A new year. A different squad. The same goal. Bigger aspirations.
Last season, the Quakers accomplished something they had not done in 11 years - win an Ivy League title. This year, the Red and Blue aim to repeat that goal and become the first Penn team since 1993 to win back-to-back Ivy League field hockey titles.
Senior captains Lea Salese and Kristen Gray lead a group of talented young field hockey players onto Franklin Field this fall with one thing on their mind- return to the top of the Ancient Eight standings and advance to the NCAA Tournament.
“The greatest goals for us this year will be to continue that level of the game [from last season], keep with the spirit of competition and showcase our great leadership,” Head Coach Val Cloud said.
“We have lost a great deal of heart and soul with the graduation of the Class of 2005, but I am confident this group of upperclassmen have learned what solid leadership is and will be able to head this team toward its goals.”
Penn’s team chemistry has been a large part of the Quakers’ success over the last two years as Penn has won 23 games, including 13 last season. Great leadership has been the key in this unbreakable bond and this year will be no exception with Salese, Gray and the rest of the senior class.
With three of the top-five scorers returning from last season and first-team All-Ivy League honorees Salese and Elizabeth Schlossberg and Ivy League Rookie of the Year and second-team All-Ivy selection Melissa Black back in the line-up, the Quakers could be a dangerous team in the Ancient Eight.
The Red and Blue also return several key members of a defense that ranked fifth in the nation a season ago, by allowing only 15 goals in 17 contests for a scoring defense of .860.
“This squad has more flexibility where we can play people in different roles,” Cloud added. “It’s a very talented group with a great deal of speed at all positions on the field. We also have more depth than we have had in the past.”
With the loss of All-American forward Liz Lorelli, the Quakers will have to find other offensive threats on the attack. One of those threats will be senior Cara Calahan who scored seven goals last season, including the game-winning tally in Penn’s Ivy League title-clinching win over Princeton.
“We are looking for Cara and junior Tracy Statter to step up and create more scoring opportunities this season,” Cloud said. “We are also hoping to score more off corners and on second opportunity shots.”
Calahan cannot only score, she can find the open attacker. Last season, she was tied for first on the team in assists with five.
Penn will also look to junior Kristin Connelly, sophomores Andrea Rockey, Nicole Black and Kara Bolger and freshman Meredith Moran to create plays and find the open cage.
In the Midfield
Salese and Gray did their share of finding the back of the cage in 2004 as well. Salese was third on the team in scoring with five goals, while Gray added three tallies. The duo combined for five assists and were a staple in executing corners.
The midfield has a great deal of depth with junior Nyssa Liebermann, sophomores Meghan Rose and Jamie Calahan and a group of energetic freshmen in Nina Ferrier, Rachel Eng and Nicole Daniele. Liebermann made 10 appearances last season, while Rose checked in for four games and Black saw action in six.
The Red and Blue return two starters from last season’s “brick wall” in sophomore Melissa Black and senior Kelly McFadden.
“We have a rock solid defense this season,” Cloud said. “As a group, they all work well together. This year we want to be more offensive out of the back in order to give the midfield and attack a chance to do more with the ball.”
McFadden made five defensive saves last season which ranked her among the top-15 in the nation. Black was staple on defense all season long, helping the Red and Blue to eight shutouts, including six straight. The rookie back consistently stepped up to sweep balls out of Penn's territory and was a dominant force in moving the ball through the midfield.
Also back are sophomore Kelsey Nickles, who played in 15 games last season and made nine starts on defense, and junior Melina Tsui, who started six games before an injury sidelined her for the rest of the season. Senior Jackie Schottenstein will be an impact on the field and on the sidelines as a team leader. Sophomore Nicole Levi did not see much action in her rookie campaign, but after a strong spring season, she could become a fixture in the line-up.
“Nicole [Levi] has matured so much over the spring and gained a lot of confidence,” Cloud said. “She has good passing skills and will be able to start the attack for us.”
Last season the back of the cage was a relatively unfamiliar place for Penn’s opponents. Led by Schlossberg, the Red and Blue had eight shutouts in 2004 and only allowed 15 goals in 17 games. Schlossberg yielded a .890 goals against average and .828 save percentage. Her GAA was the fifth best in the nation and her save percentage was second among Division I student-athletes.
Helping her in the cage was senior Amanda Jacobs who saw action in two games and did not allow a goal in 35:21 minutes of action.
Junior Christina Congdon and freshman Alana Butera will provide solid back-up in the net.
The Red and Blue will play another challenging schedule in 2005 - one that includes NCAA semifinalist Maryland and ACC powerhouse Virginia.
“It’s a great experience to play a top-ranked team and we have risen to the challenge in the past and I feel we can do that again. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain,” Cloud said.
Penn has nine contests in the friendly confines of Franklin Field, a venue where the Quakers went 6-1 last season.