PHILADELPHIA - No. 6 Penn found itself trailing No. 1 Northwestern by one goal with 23:14 to play, but the Wildcats proved why they are the five-time defending national champion with a five-goal run to pull away for an eventual 12-8 win.
Megan Smith scored early in the second half to cut into Northwestern's lead, converting a pass from fellow senior Emma Spiro with a one-timer for her fifth goal of the season.
With the goal it looked as if Penn might make a comeback, but the Wildcats struck for three goals in a span of 1:15 to create some more breathing room. A short while later, with less than a quarter of the game to play, NU put together another quick spurt with two goals in 1:22 to give itself a 9-3 lead.
However, on the ensuing draw control Penn came up with the ball and off a restart from a Northwestern foul Maddie Poplawski scored her first goal of the game with 13:50 to play. 2:58 later, Giulia Giordano continued to find the back of the cage against Northwestern, scoring her seventh career goal against Northwestern.
The Wildcats answered immediately on the following draw, with Ali Cassera taking a Danielle Spencer feed at the doorstep and beating Emily Szelest just 15 seconds after Giordano's goal.
Spiro scored on a free position attempt at 10:50, something Penn may wish it did more of. The Quakers had six free position attempts in the game, but connected on only two.
Courtney Lubbe scored with 5:59 to play, pulling Penn within three at 10-7. Danielle Spencer put together a nice solo effort after Lubbe's strike, winning the draw control to herself, drawing a foul from Penn in the process. She then kept the ball on the restart and scored her 31st goal of the season.
If Spencer's individual effort was nice, then Poplawski's that followed was beautiful. She came found the ball off the ensuing draw control, taking a feed from Emma Spiro on a restart after a Northwestern foul. From there, the freshmen raced down the left sideline, evading a Northwestern easily with a sweet spin move. Finally getting into shooting range, and perhaps earlier than Northwestern goalie Brianne LoManto may have anticipated, Poplawski let loose a cannon to get Penn back on the board with her second of the game to cut the lead to 11-8 with 4:42 to play.
That was as close as Penn would get as LoManto came up with two saves in a span of 14 seconds with two minutes to play. Spencer added an insurance goal with 33 seconds left when Penn had the goalie out pressing the issue for the final score.
Poplawski finished with two goals for Penn while Spiro had a goal and an assist. Ali DeLuca was held without a point, but had three caused turnovers and two ground balls. Kaileigh Wright helped the Penn defense keep the nation's leading attack to five goals less than their season average with two caused turnovers and a ground ball. Penn had more ground balls than Northwester, 13-10, and forced the Wildcats into 15 turnovers. Emily Szelest finished with six saves for the Quakers.
Northwestern held the advantage in draw controls, 15-7, thanks in huge part to Spencer's eight. She was also taking the draw, showing a great ability to win the ball to herself. She also finished with three points on two goals and an assist. Katrina Dowd led all scorers with four goals. Shannon Smith pitched in a hat trick to go with an assist. LoManto came up with seven saves in the win.
Penn is now 9-3 on the season and will set focus on its three remaining Ivy League games. Northwestern improves to 10-0 and extended its winning streak to 39 games.