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Junior attacker Chloe Hunter cradles the ball away from a Northwestern defender as she looks to drive during the game at Penn Park on April 3. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Penn came into its Sunday afternoon matchup as the underdogs, facing off against No. 3 Northwestern at Penn Park. It wasn’t much of a surprise, then, that the Cats lived up to their reputation and came out with a dominant win of 17-9.

Even so, coming into the matchup, the Quakers (3-7, 0-2 Ivy) weren’t fearful of the ranking sitting next to Northwestern’s (10-2) name.

“We want to play the best,” coach Karin Corbett said. “So, therefore, seeing them understanding the work that it takes to play at this level [is] a good thing.”

Playing a difficult non-conference schedule is a primary goal for Corbett to help her young team gain more experience. Including Northwestern, the Red and Blue played a total of six nationally ranked teams this season. And despite the growing pains, the young Quakers have for the most part held their own. They notched one win against a nationally ranked opponent and lost by a difference of only two goals in two of the games.

The Quakers may be a younger, less experienced team compared to the Cats, but they came out swinging in the hopes of pulling off the upset.

Freshman Anna Brandt, who is tied for second with Kaitlyn Cumiskey for most goals on the team, kicked the scoring off. Brandt notched the opening goal of the game, scoring in the opening minute to give the Quakers the lead — their only time ahead during the contest.

The Cats, who have been consistent scorers all season, averaging 23.82 points per game, answered right back. Graduate student Jill Giardi led the charge for the Cats, accumulating a hat trick before the buzzer sounded to end the first quarter. The period ended with Northwestern maintaining a slim lead of 4-2.

The second quarter was very reminiscent of the first one, with Northwestern scoring another four goals and Penn scoring two — one by Brandt and another by junior Chloe Hunter, who had contributed the other goal in the first.

The final few minutes of the second quarter signaled a turning point for the game. With three minutes left in the quarter, Northwestern was only leading by a slim margin of 6-4. If the Quakers had kept them to only six goals, it would’ve been one of their lowest scoring halves this season. But alas, in the final two minutes, Northwestern scored two quick goals to bring its lead to 8-4 and give the Cats momentum heading into halftime.

And Northwestern came into that third quarter energized in a way that Penn wasn’t prepared for.

The Cats put on a shooting clinic, starting out on a dominant 6-0 scoring run, maintaining possession of the ball for a vast majority of the quarter, and outmaneuvering the Quaker defense to get open shots in. They notched 14 shot attempts that quarter, giving them an impressive 43% shot percentage.

As for the Quakers, their shot attempts were vastly outnumbered by their turnovers. In fact, the Quakers had such little possession in the third quarter, they ended it with zero shot attempts.

Both facets of Penn’s second-half struggle came as a surprise based on the first half of play, which saw the Quakers being able to mostly contain the Cats’ offense and find open looks on the offensive end.

Although it didn’t align with the early trends of the game, it did correlate with elements of the team’s performances this season.

Penn blew a 9-6 lead to Yale, letting them score five in the fourth quarter to win the game. Two weeks prior to that game, a difference of four goals between Penn and Duke turned into a whopping 11-goal difference when Penn let Duke outscore them 8-1. 

“I think we have not been able to [be consistent] for four quarters this year,” Corbett admitted. “And I think with a young team, that’s some of the growing pains we have that we have to learn.”

The Quakers shook off those growing pains in the fourth quarter, winning the final period 5-3. The quarter also featured the third goal for Brandt — giving her her second hat trick of the season — and two each by sophomore Maria Themelis and freshman Keeley Block. Block currently leads the Quakers in goals with 16 and is tied for first for most points with junior Niki Miles at 18. 

That same energy and high level of play in the fourth is exactly what Corbett wanted to see going into the contest.

“My goal for them in that fourth quarter was to win that fourth quarter, and we did,” she said. “That’s all you can ask as a coach. Three quarters are done. What are we gonna do in this fourth quarter? Are we gonna fall apart? Are we gonna dig deep and fight and try to win it?”

The Quakers answered that question with a resounding yes.

But what remains to be seen is how they’ll answer that question in their final five games of the season, which begin on Saturday in Ithaca, N.Y., against Cornell (6-4, 2-1).