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PHILADELPHIA - After a bit of sweating on Selection Sunday, Penn again heads to the NCAA Tournament, taking on No. 6 seed Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore this Sunday at 1 p.m. The Quakers are unseeded for the second year in a row, garnering an at-large berth from the selection committee.
Penn is no stranger to high-ranked teams this season, with nine games played already this season against teams inside the IWLCA Top-20. Saturday's game against Loyola will be the 10th game against Top-20 teams this season, and Penn enters looking for its second win against Top-20 teams.
All-time in the NCAA Tournament, the Quakers are 9-7, and this trip marks this sixth year in a row that Penn has been one of the 16 teams chosen to compete for a national title. Of the 15 other teams in this year's NCAA Tournament, only five have played in more consecutive tournaments entering the 2012 edition than the Quakers - four ACC perennial entrants (Maryland - 23, Virginia - 17, Duke - 15, North Carolina - 8) and defending national champion Northwestern which is in its ninth consecutive tournament. Overall, the Red and Blue are making their eighth trip to NCAAs, which ranks 15th all-time among all Division I programs. In terms of wins when entered in the national tournament, Penn's nine wins rank 12th among the 48 teams to play at least one game in the NCAA Tournament.
Penn went one and out for just the second time in its seven trips to the NCAA Tournament last season, dropping a 12-9 decision at Duke. The Quakers have reached at least the national semifinals in three of the past five NCAA Tournaments, advancing to the national championship game in 2008. Penn's three trips to the Final Four are tied for 12th-most by any Division I team. Only Northwestern (five) has been to more Final Fours since 2007 than the Quakers, while Duke, Maryland and North Carolina have all been to three.
When Penn takes the field on Sunday, there is little question who the Quakers will look to for leadership on offense - senior Erin Brennan. The unanimous first-team All-Ivy selection ranks second all-time in points during the NCAA Tournament by a Penn player, with 22 over her three seasons. She has posted 12 assists during her six NCAA Tournament games, which are the most by a Quaker in national tournament play. In addition, her 10 goals are tied for fourth with current assistant coach Melissa Lehman and another 2008 grad Rachel Manson. The all-time records for goals (27) and points (34) are held by 2010 graduate Ali DeLuca.
Brennan will be looking to bounce back from a tough outing in the Ivy League Tournament championship game where Penn's offense sputtered after scoring the game's first three goals in a 6-4 loss to Dartmouth. She will get another chance to extend her senior season and stellar Penn career against the Greyhounds this weekend.
Brennan is not the only option of attack for the Quakers, as Penn boasts six scorers in double figures and five with 20 or more goals. Meredith Cain is the second Quaker with 30 goals, resting on exactly that number which is a new career high. Now a certified big-game performer, Cain scored four goals last year in the NCAA Tournament at Duke and has 15 total points in postseason games, including the Ivy League Tournament.
Maddie Poplawski has been arguably Penn's best all-around player this season. The junior midfielder set career highs with 28 goals and 30 points while leading the Ivy League with 14 free position goals. On the draw, she leads Penn and ranks second in the Ivy League with 57 draw controls, and her 13 caused turnovers while marking opposing teams' best options ranks second on the Quakers.
Emily Leitner has been a rock in goal for Penn all season, with a goals-against average of 9.46 and nine games where she held opposing teams to nine or fewer goals. Down the stretch, Leitner has only allowed double figures in goals once over the last six games. Her only NCAA Tournament appearance saw her make nine saves last year at Duke.
In front of her on defense will be a foursome of young players all making their NCAA Tournament debuts as starting defenders. Allie Martin saw some time last year at Duke as a freshman, but that was on attack. She is the lone returner who is expected to start with Lydia Miller still out with injury. Alongside Miller, three freshmen will get the nod - led by honorable mention All-Ivy selection Taylor Foussadier. She has started all 16 games Penn has played this season, and has 12 caused turnovers and 15 ground balls. Leah McBride entered the starting lineup a third of the way through the season and over her 10 starts has caused eight turnovers with 10 ground balls. Meg Markham has also made 10 starts on defense for Penn, with 17 ground balls and six draw controls.
In all, Penn returns just five starters from last year's national tournament game due to either graduation or injury. Caroline Bunting is the fifth starter returning, and she is sitting on 20 goals, one away from her career high. A newcomer to the 2012 starting lineup who came off the bench last year is Shannon Mangini. An extremely viable option for the Quakers, she has blown away her career high in goals this season, scoring 14 after finding the back of the net just three times last season.
The Greyhounds recently won their second consecutive BIG EAST Tournament title, knocking off top-seeded Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. The Quakers will be tested on defense, as Loyola possesses the eighth-ranked point producer in the country in sophomore Marlee Paton who is averaging 4.67 points-per-game with 84 total points this season (50 goals). Freshman Annie Thomas has given the Greyhounds a potent one-two punch of underclassmen as she has registered 63 points (36 goals) and is the top freshman in the country in terms of points-per-game (3.5). Youth is the name of the game on offense for Loyola as the freshman class has combined for over 124 goals this season with another 56 from sophomores. The junior class for Loyola has scored 48 goals while Loyola has gone the entire season without a goal from the senior class.
While that is a fun stat, Loyola's senior class is without a goal because it is the core of its defense. Kerry Stoothoff has started all 18 games in goal for the Hounds, with a GAA of 9.79 and a .465 save percentage with 55 ground balls. Ana Heneberry, Kellye Gallagher and Virginia Webber are the other three seniors on the team, each playing all 18 games and combining for 102 ground balls, led by Gallagher's 60 (fifth in Division I). Gallagher also has 48 caused turnovers, which is second in the nation.
Sunday's game marks the second all-time in the NCAA Tournament between Penn and Loyola. The two sides met in 1983, a 9-5 win for Penn which was the Red and Blue's first in the NCAA Tournament. Over the years, the two teams have met a total of 19 times, with Loyola holding a 15-4 lead in the series. The last meeting came in 2005, a 16-12 Loyola win in Maryland.