PHILADELPHIA - No. 4 Penn is on the road at Ivy League rival Harvard this Saturday at 1 p.m. to kick off Ancient Eight play for 2011, beginning the course to defend the Ivy title.
Of all the accomplishments the Penn women's lacrosse team has put together over the past four years - NCAA Tournament runs, national semifinal appearances, a national title game berth, numerous individual honors to name a few - perhaps the most telling of how successful the Quakers have been is the run the Red and Blue have put together in the Ivy League.
Dating back to April 22, 2006 and a 15-6 win over Brown at Franklin Field, the Quakers have won 29 Ivy League games in a row. The run includes four consecutive outright Ivy titles and ranks as the second-longest active streak in the nation behind Northwestern's 35. The current run of 29 Ancient Eight wins is the second-longest stretch by an Ivy team, trailing the 36-game streak put together by Harvard from 3/28/87-3/27/93, a streak that is the current standard-bearer for conference dominance.
Simple math shows that Penn is now seven games behind that streak by the Crimson, and seven games makes up a full Ivy season. But, the Red and Blue are looking at it in a different manner, knowing that seven wins in seven Ivy games means a fifth title. Anything else that comes along with the chance to raise a trophy is icing on the cake.
Up first for the Quakers is the Harvard program that looms on the horizon. The Crimson are 1-1 this season, and are already off to a 1-0 start in the League. Both contests for the Crimson have been close encounters, an 18-17 loss at No. 6 Stanford and a 13-12 win at Cornell. Saturday marks the first home game of the season for Harvard, with the game taking place at Soldiers Field Lacrosse/Soccer Stadium.
2010 unanimous Ivy League Rookie of the Year and first-team All-Ivy Jennifer VanderMeulen has already scored six goals in two games for the Crimson while classmate Danielle Tetreault paces the Crimson with eight goals and an assist.
The Red and Blue have jumped out to a 3-0 start, including a 10-7 win over then No. 3 North Carolina last Saturday and an 8-4 win at Hofstra on Wednesday. Senior Giulia Giordano has scored seven goals and two assists to lead Penn with nine points while sophomore Caroline Bunting has already set a career high with six goals.
Overall, Penn has had nine players score at least one goal and 11 total players have factored in on scoring. Six of the nine players with goals are underclassmen, as head coach Karin Brower Corbett has seen the next generation of Penn players rise up and contribute.
To focus on Giordano's scoring output alone would be missing out on her complete performance to date. In addition to leading the team in goals, assists and points, she owns or shares the lead in draw controls (7), ground balls (6) and caused turnovers (5). One of Penn's tri-captains, Giordano has exemplified the adage of "leading by example" in the early goings of 2011.
Junior Emily Leitner has been stingy in goal, posting a goals-against average of 6.67 while making 23 saves for a save percentage of .535. The Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week after her win over UNC, Leitner is coming up big on free positions, as opponents have scored just 10 times on 21 attempts this season. In front of Leitner, freshman Lydia Miller has been a force on defense with five caused turnovers and four ground balls. Lindsey Smith also has four ground balls on the defensive side while Maddie Poplawski has been focused on her defense this year as well with five ground balls to go with her seven draw controls.
The Quakers have won the last 10 meetings between the two schools and have a slight 19-18 edge in the series after Harvard has won 15 in a row from 1981-1995.
Elsewhere around the Ivy League this weekend, Brown is at Princeton on Saturday while Cornell travels to Columbia on Sunday.