Start fast. Finish strong.
In front of a large and raucous Franklin Field crowd, Penn men’s lacrosse put on a show, defeating Army, 13-8, in the first round of the NCAA Lacrosse Tournament.
The Quakers (12-3, 6-0 Ivy) came out on fire, scoring five goals in the opening frame while keeping the Black Knights (13-5, 5-3 Patriot) scoreless.
From that point onward, Army demonstrated its mettle, and the game tightened up considerably, with the Quakers perpetually hanging on to their initial lead despite repeated Army advances.
But ultimately, the Quakers proved to be too much for their opponents, as the sheer talent on the offensive end was put on display throughout the game.
Leading the charge was senior captain Simon Mathias, who was matched up with Army All-American defenseman Johnny Surdick throughout the contest. Not to be intimidated by any matchup, Mathias dodged early and often, scoring four goals and adding an assist.
Joining him on the offensive side were senior midfielder Alex Roesner and junior attackman Adam Goldner, each of whom finished with hat tricks.
Contributions were equally spread out on the less glamorous side of the field, as the Red and Blue defense was suffocating for most of the game.
Matched up against star attackman Brendan Nichtern, junior defenseman Mark Evanchick showed why he is one of the best covermen in the nation, holding Army’s top scorer to zero points. Senior goalie Reed Junkin did his part as well, tallying nine saves, including a few from point break range.
Adding to the defensive mastery was the play of Penn’s midfielders. Senior captain Tyler Dunn was all over the field as usual, clearing the ball, scrapping for ground balls, and sparking transition. However, he was by no means alone. Seniors Joe Licciardi and Jared Warner, along with junior Matt McIlwrick and freshmen BJ Farrare and Piper Bond, were potent both in transition and off the ground.
However, even with all of those offensive and defensive stalwarts, no Penn player contributed as directly to the win as did Kyle Gallagher.
The junior faceoff man was absolutely dominant, granting his teammates possession after possession, winning 22-of-25 draws on the day. Against a defense as strong and fast as Army’s, those extra possessions were critical.
“Kyle is obviously extremely talented, and we’re thankful to have him,” Dunn said of the transfer from Hofstra. “Coming in this year — joining our culture — has given him a lot of confidence, and we have a lot of confidence in him every time he steps to the [faceoff] X.”
According to coach Mike Murphy, Gallagher was instrumental in maintaining the lead throughout the game, allowing for his offense to respond to any Army goal and thus halt the opponent’s momentum.
“Getting the lead, combined with the amount of faceoffs we were winning, allowed us to dictate the pace,” Murphy said. “When you have the lead and are winning faceoffs, you are able to put a lot of pressure on the other team and really maintain control. … It makes it hard for them to come back.”
Although on-field contributors are to be expected, the Quakers may have gotten an extra boost from those cheering them on in the stands.
“Having the fanbase that we had today improved our pace of play to say the least,” Dunn said.
When speaking on the win and the season as a whole, Murphy is quick to give credit to his seniors.
“Our seniors and our leadership group are what won us that game,” Murphy said. “The work ethic that those guys have displayed all week, not so much in terms of sweating and running, but in terms of leadership and focus; they understood how important this was. They respected Army and knew how good they were, and they have really done it all year. They have driven this process for us.”
With the win, the Quakers advance to the NCAA Quarterfinals for a matchup with No. 5 Yale on Sunday. After having beaten the Bulldogs twice already this year, Penn will travel to Hartford, Conn. with hopes of a trifecta.
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