PHILADELPHIA - The women's lacrosse season is already almost one-third complete and No. 4 Penn sits at 4-0 heading into a mid-week road game at Rutgers on Wednesday at 6 p.m.
The Quakers will be completing a three-game road trip against the Scarlet Knights, with wins at Hofstra (8-4) and Harvard (9-8) on the books already. Rutgers is 5-1 overall and riding its own three-game winning streak.
The Red and Blue have seamlessly merged the veterans from the recent run of Ivy titles and NCAA Championships appearances with a crop of youngsters ready to carry on the tradition to forge an identity for the 2011 season. That identity is one of gritty defense and an ability to win the battles late in games.
All four of Penn's games to date have been close in the second half, with Penn turning one-goal games into wins each time. Starting with a comeback from a 6-5 deficit late against Drexel for a 12-9 win in the opener and continuing through last Saturday's win in Cambridge where Penn trailed at one point, 6-2, and did not lead until there was less than three minutes left, the Red and Blue have established a flair for the dramatic.
Rutgers is no stranger to close games, as well, with three one-goal games on its resume this year including two overtime games. The Scarlet Knights are 2-1 in the nailbiters, with a 9-8 loss to Princeton and 11-10 wins over Temple and Hofstra already in the books. Overall, the Scarlet Knights have shown an ability to score goals, with 11 or more goals in five of six games - all five of those games resulting in Rutgers wins.
Senior Marlena Welsh leads the Scarlet Knights with 18 points on 15 goals and three assists. A second-team All-Region player in 2010, she is on pace to set career highs in all three categories. The Scarlet Knights have four total players over 10 goals already, including Lindsey Watts (11), and Kristen Anderson and Ali Steinber who each have 10. Katherine Marino has five assists to lead the team. Lily Kalata is the a defensive force while playing goal for Rutgers with nine caused turnovers and 18 ground balls to go with her 6.93 GAA and .531 save percentage.
The goalkeeper battle is one to watch on Wednesday as Kalata ranks sixth in the country in goals-against average while Penn's Emily Leitner is seventh at 7.00. The two are also close in save percentage, with Kalata ranking ninth to Leitner's 12th (.517).
The key for Penn will be to bring the scoring punch provided in the second half of its games to the opening 30 minutes. The Quakers are even with their opponents in the first half this season, with 15 goals apiece. In the second half, though, Penn has outscored opponents by a 24-13 margin. Rutgers has also dominated the second half, with a 36-24 edge in final-period goals.
Giulia Giordano's eight goals and 10 overall points lead Penn's balanced scoring attack. Caroline Bunting is right behind with seven goals and nine points. Erin Brennan also has nine points, with five goals and four assists. Meredith Cain, Bridget Waclawik and Tory Bensen each have four goals. All four classes have goals for the Quakers with freshmen and sophomores accounting for 21 of Penn's 39 goals.
Penn is 3-9 all-time against Rutgers, but the two teams have not met since 2005. The Quakers won the last meeting in Piscataway on May 8 of 2005 by a 12-6 score. Chrissy Muller had four goals and an assist in the win and Sarah Waxman made 11 saves.