When the Red and Blue took the field in 2004 no one was sure what to expect. Second-year head coach Brian Voelker had lost five starters and eight letterwinners, but was returning a group 15 letterwinners, including seven sophomores who saw significant action as rookies.
Penn had a lot to prove and the Quakers quickly rose to the challenge, going undefeated at home, picking ups wins against nationally ranked teams and, most importantly, earning their first bid to the NCAA Tournament since 1989.
AND SO IT BEGINS
The Quakers first challenge of the season came in the form of second-ranked Johns Hopkins. The Red and Blue quickly made a statement, battling with the Blue Jays despite a 10-9 loss. What came out of the defeat was respect, as Penn found itself ranked 20th in the nation by the Inside Lacrosse Media Poll. The Quakers would go on to remain in the top-20 for the remainder of the season.
Penn’s next test was at home against Villanova. It would be sophomore P.J. Gilbert providing the heroics this time, scoring his first collegiate goal with 29 seconds remaining in the game to give the Red and Blue a 6-5 victory.
Senior Will Philips picked up right where he left off in 2003, scoring five goals in his first two games. All the goals were tallied in the second half, including two fourth-period goals that either tied or pulled the Quakers within one. For his efforts, Phillips earned Penn’s first Ivy League Player of the Week award since the 2002 season.
DOWN THE STRETCH
After falling to Army and Ivy League foe Yale, the Quakers quickly righted the ship, winning five out of their last eight games on the season. With their ranking on the rise, Penn knocked off No.15 Cornell, giving validity to a possible at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Penn earned another crucial victory against No. 10 Brown, wrapping up a .500 Ivy League season and finishing a perfect 6-0 at home.
Down to the final two games of the year, the Red and Blue cruised past Loyola and improved their ranking to No. 13 before concluding the season at No. 3 Maryland. Despite the 13-5 loss, Penn had made an impression on the NCAA Selection Committee as they earned their first bid to the Tournament in 15 years.
The Red and Blue headed into the NCAA Tournament with high hopes as they were set to face Navy. Despite an all-around team effort, Penn fell to the Middies, 11-5, in the first round. Gilbert scored twice and Phillips added a goal and an assist while Alan Eberstein and Mark Becker also netted a goal apiece. Goaltender Ryan Kelly turned away a game-high nine shots.
WHERE THERE’S A WILL
A tri-captain and attackman, Phillips recorded a point in all but one game, as his career-high 30-game scoring streak ended against No. 3 Maryland on May 8. He was named first-team All-Ivy League and earned an honorable on the 2004 STX/USILA Division I All-America Team. He ended his Penn career with 56 goals and 43 assists for 99 points. Phillips finished his senior campaign with the Red and Blue with a team-high 42 points on a team-high 25 goals. He also recorded 17 assists. Phillips had three games where he scored a season-high five points, which included a four-goal, one-assist contest against Army on March 13.
The backbone of the team, Penn’s defense was a main force led by a pair of veterans in Ryan Kelly and Patrick Connelly.
Returning after a year-long absence, Kelly did not appear rusty when he took to the cage in 2004. An All-Ivy and STX/USILA Division I All-America Team honorable mention, Kelly was an integral member of the Penn defense, posting an 8.43 goals against average, a .530 save percentage and 133 saves on the season. He started in all 14 games and played every minute of every contest as a senior. His season-high 15 saves against Maryland was one of seven games in which he recorded double-figures in saves. He recorded seven victories in 2004 and finished his career with 21.
Connelly, an All-Ivy first team selection, started 13 games and was third on the team with 30 groundballs. He scored his first collegiate goal at Loyola, knotting the contest before halftime in a game Penn would go onto win. The tri-captain also earned the Ivy Player of the Week award after he held one of the NCAA’s leading scorers - Andrew Collins - to just one assist in Penn's first win over Cornell in 10 years.
Former high school teammates, senior Ethan Haire and sophomore D.J. Andrezejewski, rounded out Penn’s five All-Ivy picks.
Haire led the Ivy League in face-offs and groundballs the entire season and was ranked in the NCAA top-10 in both catgories. The midfielder finished the season with a career-high 56.7 percent face-off winning percentage, winning 132 of 233 draws. His 86 groundballs was his second-highest career total. He also netted three goals and recorded an assist for Penn.
Andrzejewski finished second overall in scoring with career-highs in goals (11), assists (13) and points (24). The midfielder appeared in 13 games, missing one with an injury. The best game of his young career came at Yale, when he recorded a career-high six points, scoring once while assisting up five goals.
A LOOK TO THE FUTURE
There was no sophomore slump for James Riordan who finished second on the team in goals with 17. Four of the attackman’s goals came when Penn had the man-up advantage. Gilbert, a midfielder, had a solid sophomore campaign tallying 12 goals, including two game-winners in 14 appearances.
Junior Zandy Reich made things happen around the cage for the Red and Blue notching 11 assists while starting all 14 games. The attackman also added six goals on the year.
The youth of the Quakers lineup turned in some solid numbers and, with postseason experience gained, will be counted to steadily improve during their remaining time at Penn.
Written by Kelly McCarthy, athletic communications assistant