There is nothing stopping Penn men's lacrosse from winning the NCAA Tournament.
Going into this weekend's Ivy League Tournament, the Quakers were clearly the favorite with their perfect record in Ancient Eight play. Their win in the semifinals over Brown came as no surprise, but the real challenge for this team was sure to come in the final against Yale. The Quakers went up against the No. 2 team in the nation and came out with a 12-11 win. Looking at the score, the game was close, but it felt like the Quakers were ahead and held control the entire game. There was no point when it seemed like the team might lose.
The idea of a team not losing a game since early March — and then to have it culminate in a Ivy League Tournament win — is an amazing storyline that any team would dream of. For me, it felt too good to be true. Before the championship game, I was convinced that there was no way that a team could go on this great of a run and have it lead to an Ivy Tournament title. Maybe I’m a pessimist, but I didn’t believe that there could be such a perfect story for this group.
But the Quakers proved me wrong.
Looking up and down the lineup, the team’s versatility is what makes it successful. If one player has a tough outing, there is another teammate there to pick up the slack. In the semifinal game, junior faceoff specialist Kyle Gallagher won 15 of the 29 he took from the X: a good game but not the dominance he is accustomed to. The extra possessions for Brown could have cost Penn the game, but senior goalie Reed Junkin’s 16 saves meant that the Quakers were able to hang on.
Freshman midfielder and Ivy League Rookie of the Year Sam Handley, who had three goals on Friday, had a quieter game in the championship with no goals and only one assist. But the beauty of this team is that Handley's teammates were there to back him up, as attackmen Sean Lulley and Adam Goldner each had three goals to help boost the Quakers’ offense.
Both of the Red and Blue’s victories in the tournament were by one goal. These games were almost too close for comfort and decided in the final minutes. I’m sure that Penn would’ve liked to win by a healthier margin, but I think these close wins are fueling the team.
Despite these close calls, the team continues to win. Each and every time, the Quakers find a way to put another W on the board. More than that, they are able to look at what they can improve on, knowing they have another game ahead of them to tighten up any miscues. In the upcoming NCAA Tournament, for example, they will look to limit their turnovers, as against Yale they had more turnovers than goals, with 15.
More than anything, these close wins are giving the team confidence. The players are confident in themselves and in each other. They are confident that they can compete in these tight games and win. Late one-goal leads and tied games don’t scare this team. The Quakers know that they have the skill and mental fortitude to come out on top on the biggest of stages.
For the past two months, this team has been unbeatable, and with each win, the Red and Blue are becoming more and more unstoppable. It’s hard to see any team beating them in the NCAA Tournament. With Penn's versatility, momentum, and confidence, a national championship is in the team’s grasp.