The Penn women’s lacrosse team recently celebrated two weeks at its highest national rank in program history, No. 5 in the Inside Lacrosse top 20.
Penn (8-2 overall, 2-0 in the Ivy League) went into this season with extra motivation after a heartbreaking second-round exit to Stony Brook in last year’s NCAA Tournament. The Quakers won their first six games, similar to last season’s fast start, but they hope this season ends differently.
“The biggest thing with this year, since we are so young, is a lot of exciting energy,” said junior attacker Gabby Rosenzweig, the team’s points leader with 21 goals and 33 assists.
Other national polls also had the Quakers ranked in the top 10. Currently No. 9 in the NCAA rankings, Penn has five regular-season games left, all against Ivy League teams. Brown is up next, Saturday at noon in Providence, R.I.
“Something our team really prides [itself] on is being able to have a lot of grit and being able to grind out a lot of wins during very high-stress situations," said sophomore attacker Zoe Belodeau, who had the deciding goals in wins over Duke and Cornell last month. She leads the team with 26 goals.
“I think it’s really been such a team effort,” Belodeau said. "I just happen to be the last person to touch the ball when the ball goes into the net.”
Mikaila Cheeseman, the Quakers’ junior goalie and four-time Ivy League defensive player of the week, is the backbone of the defense. The defensive player of the week following Penn’s wins over Rutgers in February and Yale last month, she recently led the NCAA with a 65% save rate and is currently at 50.7%.
A big difference this season for Cheeseman has been the addition of goalkeeping coach Ginny Capicchioni. Cheeseman said Capicchioni paces the sideline during every game and checks in with the goalie, giving her valuable pointers.
“I also think that I have an amazing defense in front of me that limits [opponents] to shots I am able to save," Cheeseman said. “It’s just a team effort. So I can’t take credit” for those defensive player of the week awards.
A balanced offense helped Penn beat offensive powerhouses Duke, ranked 15th, and Georgetown, ranked 21st, last month. Rosenzweig, Belodeau and junior attacker Erin Barry (17 goals) have been so effective they were added last month to the Tewaaraton Award watch list for the best college lacrosse player in the nation. That is the most players Penn has ever had on the list. Florida (six) and Maryland (four) are the only teams with more.
Rosenzweig is fourth in the nation with an average of 3.3 assists per game. The duo of Rosenzweig, with 54 points, and Belodeau, with 36, has accounted for half of Penn’s points this season. Rosenzweig has dished the ball off to Belodeau for a goal at least once a game this season.
“We have a lot of great cutters, like Zoe, here. Almost half my assists are to Zoe probably,” said Rosenzweig. “It comes from my teammates and them having faith in me.”
The Quakers have just four seniors on the squad, and that has propelled juniors such as Rosenzweig and Cheeseman into leadership roles. Rosenzweig, who has taken some of the freshmen under her wing, explained the disappointment of last season to the young players to create a sense of urgency. She said that might be key in bringing about a different result this season.