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PHILADELPHIA - No. 8 Penn's tour through the nation's Top-10 continues on Sunday as the Quakers host the last undefeated team in the country, No. 1 Northwestern (12 p.m.) in the final game of a three-game home stand for the Quakers.
The Red and Blue are 6-3 overall this season, and 0-2 against teams which join them inside the upper echelon of Division I. Already this season, Penn has travelled to then-No. 2 North Carolina and hosted No. 3 Maryland, and on Sunday, Penn will look to put the first loss of the season on the defending national champions.
Sunday's tilt with the Wildcats will be the 11th all-time between the teams, and Penn is looking to add its second win in the series. Despite the apparent lopsided nature of the series, the games between Penn and Northwestern regularly find a way to enter "classic" status. In 2008, the Quakers ended Northwestern's 36-game winning streak with an 11-7 win at Franklin Field. The Quakers put together an amazing defensive effort that day at Franklin Field, holding the Wildcats scoreless over the final 32:35 of the game to erase a 7-4 deficit and score what at the time was the biggest win in program history.
The regular season win over the Wildcats tells only a quarter of the story in what was a four-game epic story arc between the Quakers and their rivals from Chicago. The two met again in 2008 on the biggest stage of them all - the national title game. The Wildcats had been there before and experience won out in a 10-6 win for Northwestern - the Wildcats' fourth consecutive national title. The Red and Blue trailed, 8-3, in the second half but rallied to close within two - a margin as close as Penn would get.
The next year, the two teams again met twice, and again both were classics. On April 25, 2009 No. 3 Penn was edged in Evanston by No. 1 Northwester, 11-9, in a game which went back and forth all night while navigating a lengthy lightning delay. The Quakers erased a 3-0 deficit to take a 6-5 lead before halftime, but a four-goal NU run in the second half saw the Wildcats pull away. Penn scored twice in the final 6:20 to climb back into the game, but ran out of time.
Extra time was afforded both teams in their second meeting of '09, an overtime battle in the national semifinals. In a game which many called the true national championship match, Penn did not lead until Erin Brennan scored at the 2:49 mark of overtime to give Penn a 12-11 lead. Katrina Dowd scored right before the buzzer in the first three-minute session of overtime on an extremely athletic play to knot the game, and Meredith Frank scored the winner 1:29 into sudden-death overtime to send the Wildcats to the national title game. The Quakers trailed, 11-7, with 9:14 to play in the game and scored four times in the final 6:22 to tie the game, tying the affair on a Samantha Bird goal with 1:30 to play.
Brennan is the lone player on Penn's team remaining who saw action in that game (Emily Leitner was the backup goalkeeper for the Quakers) and the pair of seniors are looking for their first career win against Northwestern this weekend. Brennan has scored seven goals and has nine total points in her career against the Wildcats, including four goals and an assist last year Lakeside in Evanston.
Overall, Brenan leads the Quakers with 40 points this season, and her 4.44 points-per-game is 16th among all players in Division I - and 10th among players playing nine or fewer games. The Quakers will return Maddie Poplawski to the lineup this weekend after she missed both games last week with a concussion. Poplawski is tied for fourth on the team in goals with 15, but is valuable to the Red and Blue in the midfield where she leads the team in draw controls with 35. Poplawski ranks ninth in the country in draw controls-per-game with 5.00 and she will be locked up on Sunday with Alyssa Leonard (13th - 4.78) and Taylor Thornton (23rd - 4.10) on draws.
The Wildcats boats the nation's leading goalkeeper in terms of goals-against average in Brianne LoManto who has a GAA of 6.33. Only one team has scored more than nine goals in a game against the Wildcats this season, and seven have 10 opponents have been held to seven or fewer. LoManto's work in goal has allowed the Wildcat offense to work freely, to the tune of 15.7 goals-per-game and only one contest where the attack scored less than 13 goals.
The Quakers will counter with one of the busiest goalkeepers in the country in Emily Leitner. She is averaging 11.0 saves-per-game in her last three outings, with efforts of 12 (at No. 18 Cornell), a career-high 16 (vs. No. 3 Maryland) and five (in 38 minutes of action against Columbia) in her last three games. Leitner is 27th in the country in goals-against average (10.19) and 25th in save percentage (.447) and is one of 21 goalkeepers in the country to be in the Top-30 in both categories. Leitner and Penn's young defense corps of Lydia Miller, Allie Martin, Taylor Foussadier and Leah McBride will contend with a Northwestern offense which runs through the 2011 Tewaaraton Award winner Shannon Smith. A two-time All-American and 2011 IWLCA Attacker of the Year, Smith had a program-record 86 goals last season and 128 total points. This year, she leads the Wildcats with 35 goals and 46 points. Erin Fitzgerald is second on the team with 26 goals and 32 points while Kara Mupo has 20 goals and 26 points.