DESPITE STARTING the season with three straight losses, the University of Pennsylvania women's lacrosse team earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament after a 10-7 win over Dartmouth last Sunday in the Ivy League championship game.

The Quakers, who claimed their seventh consecutive regular-season championship, won 11 of their last 13 games, bringing them to an 11-5 record to go along with a perfect 7-0 record in league play. This season also marks their ninth overall trip to the tournament. They play the sixth-seeded Virginia Cavaliers at 3 p.m. today in Washington. It will be the first-ever meeting between the teams.

"We obviously has a very rough start," said Quakers coach Karin Corbett, in her 14th season with the team. "We were trying to figure out who we were on the field. Unfortunately, it took a little but longer than I'd hoped, but I'm very pleased with my team, with their fight and their heart."

The Cavaliers, making their 18th consecutive NCAA appearance, went 9-9 and 1-4 in conference play. Corbett said the key to controlling a fast, athletic Cavaliers team is to play clean and slow down its offensive attack.

"Virginia has a lot of athleticism and they're good at the draw," said Corbett, who has led Penn to three Final Four games and the 2008 national championship game. "It's going to be important to draw, create opportunities on the attack side and slow down their fastbreak opportunities. If we can get the draw and get the ball, we have a good opportunity to score on this team."

The Quakers have five players with more than 20 goals this season: senior Meredith Cain, senior Caroline Bunting, junior Shannon Mangini, junior Tory Bensen and freshman Iris Williamson. A win earns the Quakers a shot at the host team, the Georgetown Hoyas, in a second-round game Sunday.

"We'd love to go as deep as we can, but we know we have to take one game at a time, which is what we had to do since those first three losses," Corbett said. "We have a lot of different kids that can score and when they play together as a group, they're really good."