TOWSON, Md.--Fourth-seeded Penn women’s lacrosse (15-2) will make its third consecutive appearance in the NCAA final four, Friday at 6 p.m. Facing top-seeded and four-time defending national champion Northwestern (21-0), the Quakers have seen their season end against the Wildcats each of the last three seasonsthough last year it was in the championship game. This year, Friday’s winner will have to win one more to be champions. That game will be against the winner of the Maryland-North Carolina semifinal.
Over the last three years, the only constant in the NCAA championship weekend is a Penn-Northwestern match-up. The pair are the only teams from last year's final four to return in 2009 and the only two to three-peat this year.
Penn is 1-6 against Northwestern, but to put that in perspective, Penn is the only team to beat Northwestern in its last 64 games. Their 2008 regular season meeting snapped a 36-game undefeated streak. Since then the Wildcats have gone 27-0, unfortunately taking out Penn again earlier this season.
Possession will be key in the game. Both of Penn’s losses this season came when it was out-drawn by the opposition. Similarly, last season’s win over Northwestern was thanks in large part to the Quakers holding the ball for the majority of the second half.
Speaking of the draw, junior Emma Spiro has dominated the draw circle pulling in 49, nearly doubling the next closest on the teamErin Brennan. The rookie has taken the draw most often and has come away with 25 for herself. In last Saturday’s game with Duke, Ali DeLuca won four draws, and at the most crucial momentstwo in the waning minutes of regulation to give Penn a chance to tie, and two in overtime giving Penn the opportunity to go to goal.
DeLuca leads the team this season with 50 points which is the fourth most by a Quaker in a single season. She also ranks sixth on the all-time points list with 132 to her credit. She is also just four goals shy of 100 in her career.
Helping her on attack are Becca Edwards who also joined the century club with her 100th point last weekend. Edwards, Brennan and Courtney Lubbe have all scored 26 goals this season whileSpiro has put up 31.
In goal, Emily Szelest’s solid play has garnered her the nation’s best goals-against average at 5.72. Though the stingy defense in front of her doesn’t require her to make many saves in the game, the few that get through have been gobbled by the junior. Perhaps the most important in recent memory was in the waning moments of the Quakers’ quarterfinal match with Duke. She made a save at the end of regulation to force overtime and then another in the first overtime period to keep the Quakers alive.