PHILADELPHIA - No. 8 Penn has already had games against teams ranked No. 1 (Maryland) and No. 3 (North Carolina) in the IWLCA polls this season, so why not add a game against No. 2?
The Red and Blue head to Evanston, Ill. this weekend for a Sunday matinee against Northwestern at 1 p.m. EST at Lakeside Field along Lake Michigan.
Penn (8-2, 4-0 Ivy) is hoping that the game with the Wildcats mirrors the one against UNC rather than the trip to College Park last weekend. In their first game inside the upper echelon of women's lacrosse this season, the Quakers downed the Tar Heels, 10-7, at Franklin Field on March 6. Seven different players scored in the win over the Heels, including Caroline Bunting, Meredith Cain and Tory Bensen who each had two goals.
At defending national champion Maryland - the team which knocked off Northwestern in the 2010 national final - Penn had chances to dethrone the Terps, finding space for 19 shots, but managed just four goals in a 16-4 loss.
The history between the Quakers and Wildcats is complicated. The two teams have met ten times overall, with Northwestern holding an 8-2 advantage. The two sides have met nine times since 2005, including three meetings during the final weekend of the season in the NCAA Championships. Each of those meetings has gone in favor of the 'Cats, but nonetheless hold special meaning in the annals of Penn Women's Lacrosse.
In 2007, the Quakers faced off with Northwestern in the national semifinals held at Franklin Field. The trip to the final four was the first for Penn, made even more special by having the game played on its home field. The Wildcats won that game, 12-2, for their third consecutive national title.
The next year, the two teams met in the NCAA Championship game on 5/25/08. The game marked Penn's first-ever trip to the national title game. Penn scored three goals in quick succession to mount a comeback, but ultimately fell to the 'Cats, 10-6.
The last meeting in the national tournament came in 2009 during the national semifinals. The game was an absolute classic, as Penn scored four times in the final 6:22 to force overtime. The Red and Blue took the lead in the first overtime, but NU scored right before the buzzer to tie the game, eventually winning their fifth national title in a row on a sudden-victory goal in the second overtime, 13-12. While those three games did not come out on the positive side for the Quakers, they still remain important moments in the development of Penn's program. But perhaps the brightest moment in Penn's recent success came on April 27, 2008 when Penn defeated then-No. 1 Northwestern, 11-7.
The Quakers were ranked No. 4 at the time and Northwestern was three-time defending national champs and riding a 35-game win streak. At the half, the 'Cats held a 7-5 lead, but the Red and Blue scored all six of the goals recorded in the second half for an 11-7 win. Allison Ambrozy had three goals in the win while Giulia Giordano - then a freshman - had three goals and two assists as Penn pulled off its biggest win in school history.
Giordano seems to save her best performances for games lined up against players donning purple and white. In addition to the five-point outing in 2008, she went for three goals and an assist in the national semifinals in 2009. She enters the weekend second on the Quakers with 28 points (13 goals, 5 assists) and her 119 career points have her sitting 11th all-time by a Penn player.
The Quaker two spots ahead of Giordano is junior Erin Brennan. The attacker is the reigning Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week after an eight-point week which included a career-high five goals at Columbia last Sunday. She also tied her career high with six points against the Lions - with all those points coming in the first half. On the all-time lists, Brennan's 131 points rank her ninth among Penn players, one point behind Brenda Shaw and Julie Heller who are tied for seventh. 79 of Brennan's points have come via finding the back of the cage, tying her with current assistant coach Melissa Lehman for 11th all-time on Penn's career goal scoring list.
Brennan, Giordano, Bunting and the rest of Penn's attack will be looking to match goals with a Northwestern offense that boats the nation's leading scorer in Shannon Smith. The junior has 37 goals and 28 assists for 65 points in 2011 after a 2010 campaign where she registered 102 points en route to first-team All-American honors. She has more goals than anyone else in Sunday's game - for Penn or Northwestern - has points this season. However, the Wildcats are a deep bunch as always, with Erin Fitzgerald already past the 20-goal mark with 22 goals. Four other players have scored at least 11 goals for the Wildcats and eight total players have passed the 10-point mark.
Brianne LoManto has started all ten games for the 'Cats and has a goals-against average of 8.24 with a save percentage of 47.7%. She will be opposed in net by Penn's Emily Leitner, who is still amongst the NCAA leaders in goals-against average with a 7.22 GAA - good for fifth in the nation to LoManto's 13th.
The team strengths are what they normally are when Penn and Northwestern match up. The Red and Blue possess the NCAA's fourth-best team defense, allowing a paltry 7.20 goals-per-game and only once has a team scored more than 10 goals against the Quakers (No.1 Maryland's 16 - which is the Terps' third-lowest output of the season). Northwestern is the third-highest scoring team in the land, netting 16.2 goals-per-game. Only once have the Wildcats been held under 10 goals, a 7-6 win in overtime at North Carolina (2/25/11). The next-lowest output was 12 goals against No. 3 Duke last weekend.
The ultimate key might be the draw. Northwestern leads the NCAA in draw controls, averaging 17.80 draws-per-game. Alyssa Leonard has won 41 draw controls to lead the Wildcats with Alex Frank (37) and Smith (24) also big factors on the draw. The Quakers average 12.4 draw controls-per-game, with Maddie Poplawski leading the way with 26. She had seven draw controls of her own against Columbia last weekend, matching the output of the entire Lions squad.
The game will be televised live on the Big Ten Network at 1 p.m. EST and live radio can also be found here.