PRINCETON, N.J. — For the first time since 2013, Penn men's soccer is on top of the Ivy League.
In the final game of its regular season, the Quakers traveled to Princeton needing a win or tie to capture at least a part of the Ivy title. And they did just that, defeating the Tigers in a commanding 3-0 shutout. On Saturday, goals by midfielders Isaac McGinnis and Charlie Gaffney, as well as defender Ben Do, coupled with a strong defense propelled Penn (12-2-2, 6-1 Ivy) to victory — a win that marked the Quakers' first against Princeton (6-6-4, 1-3-3) in nearly a decade.
Penn now has 18 points in Ivy play — two more than second-place Cornell, which finished the regular season with a 5-1-1 conference record. That one loss was a 3-2 defeat at home against Penn on Oct. 15, a contest which now has proven pivotal.
“It feels amazing. I’m really happy for the players,” coach Brian Gill said. “I think every single player in the group has given so much this season.”
For Gill, this is the team’s first conference championship since he took the Penn head coaching job prior to the 2018 season. This victory also caps off a stunning turnaround for the Quakers, who finished sixth in the Ivy League and notched only one conference win a year ago.
“I think we played well last year at times, and we just didn’t get some results,” Gill said. “I think that motivated us this year, and [we] wound up making critical plays in games like this.”
The fate of the matchup seemed to tip in Princeton’s favor for much of the first half, with the Quakers not recording a shot until the 21st minute. However, with a penalty kick in the 23rd minute, the Quakers drew the contest’s first blood.
McGinnis took the shot for Penn following a Princeton yellow card and drilled the ball into the bottom left corner of the net as the Tigers’ goalkeeper dove the opposite way. This was the first penalty kick taken by a Quaker this season, and they capitalized on the opportunity.
Despite the final score, Princeton didn’t fall short on chances to score throughout the game. On one Tiger attack, senior goalkeeper Nick Christoffersen emerged from between the posts to punch a corner kick away, and had to rely on a header by defender Leo Burney to keep the loose ball out of the net.
In the 31st minute, Gill brought Gaffney in for midfielder Mateo Zazueta — a decision that would seal Princeton’s fate.
After just six minutes on the field, a pass from forward Ben Stitz set Gaffney up with a wide open shot in the box. His strike lofted over the fingertips of the Tigers’ goaltender and put the Quakers up 2-0.
“I’ve been waiting a while for that goal to go in,” Gaffney said, “and [the ball] was pretty much where I wanted it. It came to me and I don’t really remember what happened next, but I saw it go into the net.”
After hitting the ground running to record his first goal of the season, Gaffney had the chance to put Penn up 3-0 just moments later, but this shot just missed the net, bouncing off the crossbar.
The Red and Blue kept its foot on the pedal in the final 45 minutes, with the match’s third goal coming on an unassisted strike by Do in the 64th minute.
Throughout the second half, Princeton was able to pressure Penn’s defense and record multiple shots on goal. But the ambitious saves by Christoffersen kept coming, as well as blocks by defender Jack Rosener and the headers by Burney. But the Tiger goals never came, notching the Quakers' seventh shutout this season.
With the contest drawing to an end, Penn’s bench gathered on the edge of the field, awaiting the final whistle. When it sounded, they rushed onto the field to celebrate.
Postgame, the team was joined by Athletics Director Alanna Shanahan and was presented with the Edwin Henry Parkhurst III trophy, which honors each year’s Ivy League men’s soccer champions. The Quakers walked across the field to celebrate the victory with their fans and teammates who made the trip.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Gaffney said. “I’m just trying to take it all in. It feels amazing, especially because of where we were last year.”
The conference title also earns the team an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Red and Blue will find out its seed during Monday’s selection show, and tournament play will commence next weekend.