In life, perfection is often unattainable. But for Penn women’s lacrosse, it is a reality.
On Sunday, the Quakers (13-4, 7-0 Ivy) defeated Yale (11-6, 4-3) in a 15-14 overtime thriller during the Ivy League Championship game, securing the program’s first conference tournament championship since 2016 and completing an unblemished Ivy League campaign. After a thrilling fourth quarter left the score knotted at 14, sophomore midfielder Anna Brandt netted a goal heard ‘round the world, winning the title for the Quakers and cementing their place as one of the greatest teams in program history.
“It was crazy – I knew it was gonna have to come down to a goal like this, but my teammates did everything they needed to to set me up for a great look on the net,” Brandt said. “I got it and I just had to put it in the back of the cage, but I really owe it all to my teammates who gave me the look that I wanted to see.”
With this victory, Penn will automatically advance to the NCAA Tournament, marking the Red and Blue’s first trip to the dance since 2019. The season as a whole signals a return to the dominance the program displayed for much of the 21st century. Penn qualified for the NCAA Tournament every season from 2007-2019, but two years marred by the COVID-19 pandemic and a 6-9 season in 2022 brought the run to a screeching halt. Now, the Quakers are back.
“Last year was such a disappointment in so many ways.” coach Karin Corbett, who is now a 12-time Ivy League champion, said. “[The players] call it the revenge tour. We were ranked fifth going into this year, and that really angered them. They were like, ‘No one believes in us except for us, and we got to go out there and prove ourselves every day.'"
After tearing through much of the Ivy League season with unmatched dominance, Sunday was a test unlike any Penn has faced this season. Yale entered the tilt undaunted by the stature of their opponent, and were not content to sit idly by for a Quaker coronation.
The Bulldogs operated a methodical offense, chewing up the shot clock and prodding for holes in the Quaker defense. The effect of the strategy was two-fold, opening up opportunities for the Yale attackers, and keeping the ball away from the prolific Penn offense, which led the Ivy in goals. At the first quarter horn, the Bulldogs led in shots on goal 6-3, in draw controls 4-2, and on the scoreboard 3-2.
The deficit put the frequently-dominant Quakers in an unfamiliar position, only worsened by another Yale goal to open the second quarter. The Bulldogs continued to dominate time of possession, but as the first half wound down, the Quakers finally broke through – junior midfielder Maria Themelis, who was named the Ivy Tournament’s most outstanding player, and senior attacker Niki Miles combined for three goals in the final six minutes of the first half, giving Penn a 6-5 advantage at the break.
“We’ve been beating the Ivies pretty handily, so that was really kind of a first test for us,” Corbett said. “And to see them be able to not get down, and to battle and to always stay in it was a great thing for us going into the tournament.”
While the second quarter was a trickle for the Penn offense, the second half was the flood. The Quakers scored eight goals on nine second half shots, proving that when the offense generated openings in the Bulldog defense, they could capitalize. But thanks to Yale’s 17-15 advantage on the draws and time-crunching offense, those opportunities were few and far between.
Yale’s offense found similar success, leading to a nail-biting back and forth as the second half unfolded. The game featured 10 ties, seven of them in the third and fourth quarters, as both teams fought tooth and nail for championship glory.
Themelis tied the game at 14 with 2:14 to go, and after a potential game-winning goal from Yale’s Jenna Collignon bounced off the post, the game went to a sudden-death overtime that would decide not only the outcome of the game, but a season’s worth of dreams.
In a pivotal OT draw control, Yale came away with possession, a bleak outlook for Penn. But as the clock approached midnight on their undefeated Ivy League season, the Red and Blue refused to fall. Junior midfielder Aly Feely forced a Yale turnover, setting up Brandt’s stupendous goal and checking the final box on the Ivy League schedule.
“The moment we stepped on campus in August, we only had one thing on our mind, and it was an Ivy League title,” Themelis said. “We knew we had to bring our A-game, and all the way from the sideline down to [senior Kelly Van Hoesen] in goal to everyone down on attack, we all had that sense of urgency, and we just brought it all together.”
The Quakers will learn the identity of their next opponent this evening at 9 p.m., when the NCAA Championship bracket is revealed on ESPNU. After such a stellar season, there is no doubt that Penn has aspirations of a deep tournament run. But as far as the Ivy League goes, the Quakers have already achieved the most remarkable feat there is: perfection.