PHILADELPHIA - To say that Saturday's meeting between the Penn and Northwestern women's lacrosse teams is a clash of titans would be an understatement.
In fact, both the Quakers and the Wildcats bring numbers that are so staggering as to be comical. When the teams face off at 8 p.m. ET on Northwestern's Lakeside Field, you could say that both teams will be trying to avenge a nemesis of recent years...
*Over the last three years, the Quakers are a combined 47-4 -- 1-3 against Northwestern, 46-1 against the rest of the nation. Their last two seasons have been ended by the Wildcats (NCAA semifinal in 2007, NCAA final in 2008).
*Four-time defending NCAA champion Northwestern, meanwhile, is 57-1 since losing its 2007 season opener; that loss, of course, came last year at Franklin Field, when Penn downed the 'Cats, 11-7.
*Perhaps most interesting, though, is that the last teams to beat Penn and Northwestern...were Northwestern and Penn. Following last year's regular-season game in Philly, NUrolled through its last six games of 2008 undefeated,capping the run byavenging the Quakers in the NCAAChampionship final, 10-6. (If you're scoring at home, you got that right...the teams tied, 17-17, in their two games last year.)
This year, Northwestern (16-0) enters Saturday's game ranked No. 1 in the latest IWLCA national coaches' poll, where the 'Cats have spent the entire year. Meanwhile, Penn (13-0) is third; the teams sandwich No. 2 Maryland, the nation's only other unbeaten Division I team at 16-0. While NU was trumpeted as a team for the ages before the season even began, Penn's success -- unexpected by some after the loss of so many key seniors from last year-- has only added intrigue to a matchup that was already on a lot of people's "one to watch" list from the get-go.
Saturday's goal for Penn is to end another ridiculous Northwestern streak -- that being the Wildcats' 51-game home winning streak.
Once again, probably the biggest key will be Penn's defense -- the Quakers enter the game leading the nation with a 4.85 goals-against average. So can they shut down an offense that averages 18.47 goals per game, which also leads the nation? Well, the Wildcats' vulnerability may have been somewhat exposed last weekend when they barely escaped Virginia, winning 11-10. Despite that narrow decision, though, NU enters Saturday night's game with a nation-leading 12.33 average margin of victory, well ahead of second-place Penn (6.92).
As for Penn, it's been the same old story in 2009: stingy defense combined with a solid, balanced offense. The Quakers have also had a close call -- they needed overtime to defeat Dartmouth two weeks ago -- but so farthey have proven that the loss of several seniors from a year ago did nothing to diminish the level of talent in the program.
The bottom line is this -- when Saturday evening gets here, if you are at Lakeside Field, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. When it comes to women's lacrosse, Penn-Northwestern has become as good as it gets.