THE DAY AFTER: Penn 9, Duke 8 (ot)

Video~Penn Women's Lacrosse All-Access: Practice Report-Saturday, May 24th

Video~Penn Women's Lacrosse All-Access: Melissa Lehman-Senior Midfielder

TOWSON, Md. - While we sit here watching the Division I men’s lacrosse semifinals from our hotel room here at Towson, we cannot help but go back to Friday night’s epic, 9-8 overtime win over Duke at “the U” (as the locals call Johnny Unitas Stadium)...

The 4-1-1 on Sunday: Game time is 7 p.m. at Unitas Stadium. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for college students with ID and children 18 and under. The game will be televised live on CBS College Sports (formerly College Sports Television, or CSTV).

NCAA Final History: Sunday’s appearance in the NCAA final game will not only be the first in Penn women’s lacrosse history; it will be the first by any Penn team in any program. By our count, the following programs advanced to semifinal games over the years but never further: men’s lacrosse, women’s lacrosse, field hockey, and of course men’s basketball.

NCAA Title History: Penn has won four NCAA team championships before, all in fencing. The men’s fencing team won NCAA titles in 1953, 1969 and 1981, and most recently the women’s fencing team won the crown in 1986. It should be noted that Penn has won national titles in other sports that are not NCAA-sanctioned, most recently in 2000 when women’s squash won the Howe Cup (that sport’s national championship event).

It Is Their Time: There was a feeling, as last year went along, that Penn’s rise within the Ivy League and on the national level came a year earlier than expected – that it was this year’s senior class that would provide the big jump for the Quakers, and this would be the year they would finally reach the big stage (championship weekend). It created a pretty loose, happy-to-be-here team that got its feet wet in a major way last year in a semifinal against Northwestern at Franklin Field. What last year’s success did, however, was it put a target on the back of this year’s team, and the wake-up call came in just the third game when the Quakers headed West and fell to Stanford, 10-8. They have not lost since then. But while there are still a lot of naysayers out there – we know, we read the message boards – this appearance in the final is not a surprise to those around the program. This was supposed to happen.

Precedence: The road that Penn has traveled the last two years is eerily similar to a path that we were lucky enough to travel a few years ago – that of Northwestern. In 2004, the Wildcats – only a third-year varsity program at the time – made a quantum leap from .500 mediocrity with a long winning streak during the regular season that was met with much skepticism nationally. Those pundits were seemingly vindicated when NU, after an historic win over Notre Dame in the NCAA first round, traveled to Virginia for a quarterfinal game and got rung up by the Cavaliers, 15-11. Well, you know what happened next – NU came back in 2005, went 21-0, andwon its first NCAA title. And who did Northwestern beat in the final? The team that eliminated it from the NCAAs the year before, Virginia. Again, eerily similar...

(BTW, before that 2005 championship, Northwestern University’s only NCAA title had come back in the fencing. Sound familiar?)

Duke Woes: While Penn is playing in its first NCAA final in any sport, we can’t help but feel awful for Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel and her players. You could certainly argue that the Blue Devils were playing with house money entering this weekend – they were unseeded and not expected to be here. That said, as we were in the locker room area following last night’s game, our hearts went out to the Blue Devil players, many of whom walked out of the locker room to head to the post-game autograph session with tears streaming down their faces. Think about this: Duke’s outgoing senior class has made the semifinal round each of the last four years, something only the Devils and Northwestern can claim. However, while the Wildcats will be gunning for their fourth straight national title Sunday night, Duke is heading home on Saturday for the fourth year in a row. The losses: 15-13 to Virginia (2005); 11-10 in overtime to Northwestern (2006); 14-13 to Virginia, after holding a 13-4 lead (2007); and last night in OT after holding a three-goal lead in the second half. Kimel – who grew up in Havertown, Pa. – is one of the best people in the women’s lacrosse world, and while we are happy to see the Quakers playing on Sunday a large part of us goes out to her.

Duke Woes II: So last year Carolyn Davis goes down in the semifinal with an ACL injury, and it changes the course of the Blue Devils’ contest with Virginia. She certainly redeemed herself Friday night vs. Penn, scoring five unassisted goals to lead all players. However, you had to feel for Duke’s program when freshman Emma Hamm (of Wayne, Pa.) crumpled to the ground less than three minutes into the contest with what looked like a knee injury. The Blue Devils’ third-leading scorer did not return.

OT Info: By our count, last night’s game was the 23rd overtime contest in NCAA Division I Women’s Lacrosse Championship history. It was Penn’s first OT contest in the postseason; by contrast, Duke is now 0-3 in such games. (man, we feel like we are we piling on the Blue Devils at this point)

Drawing Up a Win: The stat sheet will show Melissa Lehman with three goals, and of course Rachel Manson will forever be the hero (thanks to freshman Giulia Giordano’s composed heads-up play). But the effort of Allison Ambrozy on draws down the stretch cannot be overstated as the key to the game. She finished with seven in the contest, many of them in the final 15 minutes of the second half and through OT. What was interesting was that, on Friday night, probably the two best players on the field were the two wearing knee braces (Ambrozy and Duke’s Davis).

(BTW, before the game we felt like draws would be the key factor in last night’s game. Sure enough, Penn won the game 9-8 after being down 7-4; the Quakers also won the draw controls 11-10 after being down 8-4 in that stat)

Cardiac Kids: Penn has not been behind a whole lot during this school-record 15-game win streak, but the Quakers have proven that you can’t count them out. Last night, they were down 7-4 with just over 15 minutes left, but came back to take the lead before the end of regulation. The last time Penn was down in the second half? April 27 against Northwestern, when the Quakers trailed by, you guessed it, 7-4 late in the first before rattling off the game’s last seven scores for the 11-7 victory.

So what of Northwestern? If nothing else, April 27 was an important day in that it showed the Quakers they not only can play with the Wildcats, but beat them. Anyone who was there will tell you that Penn was the better team that day. So will they be the better team again on Sunday?

What's With the Getup? Did anyone notice that, in the first semifinal lastnight,Northwestern's players wore shirts and shorts, instead of the traditional kilts? Apparently they were made special for this weekend to the point of being driven to Towson by adidas, which outfits all of Northwestern's athletic teams. We asked NU's sports information contact what the players thought of the shorts, and his response was: "I think most of them slept in them last night, they like them so much." Probably a little more info than we needed.

A quick look at the ‘Cats: Some of Northwestern’s offensive players have numbers that are downright filthy. Junior Hilary Bowen scored six times Friday vs. Syracuse, giving her 78 on the season (by comparison, Penn’s two leading scorers this season, Manson and Lehman, have combined for 77). We have seen enough women’s lacrosse over the years to present NU junior Hannah Nielsen as the best feeder in the history of the college game; she has 60 assists this year to go with 48 goals. The Australian still has a year to go but already has 138 assists in her career. The general belief around the country is that senior Christy Finch is the best defender in the country; she entered the weekend with 68 caused turnovers (by comparison, Penn's team leader, Ali DeLuca, had 25). Finch and Nielsen are among the five national finalists for the Tewaaraton Trophy, college lacrosse's Heisman equivalent. Head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller is 16-1 all-time in NCAA games, a record. NU's senior class is 81-3 all-time entering Sunday's final. Oh, and one final thing...Northwestern is still only in its seventh year back as a varsity program.