April 15, 2010

Penn Looks Past Losses, Eyes Another Ivy Crown

by Justin Feil | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online | Ivy League Race Breakdown

Senior midfielder Ali DeLuca, Penn's all-time leading goal scorer, says the Quakers need to be better off the draw to beat Dartmouth on Saturday.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Ali DeLuca has put up big numbers for Penn since arriving as the Ivy League Rookie of the Year in 2007.

The Quakers senior midfielder became the program’s all-time leading goal scorer with her 130th goal in a win over Columbia on April 4.

“I was really surprised,” DeLuca said. “I didn’t even know I was close until a parent said it to me at a tailgate. Once it happened, it was pretty cool. It was a great accomplishment to have, but you have to focus on what’s next.”

DeLuca is more worried about adding to another big number -- the Quakers’ 26 straight Ivy League wins -- when No. 6 Penn (9-3) travels to No. 7 Dartmouth (9-1) on Saturday in a showdown of the 4-0 conference co-leaders.

“This is something we pride ourselves on,” DeLuca said. “We’re proud we’ve gone to the Final Four, but the Ivy League is what we strive for.”

Saturday’s winner will be in the driver’s seat for the top seed and chance to host the inaugural Ivy League Tournament, which will determine the Ivy’s automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournament this year.

“That’s our farthest Ivy League game,” DeLuca said. “To take another trip up there would be to their advantage.”

Last year, it took a 7-6 overtime win over Dartmouth to earn a third straight Ivy title for the Quakers. This year’s game, on paper, appears to be just as close. Dartmouth and Penn are 1-2 in defense and 1-2 in scoring among the Ivies. The Quakers haven’t beaten a top-10 team this season, with losses to North Carolina, Maryland and Northwestern.

“Our three losses were to great teams,” DeLuca said. “Each time you play those teams, you get a little more confident.”

The Big Green has twice knocked off top-10 teams this season -- Notre Dame and Syracuse were both victims.

“The pressure is on them,” said Dartmouth head coach Amy Patton. “They’re the reigning champs. It’s not like we’re feeling pressure going into this game.”

Dartmouth returns its defense, but will be playing without three players who accounted for four of its six goals in last year’s overtime loss. Katherine Chiusano graduated, Eliza Bennett is out for the season and Kat Collins is expected to miss Saturday. Collins, the junior attacker on the Tewaaraton Trophy Watch List, has missed the last five games with a leg injury, but Greta Meyer (25g, 19a), Sarah Parks (24g on 89 percent shooting percentage), Sarah Plumb (16g, 11a) and Kirsten Goldberg (20g) have all raised their games.

Penn lost a pair of starters Allison Tatios and Bridget Waclawik to knee injuries earlier this season.

“Both of these teams present a lot of weapons in the offensive end,” said Jenny Graap, the Cornell head coach whose team has lost to both Dartmouth and Penn this season. “Dartmouth has a bit of an edge. Their defense is stingy. Shannie MacKenzie did a great job against us, and Dartmouth’s goalkeeper is a senior having a good year in the net. On paper, they’re pretty darn even. They have speed and athleticism and the good depth that can overcome some injuries.

“Dartmouth has some really big wins. Penn lost to Maryland and Northwestern. I think Dartmouth comes in with a little more confidence. I think Penn has maybe played a tougher schedule. Playing at Dartmouth in Hanover, it’s tough to beat them on their home field.”

To win at Dartmouth, Penn will need the effort it has had lately. Quakers head coach Karin Brower Corbett was encouraged despite the loss to Northwestern.

“I thought we fought for two halves,” she said. “We just didn’t finish on attack. We created opportunities, but we just didn’t finish. Our defense did a nice job. Against UNC, we played a good half. Maryland was a good half. I’m happy after going through Northwestern.”

The Quakers struggled with draw controls and shooting against Northwestern, and didn’t do well on the draw controls against Maryland either.

“In a lot of the games we’ve won,” DeLuca said, “that’s something we’ve done well. Against harder teams, those draw controls are essential.”

DeLuca leads Penn with 22 draw controls and 22 ground balls. She is tied for second on the team in caused turnovers (15), while leading in goals (31) and points (40). Dartmouth doubled Penn’s attackers effectively last year, but the Quakers are ready for it this year.

“I think our team is more than one person, and Ali fits into that well,” Corbett said. “I don’t want the pressure on her. If she does what she does well, it’ll open up things for other kids and they can finish.”

DeLuca’s numbers, though, demand opponents’ attention. It’s been that way for four years.

“For me, after all this time, as a senior, it’s just about playing smart,” DeLuca said. “You’re going to have your mistakes. Underclassmen, playing in a big game, are going to have mistakes. Our whole senior class feels this way, that when the game gets tough, you have to be the reliable person.”

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