April 15, 2009

Edwards, Szelest Help Penn Clinch First NCAA Bid

by Justin Feil | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Senior attacker Becca Edwards had three goals and an assist in Penn’s 10-5 win over Princeton on Wednesday.
© Penn Athletics

PHILADELPHIA - A year ago, Becca Edwards and Emily Szelest stood on the sidelines rooting together as Penn beat Princeton, 9-5.

Edwards was forced into a cheerleader role when an ACL injury cost her the final 16 games of her junior year. Szelest was cheering on two-time national goalie of the year Sarah Waxman.

Both were on the field in pivotal roles as the No. 3 Quakers made their third straight win over No. 7 Princeton decisive, 10-5, Wednesday to clinch a share of the Ivy League championship and wrap up the first automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.

"It means so much to me," said Edwards, the reigning Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week after scoring the overtime game-winner against Dartmouth on Saturday. "Rehab is awful. Just tearing your ACL, anyone who's ever done it knows how hard it is to come back from. It means a lot to me to know I was able to help my team in a big game."

The senior attacker had three goals and an assist, just behind freshman standout Erin Brennan's three goals and two assists. Edwards gave Penn a 4-1 cushion 20 minutes into the game, and Szelest and the Quaker defense helped insure that the Tigers never got closer.

The junior goalie came up with a season- and career-high seven saves and helped keep Princeton scoreless for the first 26:45 of the second half as Penn built a 9-2 lead.

"It's definitely a big difference," said Szelest, whose defense allows the fewest goals per game in the country. "I spent two years on the sidelines being ready to go in at a moment's notice. I told my mom, it's like shaking up a soda bottle for two years.

"I was ready to walk in my own shoes."

Penn improved to 12-0 overall, 6-0 in the Ivies with a final league game at Brown on Saturday. The next week they play at unbeaten Northwestern. The Tigers slipped to 10-2 overall, 4-1 in conference, before they travel to No. 14 Dartmouth on Saturday. Penn is 8-0 at home this season and hasn't lost at home since the 2007 national semifinals.

"Us really wanting it was the key," Edwards said. "They are a good team. They had a really strong defense, and we were able to really capitalize off their small mistakes. It was great team play."

The Quakers dominated all but the draw controls. They ran through every ground ball to hold a 23-12 advantage. Doing so allowed them to maintain possession and outshoot Penn, 29-14. Princeton got 10 saves from Erin Tochihara, but turned the ball over 15 times, which kept the ball in their end the majority of the game.

Penn scored the first three goals, two by Brennan, before Princeton's Holly McGarvie scored on a free position. Edwards and Samantha Bird answered with goals for the Quakers before Princeton's Kristin Schwab scored the first of her team-high three goals on a free position to make it 5-2 at halftime.

"It's encouraging to know that you're up," Szelest said, "but at halftime you have no idea if you're going to win it. You still know you have to put in every bit of your effort."

Szelest stopped McGarvie to open the second half, stoned a streaking Schwab 10 minutes later and kept all the momentum with the Quakers with another save five minutes later. It was one of her finest performances of the season in her 12th straight start.

"We limit the shots, and we try to limit the shots that we want that goalie to see -- what is she good at," said Penn coach Karin Brower. "It's kind of an easier defense to step into, and she has to make those saves that we're putting up in front of her. She did that well tonight.

"She was really excited to play tonight. I can see her gaining confidence as the year goes on."

In the meantime, Edwards got the Quakers going with a free position goal, Brennan notched her third, Edwards found a cutting Emma Spiro for a third goal and Kaitlyn Lombardo put the game out of reach with her first goal for a 9-2 edge with 4:42 left.

"To hold them to two goals for most of the game, it's a great testament to the defense and the way it's programmed to run," Szelest said. "The best part of it is learning to trust your teammates more and more each game. That's a huge part of it, knowing that they're supporting you. It definitely boosts our confidence."

Princeton scored three of its final four goals in a frantic final push. Penn's final goal came from Edwards. It was her 17th  of the season to go with nine assists that match her previous career total.

"She's great around the crease," Brower said of Edwards. "I think [not having her] really hurt us in the national championship game, because we had opportunities around the crease and we just didn't finish. Also last year, we didn't have a lot of attackers that were good challengers. They were good cutters and finishers. And she's a challenger.

"She's just smart. And the other thing she does is gives our team second and third chances. She comes up with that ball and just saves us. It was a big loss for us last year. She's playing with confidence, and we're happy to have her back."

Especially on the field, where Edwards and Szelest made the most of their playing time in a tournament-clinching win.

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