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ITHACA, N.Y. - Over the past five-plus seasons, Penn has been in numerous big games, coming out on the positive side of some and falling short in others. However, just playing in those games - national championship games, Final Fours, Ivy League Tournament games or any of the frequent games against the top teams in the country - has ensured that the Quakers do not shy away when the going gets tough.
On Saturday, the battle-tested Quakers showed their mettle with a come-from-behind win on the road in Ithaca over No. 18 Cornell, 11-10. The No. 8-ranked Quakers stumbled out of the gate, affording the Big Red a 3-0 lead and then a 5-2 advantage before the Quakers scored nine of the game's final 15 goals for a crucial Ivy League win.
The victory makes Penn the first Ivy team to 3-0 inside the League and put the first Ancient Eight blemish of the season on Cornell's record. The Quakers are now in sole possession of first place and have a half-game lead on Dartmouth and Princeton.
Emily Leitner came up big for her team with a career high 12 saves, leading a defensive unit which was without its most experienced player in sophomore Lydia Miller (injury) and started three freshmen. After Cornell scored five early goals, the group clamped down and gave its offense a chance to get back in the game. Leitner had a season high five ground balls while Leah McBride had three ground balls in her first career start.
Cornell scored 43 seconds into the game and added two more in the game's
first 8:14 to force a Penn timeout. Penn came out of the timeout with some fire, drawing a free position which was turned aside by Cornell. The Big Red were unable to successfully clear, though, and following a Shannon Mangini caused turnover Penn was able to get its first goal of the game via a Meredith Cain free position goal at the 10:03 mark. Cain then won the ensuing draw, giving Penn a possession which led to a Courtney Tomchik goal at 12:20 to bring Penn within one.
Cornell answered Penn's brief rally with two goals to make the score 5-2, with 10:36 left in the first half. The Quakers exploded following the fifth goal allowed, though, scoring six of the final eight goals before halftime to lead, 8-7, after 30 minutes.
Leah McBride won the draw for Penn and the play worked down to Maddie Poplawski who scored her first of the game on an Erin Brennan pass less than 40 seconds after Cornell had scored to make it, 5-3. Brennan then notched a goal of her own 44 seconds later to close Penn to within one goal. Jessi Steinberg briefly halted Penn's momentum with her third of the game at 22:28, but all that did was lead to four unanswered goals for the Quakers.
Caroline Bunting accounted for the first two of the run, scoring first on a free position at 23:08 and then on an unassisted play at 25:54. Tomchik tallied her second of the game with 2:40 left in the first half to give Penn its first lead of the day - a lead Penn would not relinquish - before Poplawski capped the run with her second of the game from Cain at 28:13. Cornell scored once more before the end of the half, but Penn took an 8-7 lead to break.
Success on free position shots was the ultimate decider of the game in the second half, as both teams scored twice on eight-meter attempts, but Emily Leitner forced Cornell to miss on four others. Poplawski struck first, connecting on a free position at 31:54, a goal which Steinberg answered 1:40 later.
Erin Brennan, Penn's most experienced player in big games with the Quakers, provided the insurance Penn needed with two goals in 1:57 of game play. First, she scored on a free position at 39:10 and then on an unassisted goal at 41:07 to give Penn a three-goal lead.
Brenan's goal was the last Penn scored in the game as the Quakers turned to defense. Leitner was the backbone of the group, making three saves in the final 17 minutes of play. Overall, Leitner had six saves in the game, with five coming in the second half. She also had a game-high five ground balls, almost as many as Cornell had as a team (eight).
Brennan finished with four points on three goals and an assist, while Poplawski had three goals, four draw controls, two caused turnovers and two ground balls. Caroline Bunting and Courtney Tomchik each had a pair of goals, with Bunting adding a pair of draw controls. Meredith Cain added four draw controls to her goal and assist.
The Quakers held the Ivy League's highest-scoring offense to well-below its average of 15.7 goals-per-game as Leitner and company stifled Jessi Steinberg's supporting cast. Steinberg did finish with five goals and an assist, but the 16 other Cornell players who saw time on the field managed just five goals on 16 total shots on goal. Rowe had two goals and Olivia Knotts had a goal and two assists. Kyla Dambach allowed six goals on eight shots on goal before being relieved at the 25:54 mark by Courtney Gallagher who made five saves while allowing five goals.
The Quakers are now 5-2 overall and 3-0 inside the Ivy League. Up next for Penn is No. 4 Maryland on March 30 at Franklin Field (6 p.m.) and an Ivy game with Columbia on April 1 at 1 p.m.