Nike/LM NCAA Preview: No. 16 Penn (Women)
The Quakers are a favorite once again to finish at or near the top of the Ivy League come the end of the season. But for the first time in a while, they have a question mark in goal.
Penn at a Glance
2015 Record: 14-5
3 Big Things
1. Penn expects to pick up the pace.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Penn's goals against average has shrunk consecutively for three years. "The last five years with [Emily] Leitner and Lucy [Ferguson], we had the best goalie in the league," Corbett said. "We don't have that strong and outstanding goalkeeper we had for five years." With a new goalkeeper and mostly rebuilt defense, that trend could end.
Fall ball gave the Quakers a chance to unveil a higher tempo at both ends of the field. "That's our strength on the attack, playing with some pace," Corbett said. Nina Corcoran highlights the attack and is looking to establish new connections after her favorite target graduated. Making up for Tory Bensen's record 58 goals will be the job of a collection of players, not one. "It's about having seven kids who can put the ball in the goal," Corbett said. "We can't afford a role player."
2. The defense will be more aggressive.
Gone are three starting defenders, including All-American Meg Markham and goalie Lucy Ferguson. Megan Kelly returns to lead a defense that will help protect a new goalie. Virginia transfer Brittany Brown and senior Courtney Rushford are the front-runners. "We have to make opportunities where our goalie can save the ball," Corbett said. "We can play a much more aggressive defense with this young group. The first play date [in the fall], we were at a high pace the whole field. Defense was creating more of a tempo for the team. We haven't done that. That's more exciting. We can put more pressure on the other team and hopefully cause more turnovers."
3. A signature win would help.
Penn hasn't beaten a Top 15 team since March 24, 2013, when the Quakers defeated Cornell in overtime. Penn also has not made it out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament the last five years in part because of unfavorable matchups. Duke, Maryland, Northwestern and Princeton are on the schedule, and a win over any one of them would help the Quakers land a higher seed in the NCAA tournament and give them an easier path to a quarterfinal matchup.
Brittany Brown (Jr.)
Corcoran was eighth in the country in assists last year (40) as a junior, and also can score (21 goals). "She has a gift," Corbett said. "She doesn't even see the defender on her. She's always looking for that feed. She has a knack for it." She will have to feed someone other than Bensen this year.
Rogers-Healion missed her freshman year due to a concussion, but the Quakers saw her potential last year. Now the junior midfielder ready to flourish. "She came along and had a great fall," Corbett said. "She's a natural lefty. She's very competitive. She has good vision and is a good finisher."
Kelly lost her freshman year to a torn ACL. She returned last year to bolster a defense stacked with seniors. "She's one of the best defenders I've ever coached, and I've coached some good ones," Corbett said. "She was overshadowed by those seniors. She's leading our defense now."
Biggest Question Mark
Lopez-Ona was never healthy last year as a freshman, and hip issues cost her this fall. She has since returned to working out and could give the attack a big lift. "She has really good game sense," Corbett said. "She has good vision and hands."
Brooke Kiley is among six returning starters in the projected 2016 lineup for Penn. (John Strohsacker)
What rival coaches say about the Quakers
"They lose their goalie, who covered up many of their mistakes last year.
Top team in the Ivy League. Solid defensively. Weakness: Graduation of a great senior class which included veteran fifth-year players.
Stingy defense comes back. Quakers have confidence and play hard. Always a contender.
Penn might find it difficult to compete with Princeton in the Ivy League with a number of key players graduating."
Shots the Quakers fired in 2016, their most — by a huge margin — in several years. That resulted in Penn scoring its most goals (199) in five seasons, a number that could go up still with an up-tempo attack.
8 @St. Joseph's
April 20 at Princeton
These two teams have dominated the Ivy League in recent years. Princeton won the last two regular-season meetings and the 2015 Ivy tournament, while Penn won the 2014 Ivy tournament. The games have been tight, low-scoring affairs. The winner likely will enjoy home-field advantage for the Ivy tournament.
Liz Kittleman Jackson
Penn was thrilled to bring back Liz Kittleman Jackson as a volunteer assistant after she spent five years as head coach at Columbia. She fits well with assistants Melissa Lehman and Kerri Whitaker. "We have several goalies on the team," Corbett said. "They need a lot of work and attention. Liz is taking control of our goalies. It allows Melissa to concentrate more on defense and Kerri to work on the chemistry of the attack."
Penn lost a ton at the defensive end. But if the Quakers can force more turnovers and transition quickly to an up-tempo attack, they should still have a winning formula.
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