PHILADELPHIAFor nine monthsalmost to the daythe Penn women’s lacrosse team has been thinking about the 2008 season, defending its 2007 Ivy title, getting back to the NCAA tournament and proving the nay-sayers wrong.
“We definitely gained confidence last season,” said Head Coach Karin Brower, “but we were also very disappointed with the way we ended. We didn’t play our best in that game and it left us wanting more.”
Debuting at No. 6 in the polls, the Quakers face a schedule in which more than half of their competition is currently ranked in the Top-20 in the country. But that doesn’t change the game plan.
“The toughness of our schedule has been there for years,” said Brower. “The only difference from last year is that we won’t be at home for a lot of them. In the Ivies, we have to go to Dartmouth, Yale and Princeton. Last year our motto was to Defend This House’, this year we’re going to Bring it Home’.”
The first game to “bring home” will be Sunday’s neighborhood scuffle with Drexel. The Dragons have two wins to their credit already this season, but open their home slate this weekend.
Drexel boasts an impressive 31-1 non-conference record over the last three seasons, but that one loss was a 12-4 decision to the Quakers last season. Game time is set for 1 p.m. at Drexel’s Vidas Field.
Some more notes on the 2008 Quakers ...
The 2007 season was an unforgettable one for Penn women’s lacrosse. An undefeated Ivy League championship, the first NCAA appearance in 23 years and a run to the NCAA semifinals at Franklin Field, no less all made up a dream season for the Quakers. With nine starters and 19 letterwinners returning, what can be expected of the 2008 edition of the Red and Blue?
Penn is coming off the best season in program history with a 16-2 record and an outright Ivy League championship. The team set records for wins, highest IWLCA ranking (second), longest winning streak (13 games) and goals scored (210). The team’s only two losses came to the eventual national champion, Northwestern, once in the regular season and again in the NCAA semifinals.
Head Coach Karin Brower was named the National Coach of the Year by the IWLCA, Inside Lacrosse magazine and womenslacrosse.com after the 2007 season.
Penn returns nine starters, including its entire midfield and National Goalkeeper of the Year Sarah Waxman. All-America defender Hilary Renna, who was a Tewaaraton nominee last year, is also back as a junior.
Although the Quakers graduated leading scorer Chrissy Muller C’07, every other member of the offense returns, including goals leader Rachel Manson (36g, 8a) and Ali DeLuca (34g, 8a), the Ivy League Rookie of the Year. Becca Edwards (32g, 5a) and Melissa Lehman (24g, 8a) were also All-Ivy honorees.
Manson and Edwards will lead the way on attack along with Chelsea Kocis (13g, 2a), who started 13 games last year. Hannah Rudloff (7g, 5a), Courtney Lubbe (0g, 0a), Megan Smith (0g, 0a) and Samantha Bird (1g, 0a) will provide experience up front.
The midfield will be a source of strength for the Quakers in 2008 as every member, both starting and reserve, returns. Allison Ambrozy, the team’s draw specialist with 43 draw controls last year, also scored 14 goals and nine assists. DeLuca proved to be one of the Ivy League’s top middies as a freshman, while Lehman continued her stellar play as well. Emma Spiro (9g, 0a) saw time in every game last year and is an additional draw taker for the team. Kaitlyn Lombardo (7g, 2a) will be a big asset this year as well as Barb Seaman (7g, 2a) and Bethany Warren (1g, 1a) in the midfield.
Penn’s defense was smothering last year, allowing just 6.61 goals per game, second-best in the nation. Penn returns only two of four starters from that unit (Renna and Tarah Kirnan), but have depth in senior Kaitlin Farmer and junior Katie Mazer, sophomores Kaileigh Wright and Julie Hamilton, and transfer Jill Taylor, who was named to the Colonial Athletic Association’s All-Rookie Team last year as a freshman defender for Old Dominion. Renna, a first-team All-America, developed into one of the nation’s top match-up defenders, continually drawing opponents’ best attackers and frustrating them.
Waxman was one of the nation’s biggest stories last year, going from a role player as a sophomore to one of the nation’s best goalies in her junior year. An All-America and unanimous first-team All-Ivy pick, Waxman turned in a 6.51 GAA (second in the nation) and a .518 save percentage. She also set a program record with 16 wins. Emily Szelest saw limited time as a freshman but was impressive; in five games, she had a GAA of 7.82 and a .500 save percentage.
How do you follow up one of the best recruiting classes in program history? With another very strong crop of freshmen. The six-member Class of 2011 boasts five high school All-Americans, including three two-time All-Americans in Giulia Giordano, Carolyn Pollard and Liz Scott. Penn is also excited to utilize Bridget Waclawik on attack and Keely Langdon and Lily Posner on defense.
Draw controls remained an advantage for Penn last year as they outdrew opponents 201-158. Under the tutelage of assistant coach Gloria Lozano, who held the NCAA record for draw controls at Georgetown, the trio of Ambrozy, Kirnan and Spiro took the vast majority of draws, setting up the offense with first opportunities.
Penn’s defense held opponents to 10 goals or less 15 times last year, while the offense scored 12 or more goals 12 times.
The Quakers went 9-1 at home (including the three NCAA games), including a 7-0 mark in the regular season at Franklin Field.
Penn shot up through the national rankings as the season went on. The team was 20th in the IWLCA preseason poll; by the end of March, they had moved to 14th, and cracked the top three on April 16. The Quakers achieved the number two ranking on April 23 and did not give it up.
Offensively, it seemed as if a new player stepped up and provided heroics in every game last year. Seven different players recorded a hat trick at one point or another during the season.
Penn will again play a tough schedule, starting the season with five straight road games. The Quakers open at neighborhood rival Drexel on Feb. 23, then head south to face ACC power North Carolina before making the team’s first-ever West Coast visit to play Stanford and Cal-Berkeley. Plenty of familiar foes fill out the schedule, with Penn State and Johns Hopkins visiting Franklin Field in addition to the always-tough Ivy League slate. A key late-season match-up has the three-time defending national champion, Northwestern, visiting Penn on April 27. Overall, the Quakers will play five teams that participated in the 2007 NCAA tournament.