The storylines between Penn and Northwestern are tri-fold:Offense vs. Defense. As is normally the case, Friday's game will be a battle between a team sitting at the top of the nation's defensive categories (Penn) and one thriving on a relentless offensive attack (Northwestern). The Quakers enter the game with the country's second-best team defense, allowing an average of 6.27 goals per game. The Wildcats again boats the nation's highest scoring offense, finding the back of the cage to the tune of 17.22 goals a game. Familiar Foes. The rivalry between Penn and Northwestern is at the same time heated and in its growing stages. The two teams have met eight times since 2005, including three times in the NCAA Championships. The first four meetings were decisive victories for the Wildcats until Penn defeated Northwestern, 11-7, on April 27, 2008. Since then, NU has scored three wins by a total of seven goals. Included in those wins are a national title game victory (10-6 in '08) and a national semifinal win (13-12 in double overtime in '09). Can History Repeat Itself? In April of 2008, Northwestern entered Franklin Field riding a 36-game winning streak. Penn forced the Wildcats to put up a bagel in the second half, outscoring NU 6-0, to down the 'Cats, 11-7. Since that game, Northwestern has won 38-consectuive games. No doubt Penn is once again looking to stop a big streak on its home field.
The Quakers enter the game with a 9-2 record, coming off a 1-1 weekend against No. 2 Maryland (12-6 loss) and Columbia (19-7 win). The difference in the two games was Penn's ability to control the draw. On Friday night against Maryland and into Sunday's tilt with Columbia, Penn had trouble securing draw controls and watched teams come down and score. However, after allowing Columbia to take a 4-2 lead early in the game, Penn worked 11 draw controls in a row, leading to 10 goals before halftime and a 12-4 lead. Ali Deluca has been to best player on draws for Penn over the course of the season, leading the way with 22 draw controls. Maddie Poplawski (15), Erin Brennan (14) and Giulia Giordano (10) all have factored in on gaining possession for Penn and will be counted on to do so against the Wildcats.
In fact, Giordano may be the key for Penn against Northwestern. In the win over the 'Cats in 2008, Giordano had the breakout game of her rookie season, scoring three goals and adding a pair of assists. Last year, in the national semifinal, Giordano again scored a hat trick and added an assist. This year, she has already established career highs with 32 points, 24 ground balls and 15 caused turnovers.
Another Penn player with success against Northwestern is DeLuca. She has scored 10 points in her career against the 'Cats, including nine goals. In last year's Final Four game, she had four goals and an assist.
Northwestern is rolling along like they have been for the past five years entering the weekend. The 'Cats, the five-time defending national champion, are 9-0 and a unanimous number one in the polls. Much like Penn, Northwestern uses draw controls to jumpstart its offense. The Wildcats are tops in the nation, averaging 17.22 draw controls a game. Danielle Spencer is the focal point of the draw, ranking third in the country with 5.22 draw controls per game. She also finishing on the attack, tying for the team lead in goals with 30. She is even with fellow senior Katrina Dowd atop the Northwestern goal list in 2010, but they both fall behind sophomore Shannon Smith in the points column. Smith has 29 goals to go with a team-leading 15 assists to lead all scorers for Northwestern. Goalkeeper Brittany LoManto is in the top 12 nationally in both GAA (8.02) and save percentage (.523).