By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 1/26/09
The Pennsylvania women’s team took yet another major step forward in 2008.
The Quakers emerged as one of the surprise teams in 2007 by reaching the NCAA Final Four, a tourney it hosted at Franklin Field. But in 2008, Penn proved it was not a one-year fluke.
The Quakers made several remarkable accomplishments last year. First, they knocked off then No. 1 and three-time defending champion Northwestern, 11-7, at home in late April to end the Wildcats’ 36-game winning streak. That vaulted Penn to the top spot in the nation for the rest of the regular season.
Then, after repeating as Ivy League champions, the Quakers reached the NCAA title game by edging Duke, 9-8 in two overtimes on a last-minute goal by Rachel Manson. The dream ended when Penn fell to Northwestern, 10-6 in the title game, but Penn coach Karin Brower looks back on the season with the best of emotions.
“Definitely, when you get that close and lose to a team you have now beaten before, it’s definitely disappointing,” Brower said. “But I am most proud of the team.
“It was a different year. No one knew who we were in 2007, but last year we had a target on our back, and they handled that very well.
“They just believe in themselves. I am proud of how they handled themselves, both on and off the field, in victory and defeat. They represent Penn well. They are the type of athletes and team I always had hoped to coach.”
Penn finished the year 17-2 and won a slew of post-season honors. The Quakers have clearly established themselves as a Division I power; how did they do it so quickly?
“I think we have (gotten this far) through a lot of hard work by the coaching staff and the players,” Brower said. “The kids are great and have been working really hard and doing everything we ask of them.
“They are very disciplined on and off the field and we have great team chemistry. They get along real well, and they want to play for each other and win for each other.”
In the title-game loss to Northwestern, Penn fell behind, 8-3, but rallied to draw within 8-6 with 13:57 to play. But Wildcats’ star Hannah Nielson scored to make it 9-6 and the Northwestern defense stuffed the Penn attack the rest of the way.
“We are just really happy that we had a fabulous season,” said Brower after the game. “I have a great group of young girls that worked really hard all year to get us to this point and I am just really proud of them.
“They fought the entire game and worked their hearts out. I have to give a lot of credit to Northwestern.”
The Quakers had three players named to the All-Tournament Team: Melissa Lehman, Hilary Renna and Manson. Northwestern’s Hilary Bowen (three goals, one assist on Sunday) was named the Most Outstanding Player.
The loss in the championship game does not overshadow the accomplishments of the 2008 team. Penn set a program-record for consecutive wins (15) and has gone 33-4 over the last two seasons – with three of the losses coming at the hands of Northwestern.
“Not only did we make history for our program, we made history for our university, which is really exciting,” Manson said.
In the semifinals against Duke, Penn rallied from a three-goal deficit (7-4) and won it when Manson (two goals) took a feed from Giulia Giordano off a free position opportunity.
“I am really proud of the girls after being down 7-4 and staying composed,” said Brower. “We were struggling coming up with the draw but made a couple changes and got the ball so we were able to run our offense and have those opportunities (to score).
“I’m really proud of our defense, they did an excellent job.”
The Quakers’ victory over Northwestern on April 27 was a masterpiece. They used a 6-0 sput at the outset of the second half to rally from a 7-4 deficit. Allison Ambrozy led the comeback for the Quakers, and Chelsea Kocis (two goals) tied it, 7-7, early in the second half. Giordano (three goals, two assists) put her team ahead for good.
The Penn defense was dominant in the second half, holding the powerful Wildcats to four shots in the second half after they had 16 in the first half. Quaker goalie Sarah Waxman had seven saves.
After the season, the honors came rolling in for the Quakers.
Five members of the team were selected to the 2008 Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) All-America teams. Manson and Waxman were named to the first team; it was Waxman’s second consecutive honor and Manson’s first. Ali DeLuca earned her first All-America honor by receiving a spot on the second team, while seniors Lehman and Tara Kirnan were selected to the third team.
Borwer was named IWLCA Mid-Atlantic Coach of the Year.
Inside Lacrosse named sophomore Ali DeLuca to its first team while Kirnan, Manson and Waxman were named to the second team.
DeLuca was also named to the womenslacrosse.com first team. Kirnan and Manson repeated on the second team while Waxman was placed on the third team. Newcomer Giordano was honored on the All-Rookie team.
Finally the womenslax.com results counted DeLuca, Renna and Waxman while naming Penn’s senior netminder the Goalie of the Year.
DeLuca had 26 goals and 14 assists to be the team’s third-leading point scorer. She was also a challenging player away from the attack, winning a team-best 40 draw controls and causing a team-high 26 turnovers.
Waxman anchored the nation’s leading defense with a 6.27 goals-against average and a .502 save percentage. She was named the Ivy League Player of the Year and was the first Quaker to receive the honor since 1986. Waxman never allowed any team to score more than 10 goals this season, and during Ivy play she boasted a stellar 5.38 goals-against average.
Manson set the scoring standard for Penn this season. She led the team in both goals (35) and assists (20). Historically, those numbers rank sixth in season goals and fifth in season assists. For her career, Manson scored 116 goals and dished off 41 assists for 157 points. She leaves Penn as the second all-time goalscorer and just the fifth Quaker to score 100 goals. She is third all-time in points and tied for fourth in assists.
Right behind DeLuca in the caused turnovers was Kirnan. The defender boasted 25 caused turnovers and had 33 ground balls. A consistent starter, Kirnan successfully shut down a number of the nation’s top attackers during the course of the 2008 season. Lehman finished with 33 goals and 11 assists while Giordano added 20 goals and 11 assists, Emma Spiro had 18 goals, Ambrozy had 14 goals and Kocis had 11. Kaitlin Farmer andKatie Mazer had strong season on defense.