right time.
“We can play with anybody,” Murphy said.
Welcome to championship season.