Go ahead and make it 13. Thirteen consecutive bids to the NCAA Tournament for Penn women’s lacrosse, that is.
With the fifth longest active streak of NCAA bids nationwide, Penn (12-5, 5-2 Ivy) will hope to show just how good they really are in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday. They will face Georgetown (11-8, 3-2 Big East) at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY.
This season has been filled with emerging successes from freshmen Michaela McMahon and Taylyn Stadler, strong defensive performances from senior Katy Junior, and many goals from the offensive trio of sophomore Zoe Belodeau and juniors Erin Barry and Gabby Rosenzweig.
“This team is definitely different than past teams. You can tell we’re a very young team,” Belodeau said. “I wouldn’t say we’re an inexperienced team. I think we work really hard to be prepared and to fix our mistakes, but we’re a young team that just has a lot of passion for this game.”
Unfortunately, the Quakers’ regular season came to a bitter end with a tough loss against Princeton in the Ivy Tournament Championship last Sunday. However, they will hope to redeem themselves in their postseason play.
Last time the Quakers played the Hoyas this past March, they had a narrow victory. Tied near the end of the second half, the game came down to a goal by Belodeau on an assist from Rosenzweig. Junior goalie Mikaila Cheeseman had an important save in the final seconds of the game, preventing Georgetown from tying the score and securing an 8-7 win for Penn.
Though Penn had a close contest against Georgetown earlier this season, they have been preparing diligently for this week’s game.
“We’re pretty familiar with the team, but there’s definitely a lot of film that we’ve watched for the game that we needed [in order] to fix certain mistakes. We’ve just kind of worked on practicing playing in a high intensity way,” Belodeau said. “We practiced certain skills that we need to get down because they play such a specific defense, and we practiced playing together on defense against their high-drivers.”
Combined, Barry, Belodeau, and Rosenzweig have scored 109 goals this season, making for a strong offensive front. This will be important against a tight Hoya defense. Led by junior defender Noelle Peragine and senior goalie Haelle Chomo, Georgetown’s defense will definitely challenge Penn’s offense.
“Georgetown plays a very high pressure, zone defense, so it really takes our attack working together and moving the ball, having really quick touches, looking for big balls across the eight [meter],” Belodeau said. “We really have to focus on just going back to fundamentals, just quick catches and throws.”
On the defensive end, Cheeseman is a huge asset for the Quakers. She has a save percentage of .464, having had 122 saves in the regular season. Senior defender and captain Katy Junior has been a leader for the Quakers throughout the season, and her performance in Friday's game will likely be integral to the result.
Leadership from seniors like Junior has bolstered Penn’s play this season. Though many younger members have stepped up on the field, it was the upperclassmen who helped the team truly thrive.
“We have two amazing captains. Katy and [Lauren O’Mara] really have carried this team with such grace. Even though a few games didn’t end up how we wanted them to, they were really just so quick to pick us all back up, get us refocused, and ready for the next move,” Belodeau said. “I really think that our senior class, and just the upperclassmen as a whole, have been such great leaders and set such great examples [of] what this program really means and what hard work and picking each other up really looks like."
Penn has won against Georgetown in their past six matchups, but this Friday’s game holds a lot of weight. There is fierce competition in the NCAA Tournament against the best teams in the country.
“I think with the bracket that they gave us, there’s Georgetown, then hopefully we have Syracuse, then we’ll go from there. I can see us going pretty far. We definitely have the drive for it,” Belodeau said.
With hopes of advancing to the next round, Penn will undoubtedly show up ready to play with intensity on Friday. If they win, they will advance to the next round of the Tournament, which will take place on Sunday against Syracuse.
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