PHILADELPHIA - The No. 3 Penn women's lacrosse team kicks off its 2010 campaign on Saturday against neighboring Drexel at 4 p.m.. While technically a road game, Penn is no stranger to Drexel's Vidas Field, with four wins on the Dragon's turf over the past three seasons. Three of those victories have aided Penn in its two most recent runs to the national semifinals in 2008 and 2009.
The Quakers are coming off a third-straight trip to the Final Four, and are beginning the season with their highest preseason national ranking. The Red and Blue are joined in the top four by the three other schools that played on the last weekend of May in '09 - No. 4 North Carolina, No. 2 Maryland and five-time defending national champion and preseason No. 1 Northwestern.
The other thing those three schools have in common besides spots at the top of this seasons polls and a national semifinal appearance last year is that they all have dates with the Red and Blue on the horizon before the regular season is over. The Quakers will head to Chapel Hill on March 6 to play the Tar Heels before hosting Maryland (April 2) and Northwestern (April 9) at Franklin Field on back-to-back Fridays.
Before the Quakers can play those teams, they must first face fellow University City resident Drexel. The Dragons will be more in tune with their game play than Penn, as Drexel has already played four regular season games while Saturday's game will be Penn's first. The Dragons are a perfect 4-0 so far in 2010, with wins over Virginia Tech, American, George Washington and Saint Joseph's. The last three wins for Drexel have been at Vidas Field, including an 8-2 win over St. Joe's on Wednesday. The Dragons are paced by senior Katie Lawson on offense. The 2009 second-team All-CAA performer has 15 goals over her first four games of the season. In goal, Whitney Johnson has started all four games for the Dragons and has a GAA of 8.05. Drexel has come out strong early in all four games, outscoring opponents by a 22-10 margin in the first half.
It was the Quakers who came out strong in the last meeting between the two schools, posting eight goals in the first half en route to a 10-4 win at Franklin Field. Ali DeLuca had three goals in the first half for the Red and Blue. Courtney Lubbe, Giulia Giordano and Becca Edwards each had a goal and an assist in the opening frame.
Penn is loaded up front, returning five of its top seven scorers from last season. At the top of that list is DeLuca. The two-time first-team All-Ivy midfielder and two-time second-team IWLCA All-America led the Quakers with 40 goals and 15 assists in '09. A glance at Penn's all-time career records shows DeLuca's name frequently, as she is sixth in points (137) and goals (100) to go with a seventh-ranking in assists (37.) Her even 100 goals through three years has her 29 behind Penn's all-time leading goal scorer, Sherry Marcantonio, who netted 129 goals from 1980-83.
If opposing teams focus their attention on DeLuca, 2009 Ivy League Rookie of the Year Erin Brennan will be there to carry the attack. In her rookie season, Brennan led the Quakers with 18 assists while finding the back of the cage 27 times. She won 28 draw controls, helping Penn to a .550 mark on draws. She had nine multi-goal games, including a two-goal, two-assist performance in the NCAA quarterfinals.
Joining Brennan on the attack will be senior Courtney Lubbe. After battling through injuries her first few seasons, Lubbe started all 18 games for the Quakers in '09, scoring 26 goals and 42 total points. She was a first-team All-Ivy selection and named first-team All-region as well. Her breakout performance was a five-goal, three-assist game against North Carolina which garnered three separate player of the week honors around the nation.
The fact that Penn had the Ivy League's co-Player of the Year and a first-team All-America selection fifth on its points list last season shows how deep this squad was last season - and more importantly, will be this campaign. Emma Spiro does it all in the midfield for Penn. She was second on the team in 2009 with 32 goals while registering 25% of the team's draw control wins, securing 50 draws. To go with her high amount of draw wins, she also picked up 31 ground balls while turning the ball over just nine times all season. She had a pair of hat tricks and is Penn's leading returner from '09 in game-winning goals with four. Her importance on both sides of the ball for head coach Karin Brower Corbett is no better signified than the fact she was twice named Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week and once named Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week.
Speaking of defense, the hallmark of Penn's success over the past three years has been its ability to keep opponents off the scoreboard. In 2009, Emily Szelest took over the starting job in goal for the Quakers, and all she did was lead the country in goals-against average at 6.11. She played all but 88 minutes in the cage for the Quakers last season, and was at her best in the first half of games where she allowed only 47 goals over 18 games - an average of 2.6.
Manning the area in front of Szelest will be a group of young defenders. Kaileigh Wright is the only returning defender who started all 18 games last season, doing so on her way to honorable mention All-Ivy honors. She had at least one ground ball in 13 games and caused 13 turnovers. Wright's classmate, Barb Seaman, saw action in all 18 games for Penn last season and started Penn's national semifinal game. She collected 21 ground balls over the course of the season and will be counted on for veteran leadership on the field.
The Quakers will have five other defenders with collegiate experience ready to step up this year - senior Jill Taylor, juniors Keely Langdon and Lily Posner and sophomores Lindsay Goddard and Jen Hardesty. They will be joined by a trio of freshmen to solidify the back end. Rookies Chloe Heckman, Lizzy Price and Jackie Koehn all will fight for time as freshmen. Heckman was an honorable mention All-America in high school.
In addition to the three freshmen on defense, Penn has an impressive class of rookies at middie and on attack as well. Caroline Bunting and Kelly McCallion will add to Penn's already potent attack as both were named first-team All-America before coming to Penn. Meredith Cain, Maddie Poplawski and Caroline Connor join the midfield ranks, both as high school All-America honorees.
The Quakers will be tested early and often throughout the 2010 season. In addition to the three games scheduled against UNC, Maryland and Northwestern, Penn also will have a tough Ivy schedule to play. Three other Ancient Eight teams are in the top 20 - No. 9 Princeton, No. 16 Dartmouth and No. 20 Cornell. All three of those Ivy games are on the road, and will be much-needed preparation for a new hurdle awaiting the Quakers at the end of the regular season.
For the first time, the Ivy League's automatic bid to the NCAA Championships will be awarded to the winner of a conference tournament. The top four teams in the Ivies after the regular season will play a three-game tournament to determine who automatically qualifies for the NCAA tournament. The Ivy League tournament is scheduled for Apr 30-May 2 at the top-seed.