PHILADELPHIA – Like pretty much every team in the country, across all fall sports, the University of Pennsylvania field hockey team entered the 2013 season with a series of goals.
The Quakers likely achieved most of their goals.
Penn finished the 2013 campaign with a 13-4 record, a win total that has been beaten only one time (1988) and matched one other time (2004) in program history. The Quakers scored 57 goals, smashing the previous mark of 42 that was originally set in 1988-- did we mention that 1988 team made it all the way to the NCAA Championship semifinals? -- and matched a year ago. At the other end, the Red and Blue shut out five opponents.
Perhaps most impressively, the Quakers christened a new field in the best of ways -- by playing a de facto Ivy League championship game on Ellen Vagelos C’90 Field’s Astroturf surface in early November.
With Vagelos Field construction cutting into the early season, Penn opened the season with three road games and emerged from them with a 2-1 record after defeating Lehigh (5-4) and Saint Joseph’s (5-2) and falling to Bucknell (2-1). Freshman Jasmine Cole announced her presence immediately, recording a hat trick against the Hawks in just her second collegiate game, while Carly Sokach made 12 saves in the Quakers’ loss to the Bison. She would continue her hot play the rest of the season.
Penn’s first game at Ellen Vagelos Field was a rollicking affair, a dramatic 4-3 victory over Cornell that opened Ivy League play. Cole again notched a hat trick, her second in four college appearances. The next day provided a stark contrast to the previous day’s fireworks, as the Quakers rolled to a 7-0 win over Pacific. Three days after that, the Red and Blue completed their first three-game homestand at the new venue with yet another win, this time 3-2 over city rival La Salle.
Penn’s first Ivy League trip took the Quakers to Harvard, and it was the Massachusetts resident Elizabeth Hitti who provided the offense in a 1-0 win over the Crimson. Sokach made 12 saves in the contest and earned Ivy League Player of the Week for her efforts.
Lafayette came to Vagelos Field for a midweek game, and smothered Penn to the tune of 4-0. The Quakers recovered in their next game, however, scoring five times including an overtime winner from junior Emily Corcoran that propelled Penn past Dartmouth, 5-4. Just three days later, Corcoran again provided the heroics in overtime as the Red and Blue avenged previous losses to Rider in extra time, 4-3. That was followed by a neutral-site win over Division I newcomer UMass-Lowell, 5-0.
The women in the program were dealing with a prosperity not seen in some time, so it was perhaps inevitable that after a few close calls they would get knocked off by an Ivy League foe. That happened on a Friday night at Columbia, where the Quakers blew a 3-1 lead and fell to the Lions in overtime, 4-3. Penn came back home, licked its wounds, and took it out on Appalachian State two days later, 7-1.
Penn and Yale played a titanic game on October 26, even though no goals were scored in regulation or overtime. Sokach was simply unbelievable in the Penn cage, tying a career high with 15 saves. The teams went to a five-round shootout -- Penn’s first in exactly 11 years -- where Hitti struck first before being matched by a Yale score. Senior Julie Tahan scored in the top half of the final round, but Sokach tripped Yale’s fifth shooter to set up a penalty stroke for the Bulldogs. However, she stopped the penalty to give the Quakers the victory. Not surprisingly, Sokach was again named Ivy League Player of the Week.
Penn could see the prize at the finish line, and the Quakers gained one final non-conference win over Villanova -- senor Sunny Stirewalt scoring both of the goals -- before destroying Brown, 4-0. That set the stage for a game that no one (save the women in the locker room) could have foreseen at the start of the season: Penn vs. Princeton for the Ivy League title and league’s NCAA Championship bid.
Princeton had played in these types of games before, and it showed. On the day Penn’s new field was formally dedicated, in front of a crowd that surrounded the fencing around the turf, the Quakers gave the Tigers a run for awhile but ultimately fell to the defending national champions, 5-1. The loss put Penn at 5-2 in Ivy League play, good for second place behind the undefeated Tigers.
Penn finished the 2013 season sixth nationally in goals per game and seventh in winning percentage. Individually, Cole ended the season second nationally in goals per game (1.06) and fifth in points per game (2.29), while Corcoran was 14th in points per game (2.06) and 21st in assists per game (0.53). At the other end, Sokach ended her stellar campaign 11th nationally in save percentage (.776) and 13th in saves per game (7.12).
At the end of the season, the awards rolled in -- another sign that people in the know are recognizing the progress of this program. The freshman Cole and junior Corcoran were first-team and second-team All-Region selections by the National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFHCA), respectively; the last time Penn had an all-region player of any sort was 2007, the last time a Quaker player got first-team all-region was 2005, and the last time two women were honored by the NFHCA in the same year was 2004.
Four women earned All-Ivy recognition, the first time Penn had that many first-team and second-team picks since 2007. Cole was the first player in program history to earn first-team All-Ivy as a freshman, and she was joined as a first-team pick by the junior goalkeeper Sokach. It marked the first time the Quakers had a pair of first-team selections since 2005. Cole also was the Ivy League Rookie of the Year, Penn’s first since 2004 and just the second since 1985. Tahan and Corcoran were second-team All-Ivy picks by the Ancient Eight coaches.