Roundtable: Can Penn men's lacrosse repeat?
Although it may be hard to believe and the weather still seems a little too cold, Penn men’s lacrosse is less than three days away from its season opener. Coming off an incredibly successful season, one in which the veteran-laden squad soared to an Ivy League title, the Quakers have high expectations. Despite returning eight of their top 10 scorers from 2014, an Ivy repeat is by no means guaranteed,. With that in mind, we break down the biggest obstacle Penn will confront as it tries to return to the NCAA Tournament.
Senior Sports Editor Riley Steele: Without a doubt, Penn will once again be a force that threatens both other powers within the Ivy League and across the country. With the Red and Blue returning so many potent scorers, particularly senior attacks Isaac Bock and Chris Hupfeldt, scoring will not be a problem in remaining competitive with squads like Harvard and Cornell.
From my perspective, the biggest challenge confronting the Quakers will be getting through a rough schedule. Lacrosse Magazine currently has the Red and Blue ranked 11th entering the season, but there are plenty of games on Penn’s schedule that could determine how high they rise in the polls. Currently, No. 8 Maryland, No. 15 Penn State, No. 16 Yale, No. 12 Harvard and No. 10 Cornell are all on the docket for the Quakers, not to mention a matchup with the team ranked fifth in the ACC standings at the end of the season.
While Penn is accustomed to playing tough teams – the Quakers faced off with both Duke and Denver in nonconference play last year – things won’t come easy to the Red and Blue in 2015.
Sports Editor Laine Higgins: This year, the devil may be in the details for the Quakers. While Penn was certainly dominant in the final few games of the season, which culminated in the school’s first ever Ivy League title, the play from the Red and Blue was still not mistake-free.
Consider the Quakers’ face off win-loss percentage from last season: a middling 48.4 percent. That statistic is not bad; however, there is room for improvement. This task will fall upon the shoulders of returning midfields junior Rob Savage and senior Joe McCallion – Penn’s leading faceoff specialists from the 2013-2014 season.
Now, compare Penn’s number in that department to the highest ranked teams on the docket for the 2014-15 schedule: No. 8 Maryland and No. 10 Cornell. Last year, the Terps and the Big Red boasted faceoff win-loss percentages of 64.6 and 51.0, respectively.
Associate Sports Editor Tommy Rothman: It's hard to find big holes in this team, primarily because it's a very solid squad. But one thing that could be a cause for concern is the goalkeeper issue. Brian Feeney played all but 14 minutes last season, but he's out of the picture after graduating in May.
So what do the Quakers do now? Senior John Lopes figures to take over, assuming he doesn't get beaten out by junior Jimmy Sestilio, sophomore Ahmed Iftikhar or freshman Brian Zappala. Lopes hasn't provided us enough of a sample size for us to make a real judgment regarding his abilities — and if we did judge him on the small sample size, the conclusion wouldn't be pretty.
Feeney was one of the Ivy League's top goalies last year, so replacing him will be a tall task. Assuming the Quakers see a drop-off in goalkeeping production, the question will be whether the defense in front of the goalkeeper and the Penn offense can step up and soften the blow after Feeney's departure.
Penn wasn't among the Ivy League's top scoring teams last year, so there is room for the Quakers to improve on that end. But if they don't, they'll likely find that they can no longer rely on their excellent goalie as a safety net.