The Quakers opened the season with wins over Duke and Bucknell, and while the season-opening victory against the defending NCAA champion Blue Devils was an eye-opener in the lacrosse community -- Penn held Duke to its lowest goal total since 1986 -- the win over the Bison may have been more impressive. Bucknell would finish 2011 with a 14-2 record, and pushed eventual NCAA champion Virginia to overtime in the first round. Penn followed up those wins with a 7-6 victory over Lehigh, giving the Quakers a 3-0 start for the first time since 2007.
The team came back to Earth with losses at North Carolina and Villanova -- the loss to the Wildcats coming in overtime -- but recovered from those for another historic win, this one against Princeton. The 8-3 victory at Franklin Field was the Quakers' first victory over the Tigers since 1989.
The next four games were Ivy League affairs, and pretty well summed up the conference's parity -- all were one-goal affairs, and three of them went to overtime. Penn went 2-2 in the run, defeating Yale and Harvard in extra time (thanks both times to goals from freshman Drew Belinsky) but losing 13-12 affairs at Cornell and Brown (the Big Red game going OT). After a non-conference win over city rival Saint Joseph's, Penn concluded the Ivy League portion of the campaign with a 9-4 win over Dartmouth. That put the Quakers at 4-2 in Ivy play, its best mark since going 4-2 in 2006, and left them alone in second place in the conference standings. That was Penn's best finish since 1989.
The win over Dartmouth also capped a perfect home season for this year's Penn team, as the Red and Blue were a perfect 6-0 at Franklin Field. In fact, they will enter the 2012 season with the third-longest home winning streak in NCAA Diviaion I, at seven games.
If there was a downer to the Dartmouth win, it came when Maxx Meyer crumpled to the turf with what was diagnosed as a broken leg. Though only a freshman, his absence was keenly felt the rest of the way.
Penn's final regular-season game came at Virginia, which was in the midst of its own tumult at the time. The Cavs put it all together in that game, though, defeating the Quakers 11-2. For Virginia, the game proved to be a springboard to postseason play -- a postseason that would end with them holding up the NCAA trophy.
As for Penn, the postseason began with an Ivy League Tournament semifinal against Harvard in Ithaca, N.Y. Facing a team they had defeated in overtime during the regular season, the Quakers allowed the Crimson to jump out to a big lead early and never crawled back within threatening distance in taking a 12-8 loss.
That Friday night loss made for a long weekend of waiting and hoping, but when Sunday night rolled around it was all smiles when Penn saw its name come up on the NCAA Championship bracket -- a first since 2006. The Quakers traveled to Notre Dame (sharing a charter flight with Villanova, who went to Denver for its first-round matchup) and met a Fighting Irish team that played for the NCAA title a year ago. ND's experience showed, as the fourth-seeded Irish jumped out to a 4-0 lead. Penn got within 7-5 before halftime, but the Quakers were shut down in the second stanza as Notre Dame gained a 13-6 victory. That left Penn with an 8-7 record for the season, its best win total since the 2006 team went 10-4.
At the end of the season, Penn had five players earn first or second-team All-Ivy, its best showing on the All-Ivy teams since 1999, as senior defenseman Brett Hughes was a first-team pick and Al Kohart, Will Koshansky, Corey Winkoff and Meyer were second-team selections. Hughes also received honorable mention United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (USILA) All-America as well as USILA Scholar All-America recognitions. Winkoff, meanwhile, ended his standout career second all-time in assists (95) and 10th in points (135). They both represented Penn at the annual North/South All-Star Game, which kicked off Championship Weekend in Baltimore. Playing for the South team, Winkoff had a pair of goals while Hughes started and had a ground ball and caused turnover to lead the South to a 15-11 win.