NEWTON, Mass. — Records are made to be broken, and games are meant to be won.
On Friday, Penn women’s lacrosse (14-4, 7-0 Ivy) checked both those boxes in emphatic fashion with a 13-8 victory over UConn (12-7, 4-2 Big East) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. In a game where senior attacker Niki Miles broke the all-time program record for goals in a season and led the way for the Quakers with four scores, the Red and Blue utilized a blitzing third quarter to knock out the Huskies and advance to the second round of the tournament.
“I think [the record] is pretty cool, but I think it’s more cool for our team to be able to win so many games this season,” Miles said. “Whatever role that looks like for me as well as for the other girls. Each of us has just really bought into doing our role and making sure we come out with a win.”
Following their nail-biting win over Yale in the Ivy League championship game, the Quakers trekked to New England with a season’s worth of momentum behind them. After ripping off eight straight wins to finish with a perfect conference record, Penn began Friday’s matchup with all the rhythm and confidence of a juggernaut.
The Quakers made quick work of the Huskies’ defense, slicing through the front for three goals in the three opening minutes. Winning draws was key for Penn, as they won the first three draw controls en route to a dominant 3-0 start.
“We always talk about starting strong, and they did that,” head coach Karin Corbett said. “It was great to get that lead… but it’s a long game, and you gotta keep coming out.”
Junior midfielder Maria Themelis stayed hot for the Red and Blue after winning the Ivy League Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award, scoring Penn’s first two goals and finishing with four on the day. Themelis said the key to her excellent play has been not getting too high or too low, and “taking it possession by possession so that we could win every single little moment.”
But the Huskies survived the opening barrage and responded with a run of their own. All-American Honorable Mention goalkeeper Landyn White came alive for the Huskies, saving four consecutive shot attempts and ultimately finishing with 15 saves. The Huskies’ offense also delivered, tying the score at three apiece and getting the draw control tally to 4-3 in UConn's favor by the end of the first quarter.
“[White] is a great goalie,” Corbett said. “I think the score could have been a lot different without her there.”
In the second quarter, Miles got going with a pair of goals, the second of which gave her the program record with 59 scores on the season and nabbed a 6-5 halftime lead for the Quakers. It was a moment of immense scope for Miles, playing in her first NCAA tournament game with the weight of history resting on her shoulders. But the moment was not too big for the Ivy League Attacker of the Year, and with her leading the way, the Quakers delivered a series of blows the Huskies could not recover from.
Four different Quakers found the back of the net in the third quarter, including Miles and Themelis. Penn mounted the advantage thanks to a dominant run on the draws, winning six of eight during the quarter. Then, with three seconds to go in the period, Miles issued the knockout punch, flinging the ball past White for a buzzer-beating score, her second of the quarter and fourth of the game, giving Penn a 12-7 lead they would not relinquish.
“The draw was really big,” Miles said of the third quarter run. “The girls on the circle really willed the ground balls to happen — [sophomore midfielder] Natasha Gorriaran did a great job with those ground balls, and because of them, we were able to keep possession and take care of the clock.”
With the win, the Quakers earn a date with the No. 3 seed overall, Boston College, who Corbett called a “fantastic team” and “one of the best that we’ve seen all year.” The game will be played Sunday at 1 p.m. at Newton Lacrosse Field. For a team that has already accomplished so much, including an undefeated Ivy League season, there is plenty to celebrate, but the greatest gift is the chance to keep playing together and keep representing the program they love.
“Throughout this whole year we’ve had alumni come talk to us about what it means to say Penn Pride and to wear Penn across your chest,” Themelis said. “So we’re playing for the people before us, and we’re playing for all the people around us.”