May 22, 2009

Penn Suffers Familiar Swan Song

by Andy Krauss | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

TOWSON, Md. -- Defense wins championships.  

It's a mantra that you hear in every sport in every level and one that Penn women's lacrosse coach Karin Brower has instilled in her Quakers since the day she stepped on the Philadelphia campus 10 years ago.

The philosophy has helped Penn reach the final four in each of the last three seasons and the championship game in 2008.  For the Quakers, their season-long ally helped keeped them in and almost win Friday night's NCAA semifinal against top-ranked Northwestern at Towson's Johnny Unitas Stadium.  

Unfortunately for Penn, that first championship is going to have to wait at least another season for now. The same opponent that ended its previous two seasons also ended its 2009 campaign by a score of 13-12 in double overtime -- those pesky Northwestern Wildcats.

Defense allowed the Quakers to overcome an 11-7 deficit with 9:14 left in regulation and make a furious comeback to send the game to overtime. The defense got tough and Penn goalkeeper Emily Szelest made dazzling save after dazzling save to keep the Quakers alive. The high-flying Northwestern offense was averaging 17.76 goals coming into the game.

"What they do well is pick apart defenses," Brower said of Northwestern. "We stopped them time and time again. We've been able to limit our opponent's opportunities all year. They're struggling getting in and getting good shots. When our defense plays solidly, it gives our offense opportunities. That definitely was the case tonight and that's the reason we've been back here (the final four) all three years."

If there was a team to knock off the mighty Wildcats this season, you'd think that Penn would be the team to do it.  Penn was the last team beat Northwestern, some 13 months ago -- April 27, 2008 in Philadelphia. The Wildcats have won 28 in a row since then.

This season, the Quakers were one of only two teams to come within two goals of Northwestern and the only team to come as close at NU's Lakeside Field.  In fact, Penn led 6-5 at halftime of that game before the Wildcats took control in the second half en route to an 11-9 win.  Penn was also one of just two teams to hold NU to as few as 11 goals.

The defensive prowess is something that Penn has possessed all year. The Quakers have held the nation's best goals against average (5.76 heading into the final four) all season long and have held their opponents to single-digit scoring in 15 of their 17 games coming into the semifinals.

Playing in Towson was a homecoming of sorts for Penn junior defender Barb Seaman, who is the daughter of Towson men's coach Tony Seaman. He served as Penn's head coach from 1983-90, before heading to Baltimore to coach at Johns Hopkins and eventually, Towson.

Barb starred at the Roland Park School in Charm City, where she was an all-city performer.

"Playing in front of your home crowd is one of the more exciting things you can do. This is like my second home here. After the game, I knew so many people who were giving me high-fives. It's just a cool feeling and a cool atmosphere."

Although Friday was a tough night for the Quakers, it was easy for them to put the loss into perspective.

"We know that to win a national championship, we are going to have to go through Northwestern," said junior midfielder Emma Spiro. "This is the closest anyone's come to beating them. We feel that tonight we played with them all game and maybe even outplayed them. We're going to set our goals real high next season and come back stronger than ever."

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