For a team that is scheduled to play more than 40 percent of its matches against nationally ranked teams, losing its first two does not sound like a great way to start the season. But Penn field hockey — despite not being ranked itself — is not intimidated by its schedule.
“We have had a similar schedule my last three years and have beaten ranked teams in the past," senior goalie Ava Rosati said. "Princeton and Harvard were both ranked last year as well, and those games were one goal games. We are right there with them and feel that every game on our schedule is completely winnable.”
Coach Colleen Fink has a similar mindset when it comes to competing against teams who, on paper, look to be out of their league.
“I never take the coaches poll too seriously. Just because we haven’t been ranked in that poll doesn’t mean anything too defining in my eyes. The RPI poll has had us within the top-25 for the past several years. It’s arbitrary and it doesn’t have an effect on the way I look at this team.”
Indeed, the rankings do not have an effect on how Fink looks at other teams either.
“We try to prepare for every team the same," she said. "We always have full scouts on every opponent. Minor tweaks and adjustments to our game plan are possible, but for the most part we generally prepare the same for each team and try to play to our strengths and individual style."
The Quakers believe their strengths and style are good enough not just to compete with elite teams, but to beat them. That belief means they are confident that they can live up to the high expectations they have set for themselves.
“Everyone from our coaches to our freshmen have really high expectations for the season and are focused on holding ourselves accountable and staying disciplined during practices and games — I wouldn’t bet against us for the Ivies," Rosati said.
Coach Fink is thinking a little bigger than Ivies.
“I’m not one to make predictions, but in the big picture, we want to be top 15 in the country. That puts us in a good position to get an NCAA tournament bid and, in that case, would put us in a good standing in the Ivy League as well.”
While the team has done little this season to back up these predictions, Penn's performance in past years under Fink suggests good reason for optimism. Last season, the only Ivy teams Penn lost to — Princeton and Harvard — were both ranked, and both losses were by a single goal. Had a couple bounces gone a bit differently, the Quakers may well have gone dancing last season.
Things may not have started on the right foot for Penn this season, but with the team's difficult schedule, the Quakers will have plenty of opportunities to turn things around and achieve their lofty ambitions.