PHILADELPHIA - With the Ivy League season past the halfway point, seeding and placement for the Ivy League Tournament is about to sort out as the three undefeated teams inside the Ancient Eight prepare to meet on the field. For No. 8 Penn (8-3, 4-0 Ivy) the path to the top seed does not deviate from University City as the Quakers host the two other undefeated teams at Franklin Field. Up first is No. 16 Dartmouth (8-2, 4-0) at 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.
The Quakers and Big Green met twice in 2010, a pair of close encounters that came out on the favorable side for the Red and Blue. The first game was a 9-6 win in Hanover for the Quakers who needed a second-half rally to hold off Dartmouth. In the first-ever Ivy League Tournament final, Penn downed Dartmouth by the slimmest of margins, 9-8, to earn the Ivy's automatic bid to the NCAA Championships.
Anyone who knows anything about the Penn-Dartmouth matchup knows that the key to Saturday's tilt will be who can control the defensive side of the ball. The Quakers bring the nation's fifth-best scoring defense with them, limiting opponents to 7.82 goals-per-game. Normally, that number gives Penn a decided advantage in the 'defense' column, but the Big Green are just two spots behind at No. 7, giving up 7.90 goals-per-game.
Individually, the two goalkeepers are ranked right where you would expect based on the team defensive stats. Penn's Emily Leitner is sixth in the country with a 7.85 goals-against average. Dartmouth's Kristen Giovanniello is ninth with a GAA of 7.90. Her save percentage of .541 (93 saves on 172 shots on goal) is No. 1 in the country to Leitner's No. 27 (.448 with 69 saves on 154 shots on goal).
It is not just the goalkeepers who are contributing to the stingy defenses on both sides, each team has a group of defenders focused on limiting shot attempts. Penn's back group is a mix of seniors and freshmen with Carolyn Pollard and Lily Posner providing veteran leadership and direction while Lydia Miller (nine CTs and 11 GBs) and Lindsey Smith (17 GBs) have taken care of forcing the ball away from opponents and starting transition offense for the Quakers.
Senior Shannie MacKenzie was a first-team All-American and first-team All-Ivy last season on defense for the Big Green and leads the team with 13 caused turnovers to go with 18 ground balls this season. Junior Georgia Bird is a stellar help defender who has also started all 10 games on defense for the Big Green.
When two shut-down defenses clash, players that capitalize on offensive chances are important. Penn can look in those situations to Erin Brennan. The team leader in goals (24), assists (10) and points (34), Brennan is also 6-for-7 on free positions as she climbs her way up Penn's scoring lists. Her 136 career points ranks seventh all-time and her 83 goals are 10th-best by a Penn player. Bridget Waclawik has emerged as a scoring threat in her senior season, with 11 goals and four assists to establish a career high with 15 points. She is one goal away from tying her career best of 12 as she has been able to stay on the field after three injury-shortened campaigns. Waclawik has been efficient with her shots, with 19 of her 21 shots reaching goal (91%) and 11 of those shots finding paydirt.
Dartmouth's favorite attack option is Kat Collins. The senior has 23 goals and eight assists to lead the Big Green. She has twice gone over the 30-goal mark in her career and was a Tewaaraton Watch List player last year before a knee injury slowed her down. Great Meyer is another dangerous option for Dartmouth with 20 goals and 27 total points this season. A unanimous first-team All-Ivy selection in 2010, Meyer had 35 goals last season and was a first-team All-Region selection.
While Penn is currently riding a 33-game Ivy League win streak, the team taking the field on Saturday is quite different than the one that played Dartmouth in the Ivy League Championship Game last May. Only four of Penn's starters from that game are still seeing regular action for the Red and Blue and just six players who saw time in that game are still regulars. Seven players graduated who played in that game and another - senior Keely Langdon - is battling injury. The Quakers have 13 players who have played in at least 10 of the 11 games this season, and six of them were either injured, serving as backup keeper or still in high school last year. Dartmouth, on the other hand, returns 10 of its 12 starters from that championship game and another five who played in the final are back as well.
Notes: Erin Brennan has scored a goal and an assist in all three of her games against Dartmouth ... Giulia Giordano has four goals and three assists against the Big Green, including two goals at Dartmouth last April ... Maddie Poplawski scored twice in the Ivy League final last year and has three goals total in two games against Dartmouth ... Emily Leitner will be making her first career start against Dartmouth, but came off the bench in the Ivy final to record the win in 23:24 of action.