A young Penn men’s lacrosse team took the field in 2004, not really knowing what to expect of the coming season. Having lost five starters and eight letterwinners, the Red and Blue were leaning on the returning 15 letterwinners to lead the team into a successful campaign. Behind the hot stick of senior Will Phillips and a stellar defense anchored by Ryan Kelly and Patrick Connelly, the Quakers refused to lose on Franklin Field. Penn earned five All-Ivy League selections and two NCAA All-American honorable mentions by the end of the season. Going undefeated at home and defeating a number of nationally ranked teams along the way, Penn earned its first bid to the NCAA tournament in 15 years.
The Quakers opened the 2004 season looking to gain national respect. That respect was to be earned soon after the first game of the season. The Red and Blue began their season with a true test, competing against then-No. 2 Johns Hopkins at Homewood Field in Baltimore, Md. After a tough 14-5 loss to Johns Hopkins the previous year, Penn looked to close the gap on one of the top teams in the country. Overcoming four three-goal deficits early in the game, the Quakers pulled the game to an 8-8 draw with 3:42 remaining in the third on a goal by Phillips. In the fourth, Hopkins again widened its lead to two and the Baltimore crowd began celebrating a Blue Jay victory. But with 1:53 remaining in the game, Phillips scored a goal for the Quakers, quieting the crowd and forcing the game down to the wire. After two blocked shots by the Red and Blue within the last minute of the game, the Blue Jays managed to hold off Penn’s attack and take a hard-fought 10-9 victory. Despite the loss, the Quakers earned national recognition, picking up a No. 20 spot in the country by Inside Lacrosse, a number below which they never dropped the remainder of the season.
Following the tough loss to Johns Hopkins, Penn opened its season at home with games against Villanova and Lehigh. The Quakers played a tough team in Villanova, taking the lead on sophomore P.J. Gilbert’s first collegiate goal with 29 seconds left in regulation. Gilbert’s goal gave the Red and Blue a 6-5 lead and their first win of the season. Phillips led the No. 19 Quakers to a 9-5 decision over Lehigh, scoring five points on two goals and three helpers. The wins over Villanova and Lehigh moved the Quakers to 2-1 on the season.
Despite outstanding play by Phillips, the Red and Blue couldn’t overcome the deficit created by the Black Knights of Army. Kelly had a season-high 10 saves for the Quakers, but the Army offense proved too much for the Quakers in a 12-7 loss.
The Penn squad opened its Ivy season against the Elis of Yale on the road. The Elis were 3-0 going into the game against the Quakers and promised to be a very tough opponent. Unfortunately for Penn, its road losing streak was extended to three as Yale pulled out a 15-11 decision in a very high scoring game.
After a disappointing road trip, the Quakers came back to Franklin Field looking to turn the tides and regain lost ground. Going into three games against Bucknell, Harvard and Cornell, the Red and Blue stood with a 2-3 record on the season. After a solid 11-3 defeat of Bucknell in 2001, the Quakers looked for a repeat performance after a two-year hiatus from competition with the Bison. Behind a pair of goals by Phillips, the Red and Blue extended their home win record to 3-0, breaking an even 3-3 on season with a 7-6 decision over the Bison.
Going into their game against Harvard, the Quakers looking for their first Ivy win of the year. Phillips extended his scoring streak to 25 games, with two goals and a helper, and Kelly made 11 saves as the Quakers posted a 7-5 decision over the Crimson. The Red and Blue picked up a pair of fourths with the win their fourth victory of the season and their fourth-straight defeat of Harvard.
Cornell came out with an intensity that matched their 13-7 victory of the previous year, and took an early lead which they held onto for most of the game. With the Quakers down, 8-6, late in the game, Mark Becker and P.J. Gilbert scored two big goals to bring the contest to an 8-8 draw. Phillips kept his streak alive, scoring the go-ahead goal 26 seconds after Gilbert’s goal. With 21 seconds remaining, D.J. Andrzejewski netted an insurance goal to give the Quakers a 10-8 win over the No. 9 Big Red, helping to extend Penn’s home win streak to five.
Following the defeat of Cornell, the Quakers headed north to play Ivy opponent Dartmouth at Scully-Fahey Field. The site where Phillips’ scoring streak began became another number, 28, for the senior as he extended his streak with two assists early in the game. Despite the push by the Quaker offense, the Big Green proved too much in a 9-4 decision.
Penn’s struggle on the road continued as the Quaker’s faced No. 6 Princeton. Heading into the fourth period at the Class of 1952 Stadium, the Red and Blue held a 6-5 lead over the Tigers. Despite a valiant seven saves by keeper Ryan Kelly, the Quakers were unable to hold off the Princeton attack, allowing four goals in the last period of play. The gut-wrenching 9-6 loss to the Tigers moved the Quakers overall record to 5-5 on the season as they searched for their first win on the road.
The last time the Quakers recorded a perfect season at Franklin Field was in 1987. The 2004 Quakers had only Brown standing in the way of matching that accomplishment. On April 17, the Red and Blue faced the No. 10 Bears at home. The Penn seniors dominated in their last performance at home, creating a very memorable final home game at Franklin Field with a 10-5 victory.
Penn headed to the road again for the last two games of the regular season, still searching for a victory away from Franklin Field. Behind outstanding defensive play, the Quakers would earn that victory against Loyola. The Red and Blue defense held the Greyhounds to only five goals, while the Quaker offense scored seven goals behind clutch performances by Phillips and Luke Dixson.
The last game of the regular season saw Penn pitted against No. 3 Maryland at Byrd Stadium. Unbelievable play by Kelly in the net saw the Quakers trailing by only two goals going into intermission, but the Quakers were never able to overcome the deficit and faced a 13-5 loss despite impressive play by Kelly and Dixson.
Despite the late-season loss to the Terps, the Quakers (7-6) earned a berth in the NCAA tournament for the first time in 15 years. Their first round draw saw the Red and Blue across the field from No. 2 Navy. At the half, the Quakers saw themselves trailing 4-1 and struggling to get the ball past Navy’s goaltender Matt Russell. Just 1:07 into the second half however, Phillips broke past the wall and brought the Quakers back to a 4-2 game. The Middies rallied to score three more goals, but the Red and Blue refused to go quietly behind two goals by Gilbert late in the third period. Any momentum gained by the Quakers was quickly lost as Navy scored three straight goals before Alan Eberstein sent Penn’s last goal into the net. Kelly saved a game-high nine shots in his last performance with the Penn team.
The Quakers ended the season 7-7 overall but saw a number of record-breaking performances. After the season, the Red and Blue had five All-Ivy selections with seniors Phillips and Connelly earning the nod for first team, and seniors Ethan Haire and Kelly, along with sophomore D.J. Andrzejewski garnering honorable mention. Phillips and Kelly were also named to the 2004 STX/USILA Division I All-America team as honorable mention selections. Phillips finished his career with 56 goals and 43 assists, failing to record a point in only one game of his senior campaign. Kelly posted an 8.43 goals against average, a .530 save percentage and 133 saves in his senior season, with a career high 15 saves against No. 3 Maryland.
Written by Matt Valenti, C'06