PHILADELPHIA - The calendar may still be on February, but that means nothing to the Penn men’s lacrosse team as it opens the 2009 season Saturday at Drexel. Faceoff at the Dragons’ Vidas Field is set for noon.
While the Quakers are opening the season Saturday, Drexel has already played a game the Dragons lost to No. 2 Virginia last weekend, 13-7, in Charlottesville. Both Drexel and Penn were among several teams receiving votes in the USILA national coaches’ preseason poll.
Last year, of course, Penn opened with Drexel and had a nationally ranked Dragons squad on the ropes in the fourth quarter. However, Drexel scored four unanswered goals in the final nine minutes and escaped Franklin Field with a 9-8 win.
This year’s Penn squad returns a number of players who were prominent in that game the Quakers have 12 of 13 starters back, and 22 letterwinners from 2008 overall. With 10 seniors on the roster, most of whom have figured prominently in the lineup for several years, seventh-year head coach Brian Voelker is looking to guide the Quakers to their third NCAA Championship berth in the last six seasons.
Some Penn notes heading into Saturday’s season opener...
Penn returns 22 letterwinners and lost just four from the 2008 team that, for the second year in a row, finished 6-7 overall including a 3-3 Ivy League mark.
Penn's captains for the 2009 season will be seniors Craig Andrzejewski, Drew Collins,J.J. Lian, and Greg Murray.
Penn -- which is looking for its third NCAA postseason bid in six years after not having one from 1989 to 2003 -- has finished .500 or better in the Ivy League four of the last five years, including a 4-2 record in 2006.
Among the returnees are 12 of 13 starters -- all three on attack (seniors Andrzejewski and Alex Weber and sophomore Corey Winkoff) and the first midfield unit (seniors Lian, whohas moved to a long-stick middie this year,along withGarvey Heiderman and sophomore Al Kohart); two on defense (juniors Brett Hughes and Tommy Dodge); one in goal (junior Chris Casey); and all three on the face-off unit (junior face-off man Justin Lynch, wings senior Brian Weiss and junior Joe Kelly). For many of the seniors, 2009 will mark their third year as a starter.
Andrzejewski led the Quakers in two of three scoring categories last year for the second year in a row, with 23 goals and 40 points. He has 106 career points, and is 11 shy of cracking Penn’s top-10 list.
Andrzejewski -- who finished third in the Ivy League in points per game, fourth in assists per game, and eighth in goals per game -- was Penn’s first first-team All-Ivy pick since 2004 last year, and in 2007 he was a USILA honorable mention All-America.
Winkoff led Penn and the Ivy League with 23 assists, and scored nine times. He finished ninth in the conference in points per game (2.46).
Weber was second on the team with 21 goals and fourth with 23 points last season.
The midfield is pretty deep. From last year’s first unit, Kohart was a second-team All-Ivy pick as a freshman and finished third on the team with 19 goals and 26 points. Lian had 10 goals last season, and Heiderman scored eight. Another veteran in the midfield are senior Casey O'Rourke, who moved from attack last year and scored nine times.
On defense, expect Hughes -- who had 10 caused turnovers and 27 ground balls last year -- and Kelly to anchor things after earning major playing time as sophomores last year.
There are several veterans at the defensive middie positions, as well, including long sticks Dodge and Greg Sih and short sticks Weiss and sophomore Terry Kennedy.
Lynch had a .577 win percentage last year on face-offs, and swept up a team-leading 58 ground balls. Kelly ended the year with 52 GBs and seven caused turnovers, while Weiss had 42. This year, they figure to be one of the top units in the country.
In goal, Casey started 12 games last year; however, senior captain Greg Murray started the season finale, a win over Army. Murraywill get the start Saturday at Drexel. Add in freshman Joe Hegener, a high school All-America last year, and the table is set for a good battle at that position.
Quoting Coach Voelker
“We have a stated goal this year, and that is to win the Ivy League title. Obviously there are plenty of great programs in the league, but we feel like we have the talent and experience to compete with all of them.”
“We have a large senior class, and they have done a great job of setting the tone for this season with their leadership. They were in the NCAA field as freshmen, and now they want to round out their careers by not only making the NCAAs again but also having success in the tournament.”
“When I came to Penn, my message to recruits was that this is a program that can be a perennial NCAA team. I continue to feel that way, and the level of player we have brought in the last few years enhances that feeling. We expect this season to be the springboard to more great things for the next several years.”