Facing three of the best teams in the country, especially to start the season, is enough to strike fear into any team.
Coming off of its first victory of the season last weekend, Penn men's lacrosse will play its first game at Franklin Field to face No. 2 Penn State on Saturday. The Quakers (1-1), who rank sixth in the nation, are heading into their third straight top-10 matchup to begin their season after close games against No. 4 Maryland and No. 10 Duke.
In their short season so far, Penn has been led by a high-powered offense, averaging 14.5 goals per game. Though its front line features many skilled players, Penn’s attack has been paced by junior Sean Lulley, who leads the team in scoring with 10 goals in the first two contests. Lulley attributes his early season success to his teammates’ vision and strategy.
“We work best as a unit, so the other guys do all the hard lifting and luckily, I’m just in the right spot at the right time, and I’m able to capitalize when I get the ball,” Lulley said.
After falling to Maryland in their season opener, the Quakers were able to make clutch plays and secure a 14-11 victory over Duke last weekend. Lulley provided a career-high six goals, and a goal by freshman midfielder James Shipley in the middle of the fourth quarter sparked a late Quaker run, preserving a victory over the Blue Devils.
This weekend, Penn will host one of the best teams in the country, in-state rival Penn State. The Nittany Lions were ranked first in the country until their loss last week against Yale, and are led by one of the NCAA’s top offenses. Averaging 16 goals per game, Penn State poses a unique challenge for the Quaker defense. Coach Mike Murphy has some strategies in mind which could help the Quakers temper Penn State.
“A lot of [Penn State’s] goals are assisted, so we have to be very good off the ball individually [on defense] and very good in terms of how our team defense plays together when we need to slide or recover and match up,” Murphy said.
Murphy also suggested that stopping the Nittany Lion attack will require keeping the ball away from them, mainly through controlling faceoffs. Penn senior Kyle Gallagher has set numerous Penn records in taking faceoffs, but is only winning faceoffs at a 54% clip this season, down from 62% a year ago.
“[We would have] a slight advantage in possessions if we do face off well, which would be big, because every time we win a faceoff we get the ball and their offense doesn’t,” Murphy said, “It’s a zero-sum game that we’re playing that we’d like to win.”
The Quakers will have a little advantage over the weekend, as they are returning to Franklin Field for the first time this year, one of only five home games the team will have all season. The lack of home games has been a trend since last season, meaning that each one holds a lot more weight for the team. Lulley recognized the benefits of playing on familiar turf, but noted that it did not affect the team's play on the road.
“[Franklin Field is] a great stadium and it’s nice to have our own fans at the games, but I think our fans do a great job wherever the game is,” Lulley said, “Each field is 110-by-60 yards, so it doesn’t really matter that much where we play. We’re just excited every time we get the opportunity to play with each other.”
The Red and Blue are looking for another successful campaign as one of the top teams in the country, but will face tight pressure from the Ivy League teams, where four teams occupy spots in the national top 10. In order to win the Ivy League regular season title, and perhaps even the Championship, the Quakers will have to prove that they can contend with the best.
There is no better place to prove that than this on Saturday at Franklin Field.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.