PHILADELPHIA - After 90 minutes of highly entertaining soccer yielded no noteworthy opportunities for either team Saturday night, the question was whether the Penn and Princeton women's soccer teams would change tactics and push the play in overtime.
Fans did not have to wait long for the answer.
In just the third minute of the first extra session, a ball was played down the right side by a Penn player to sophomore Mara Fintzi. Fintzi, who was alone in the corner with the ball, quickly played a ball across into the box. Asit arrived at about the six-yard box, Penn freshman Kristin Kaiser and Princeton goalkeeper Maren Dale converged on it.
Kaiser arrived first.
Her header -- really, nothing more than a nudge -- squeezed past the onrushing Dale and rolled just inside the near post, sending the Quakers to a 1-0 win as the boisterous Rhodes Field crowd erupted.
With the win, Penn (12-3-1, 5-1-0) clinched a share of the Ivy League title, its second in program history (the first came in 2001).
The good news just kept coming on Sunday, when the Quakers were delivered the Ivy's automatic bid into the NCAA College Cup when Yale defeated Brown, 3-1, in New Haven, Conn. With that decision, the Quakers become the first team into the 64-team field.
(Yale and Princeton -- both 4-2-0 in the League -- will play each other next weekend, and the winnerof that match hasa chance to tie Penn for the Ivy crown if the Quakers lose at Harvard. However, by virtue of the first tiebreaker -- head-to-head competition --Penn is guaranteed the bid, having beaten both the Bulldogs and the Tigers this season.)
It will be Penn's third appearance in the College Cup; the others came in 1999 and 2001, with the Quakers losing in the first round both times.
"When that ball went into the goal, I looked at the linesman, then at the ref...and by then I was about 20 yards onto the field," said head coach Darren Ambrose, who was also coach for the 2001 championship squad. "So much emotion goes through you at a moment like that, it was fantastic.
"I could not be prouder of our team," he continued. "They have put so much into this season, and dealt with so much -- we have had season-ending injuries to deal with, and so many ups and downs. All the things they have gone through as a team this year, it all paid off when that ball went into the goal. They deserved that moment, and they deserved a night like this on their home field. It was a great night for this program."
Following Sunday's decision in New Haven, Ambrose was noticeably relieved.
"I know the players were following the game online, and I was too," he said. "When Yale-Brown went final a couple of the women called me. They are excited. It takes a lot of pressure off our shoulders heading up to Boston next weekend, and it is exciting to know that when we step off the field next Saturday we will not be done -- we get to go through the excitement of the selection show and seeing who we play and where."
Prior to Kaiser's goal, this game had been defined by solid play on both sides but few great chances.
As Ambrose had feared, the Quakers appeared to play nervously in the early going -- remember, this is a team with no seniors. As a result, Princeton held the play, taking its lead from Canadian international Diana Matheson who patrolled the middle in her attacking role. Early on, a ball from the right side was crossed, and when Penn defender Eileen Larkin went up to head it away it skipped off her head into no-man's land between goalkeeper Sara Rose and the Tigers' Aarti Jain. Jain got it past Rose about 15 yards out, but the Penn defense had time to recover-- Ellen Gregory blocked the shot, and Natalie Capuano cleared it away.
Rose would not face another chance; in fact, she had no saves in the match.
In the second half, Penn came out on fire and put Princeton back on its heels. Still, the Tiger defense was equal to the task. Two times, Jessica Fuccello was able to get her head on balls played into the box, but both times they were easily corraled by Dale. With about 15 minutes left, Sarah Friedman beat a defender and put a left-footed shot on goal from about 25 yards out, but it was right at Dale and she handled it without trouble.
Kaiser's winning shot -- her third goal this season, tops among Penn's many freshmen -- was the Quakers' ninth of the night, with four of them on goal. Princeton was credited with three shots.
"This was not a pretty game, but we had a similar game last weekend at Brown," said Ambrose. "I think our players learned from that game --you do not need to win pretty, you just need to get the result."
Penn's match at Harvard next Saturday will kick off at 1:30 p.m. on Ohiri Field.