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Sophomore midfielder Anna Brandt celebrates her third-quarter goal against Harvard in the Ivy League Tournament semifinal game on May 5.

Credit: Samantha Turner

If you asked any fan that has been following No.14 Penn women’s lacrosse’s 2023 season closely to predict the team’s outcome in its Ivy League Tournament semifinal game, they likely would have described a win — a victory that wouldn’t even be close, for that matter. Friday evening’s matchup against Harvard held true to this prediction.

The Red and Blue entered the semifinal round as the outright title holders of the Ivy League following a perfect conference record in the regular season, but with sights set on an even grander prize. 

“We're both fighting for our lives in the playoffs,” sophomore midfielder Anna Brandt said. “So anything can happen and we really just wanted to beat them to everything: First draw, first ground ball, first defensive stop. We wanted to keep [the regular season] momentum going and come out hard and stay strong.”

Every Quaker, every attack, every play that granted Penn (12-4, 7-0 Ivy) success during the regular season combined forces for a 16-8 defeat of Harvard (8-7, 4-3) Friday night at Penn Park. Led by Brandt’s five goals and sophomore attacker Erika Chung’s five assists, the Red and Blue’s record against Ivy teams this season remains blemish-free.

“We wouldn’t have gotten this far if our team chemistry wasn’t so great,” Chung said. “All credit to my teammates and amazing coaches around me.” 

Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil Senior attacker Niki Miles fights to win the faceoff against Harvard's Maddie Barkate on May 5.

Chung made it evident from the opening face-off that her exuberant success, which greatly propelled the team to a historical regular season, had not gone cold. The attacker scored two quick goals to open scoring — one before a minute of play had even passed. From that point forward, the Quakers wasted no time pulling away with the lead, giving the Crimson a taste of the offense-driven game to follow in the next three quarters. 

The Quakers never shied away from the net, striking high and low, with precision and accuracy, and deafening the midfield with might. By the end of the first quarter, the Red and Blue had pulled away to a 7-1 lead while in command of possession for a majority of the 15 minutes.

The cheers, bells, whistles, and chants radiating from the stands never seemed to fade. It was as if as soon as fans found a moment to sit back down, they were right back on their feet — celebrating yet another Penn goal.

Senior goalkeeper Kelly Van Hoesen handled the playoff pressure with ease, even if it meant blocking near point-blank Crimson shots right in front of the net, or resorting to diving efforts when faced with the threat of rebounds.

After the ninth Quaker goal, the trailing Harvard team decided it was time for a change, subbing in sophomore Lizzie Francioli for junior Chloe Provenzano in goal during the second quarter. With no other alternates left on the bench, it was left to Francioli to close the scoring flood gates Penn had opened for the Crimson to have any chance at a comeback in the second half.

A brief three-goal run showed glimpses of potential for Harvard, but this surge was short lived as senior attacker Niki Miles’ goal disrupted the Crimson's momentum, and nipped their fans’ hopes in the bud.

Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil Junior attacker Julia Chai celebrates sophomore midfielder Gracie Smith's goal in the Ivy League Tournament semifinal game against Harvard on May 5.

The second half did see back-and-forth play for the first time all game. But with a five-goal deficit to overcome, back-and-forth was not going to cut it for Harvard. Furthermore, with a fourth quarter replicating the offensive success the team saw in quarter one, Penn did more than seal the Crimson’s fate — it sealed their season.

“I feel like our attack got a little flat and a little pushed too wide at times,” coach Karin Corbett said. “So the ball movement was too far away, and we had to compact a little bit. We got better, especially in the fourth quarter, at getting a little tighter so that quick ball movement could find kids a little quicker.”

Though backed by a roster stacked with talent, Corbett has certainly turned Penn’s women lacrosse program around from one year to the next. After missing out on the Ivy League Tournament last year, and a No. 5 ranking in the preseason media polls, the Quakers have proved 2023 is the year for their redemption arc. 

“We weren't in this position last year, so I'm so grateful for every minute of it,” Brandt said. “I'm just trying to cherish it, live in the moment, and not take anything for granted because I know what it's like to be on the other end of it.”

The team has little time to savor its semifinal victory, though. With hopes for a conference sweep, Ivy League crown, and an automatic NCAA tournament bid on the line, preparation for Sunday’s matchup against Yale in the final round starts now.