It figures to be a tall task for a team that graduated a number of key players from a team that went 5-8 overall last season, but Murphy is philosophical about the challenge.
"It is exciting to get going," he said. "We have been working hard since September, and I am excited to see where that has gotten us when we stop onto the field Saturday. I want us to win, obviously, but as much as anything I want us to play well."
While Duke is playing its third game already this season, Saturday marks Penn's season opener. The Quakers did scrimmage Virginia and Georgetown two weeks ago, and Murphy was encouraged by what he saw from his squad.
"I think we learned a lot from those scrimmages," he said. "Mostly, we learned that if we play hard, we can be competitive with anybody. Those games were by design -- we set it up to play Virginia and Georgetown, knowing that we had Duke as our opener."
Talk about unfamiliar opponents: Penn and Duke have met just three times in history, and not since 1985. These teams split the first two contests. Penn won the first matchup, 9-8 in overtime, on March 18, 1971. The rematch came March 5, 1985 with Duke pulling out a 7-6 decision.
While Penn, like all the Ivy League schools, is a bit behind the rest of the country in terms of games played, the Quakers will work quickly to catch up by playing all seven of their non-conference games in a 17-day period. Penn is at Lafayette Wednesday night, plays twice next weekend in Denver, then hosts city foes Saint Joseph's and Villanova the following Wednesday and Saturday before going to another ACC school, Maryland, on Monday, March 15.
Duke entered the 2010 season ranked second in the preseason USILA coaches' poll, but have dropped off after an 11-10 overtime win over Bucknell on Feb. 13 and an 11-7 loss to Notre Dame last weekend. Under fourth-year head coach John Danowski, the Blue Devils are led by Max Quinzani, Zach Howell and Ned Crotty; all of them have eight points so far. Justin Turri and Will McKee have scored twice. In goal, Dan Wigrizer has played every minute and holds a 10.98 goals-against average with 32 saves.
* Penn returns 17 letterwinners and loses 10 from the 2009 team that finished 5-8 overall including a 2-4 Ivy League mark.
* The captains for this year's team are face-off man Justin Lynch, and defenders Joe Kelly and Brett Hughes.
* Penn -- which is looking for its third NCAA postseason bid in seven years after not having one from 1989 to 2003 -- has finished .500 or better in the Ivy League four of the last six years, including a 4-2 record in 2006.
* Among the returnees are eight starters -- junior Corey Winkoff on attack; sophomore John Conneely on the first midfield; seniors Hughes and Tommy Dodge and sophomore Will Koshansky on defense; sophomore Joe Hegener in goal; and two on the face-off unit (seniors Lynch and Kelly). For many of the seniors, 2010 will mark their third and even fourth year as a starter.
* Penn hopes to be bolstered by the return of senior Hughes on defense; a two-year starter in 2007 and 2008, he missed all of last year due to injury.
* Winkoff -- the only returnee among Penn's top five scorers from 2009 -- has been Penn's assist leader each of the last two years, collecting 43 in that time. He needs 18 to crack the program's all-time Top 10.
* A pair of junior midfielders, Morgan Griff and Al Kohart, tied senior Casey O'Rourke for sixth on the team in scoring last year; all three players finished with 11 points. Kohart was a second-team All-Ivy pick as a freshman in 2008.
* Conneely was tops among freshmen last year with six points (3g, 3a), while classmate Dan Savage had a pair of goals. Senior Rob McMullen had five goals.
* On defense, expect Hughes -- who had 10 caused turnovers and 27 ground balls in 2008 -- Kelly and Koshansky to anchor things. Kelly had a team-high 16 caused turnovers last year, while Koshansky was second with 12.
* There are several veterans at the defensive middie positions, including Dodge and junior Terry Kennedy.
* Lynch had a .542 win percentage last year on face-offs, and swept up a team-leading 82 ground balls. Kelly ended the year with 53 GBs. This year, they figure to anchor one of the top face-off units in the country.
* In goal, Hegener started eight games last year and had a .441 save percentage and 10.68 GAA;the Quakers also boastsenior Chris Casey, who started 21 of Penn's 26 games between the pipes in 2007 and 2008.
Quoting Coach Murphy
"Duke is my alma mater, but I haven't thought about this game in that way at all. Probably the only time it really came up was when I saw that we were going to practice on their turf Friday, and I remembered practicing on that turf as a player. But the connection does not resonate with me as much as the fact that they are a high-caliber program who is working with kids along the lines of what we have here at Penn."
"You watch Duke play, and you see a bunch of talented kids who play hard and play fast."
"I think we have strengths in a lot of different areas, some of them physical and some of them mental. I expect us to be pretty good on defense, I think Justin Lynch is a great face-off man, and I see a lot of athleticism in the midfield. I have also been impressed with our cohesion and work ethic."