Women's Lacrosse Primed for NCAA Tournament First Round

NCAA Bracket/Live Stats

PHILADELPHIA - For the fifth consecutive year, Penn is heading to the NCAA Women's Lacrosse Tournament as the 11-5 Quakers head on the road to No. 5 seed Duke (13-4) for a 2 p.m. tilt on Sunday, May 15.

The Quakers are in the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time in school history overall and for the third time as an at-large selection. However, the at-large bid earned this year is the first since 1983 for the Quakers as Penn had claimed the Ivy League's automatic qualifier spot each of the last four seasons.

However the Red and Blue punched their ticket, head coach Karin Brower Corbett's squad is primed to re-visit the Final Four for the fourth time in five seasons, hoping to render 2010's exit in the national quarterfinals a one-time blip on the radar.

The first hurdle for the Quakers will be fifth-seeded Duke, a team Penn is familiar with - both in terms of the 2011 season and NCAA Tournament encounters.

Just two weeks ago, Penn and Duke closed out the regular season with a game held at Drexel's Vidas Field due to the Penn Relay Carnival taking place at Franklin Field. After a see-saw first portion of the game with the two teams alternating 11 goals between them, Penn finally secured the first two-goal lead of the game at 7-5 in the waning moments of the first half en route to an eventual 13-10 win over the Blue Devils. Caroline Bunting, Meredith Cain and Bridget Waclawik each had hat tricks in the win for Penn while Erin Brennan added three assists. Emma Hamm paced the Blue Devils with four goals and five points in the losing effort.

The win on April 29 gives Penn the slightest of edges in the all-time series between the two schools at 3-2 and has the Quakers on a three-game winning streak against their rivals from Tobacco Road. The previous two meetings that fell in favor of the Quakers have come in the NCAA Tournament as twice in the past three tournaments Penn ended Duke's season.

Both games were classic encounters worthy of the national stage - each an overtime thriller with serious Final Four implications. The first came in the 2008 national semifinals in Towson, Md. and saw Penn score a 9-8 win in overtime. Seeded second in the tournament that year, Penn put forth a furious rally in the second half to turn a 7-4 deficit into an 8-7 lead with 5:40 to play. Current Penn assistant Melissa Lehman was a key cog in the rally with two goals, including the one which gave Penn the short-lived 8-7 edge. Duke knotted the game with 1:00 to play on a Lindsey Gilbride free position which set the stage for overtime and Rachel Manson's heroics. As time wound down in overtime, Manson took a pass from then-freshman Giulia Giordano and scored with 42 seconds remaining to send the Quakers to their first-ever national title game. Giordano, now a senior and Penn tri-captain, had a goal and two assists in the game.

One year later, Penn and Duke met in the quarterfinals at Vidas Field. While the venue and round were different, the game was no different in terms of excitement and drama. Penn scored seven of the first nine goals in the game to take a 7-2 lead into halftime, but watched as the Blue Devils scored the next seven goals of the game to claim a 9-7 lead with 9:11 to play. Ali DeLuca and Emma Spiro then connected on a pair of goals just 0:43 apart with under eight minutes to play, tying the game and forcing another trip to overtime. The first six minutes passed without a change to the scoreboard, but in the final seconds of the second overtime, Becca Edwards found the back of the cage (with five seconds left, to be exact) and Penn once more advanced to the expense of the Blue Devils. In that game, then-freshman Erin Brennan announced her presence on the national stage with two goals and two assists. Now a junior and one of Penn's tri-captains, Brennan is a Tewaaraton Trophy nominee Penn's offensive leader.

Is similar drama and intensity in store for the two teams as the meet at Duke's Koskinen Field for the first time in national tournament action? With the nation's seventh-ranked scoring offense (Duke - 14.41 g.p.g.) and fifth-ranked scoring defense (Penn - 8.19 g.p.g.) on the field, chances are something is going to give.

In the regular season game, Penn opened up its offense a bit, outshooting Duke and finishing with more shots on goal. The Quakers never trailed in the game and twice led by as much as five goals and the Red and Blue should feel confident in their ability to control the flow of the game in the matchup.

However, as has been the case all year, when individual weapons are broken down, it is Penn's opponent who has the most dangerous player on the field in Duke's Emma Hamm. She has 45 goals this season, just three goals shy from Brennan's Penn-best 48 points. A third-team All-American as a freshman in 2008, Hamm is 23rd in the NCAA in points and 34th in goals. Teammate Christie Kaestner is 18th in the country in points with 69 points and sixth in the nation with 39 assists.

While the Blue Devils may have the players with high individual point totals, the Quakers counter with a crop of young guns set to break out on the scene and join veterans Brennan and Giordano in deep NCAA runs.

Sophomores Caroline Bunting and Meredith Cain were contributors off the bench in 2010, but have seized their opportunities in 2011 to rank second and fifth, respectively, in scoring for the Quakers.

Bunting quadrupled her goal-scoring total from last year with 20 goals in her sophomore campaign while Cain has improved to 18 goals in 2011 from just four as a rookie. Bunting has scored at least on goal in 13 of 16 games this season and has five multi-goal games. Over her last three games, Bunting has scored six goals and added two assists. For Cain, her maturation has really taken shape over the final half of the season. After scoring just four goals in nine games to start the year, she has exploded for 14 goals in seven games. She has six multi-goal games this season and four in her last five outings. Over that span, her totals have been 12 goals and three assists. Her average of 2.4 goals-per-game to close the season would place her near the top fifty players in the country in goals-per-game if held over the course of the season.

In total, Penn has scored 147 goals this season and 126 of them have come from outside the senior class (86%) as Penn has kept is pace nationally while preparing a new generation of talent to take over in the years to come. In addition to Bunting and Cain, freshmen Tory Bensen (14 goals) and Lindsey Smith (6 goals, 28 ground balls) as well as sophomore Maddie Poplawski (11 goals, 39 draw controls) have established a much-needed depth to Penn's attack.

All that work done up front has made the work done by the defense stand up more often than not in 2011 as the goalkeeper Emily Leitner has backstopped the fifth-best defense in the land. Her 8.16 goals-against average is also fifth in the country while she has also stayed near the upper portion in save percentage at No. 38 (.437) with 68 total saves. Giulia Giordano has been a key piece of the puzzle when it comes to defending opposing teams, with 22 caused turnovers on the season and 29 ground balls - both of which lead the team in terms of position players. Lindsey Smith and Lydia Miller have wasted no time acclimating themselves on defense in their freshman seasons, with Smith contributing 28 ground balls and 10 caused turnovers and Miller pitching in 14 caused turnovers and 16 ground balls. Seniors Carolyn Pollard and Lily Posner have been through three prior NCAA runs for the Quakers and have started all 16 games this season on the back end. They have combined for 22 ground balls and 10 caused turnovers while also coming up with 11 draw controls.

The winner of Sunday's game will advance to play the winner of No. 4 Florida and Stanford in the national quarterfinals.