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Defense a primary reason for Quakers' men's lacrosse success

Strong play by defense, goalie Brian Feeney have helped propel Penn into the NCAA Tournament for first-round matchup with Drexel.

Penn goalie Brian Feeney. (Photo courtesy of Penn Athletics)
Penn goalie Brian Feeney. (Photo courtesy of Penn Athletics)Read more

PENN'S MEN'S lacrosse team found itself in a familiar situation in the Ivy League championship game against Harvard. The Quakers got off to a slow start, and were trailing the Crimson, 4-0, before the first quarter ended.

As in many games this season before the May 4 matchup, the Quakers collected themselves and turned the game around. They let in only one more goal over the next 45 minutes to seal a 7-5 win and clinch their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011.

The Quakers, ranked second in the country, will host No. 11 Drexel on Sunday at Franklin Field (3 p.m., ESPNU).

"That has happened to us a couple of times this year," senior goalie Brian Feeney said. "It seems like almost every game, we are down a significant deficit. It is really about not letting that get to you."

The Penn defense has been efficient all season. The Quakers give up just 8.79 goals a game. Senior captain Maxx Meyer describes the defense as "loud and fast."

"It is not necessarily athletically fast or being able to cover every single guy on the opposing team, but it is how we move, how we slide, how we communicate," Meyer said. "We think and move at a pretty fast pace."

The defense is performing so well in large part because of the play of Feeney. He was named first-team All-Ivy for the second year in a row, and provides a spark to the entire team throughout games.

"We rely on him a lot," Meyer said. "We feel if we give him a good shot to see early on, he is going to be comfortable and able to make saves when we make mistakes. We feed off him; he feeds off us. We are pretty lucky to have a goalie like that behind us."

Feeney's numbers speak for themselves He led the team to an 11-3 record and accumulated a .556 save percentage, playing all but 58 seconds of game time this season. Despite having stellar numbers, Feeney gives the credit for his strong year to the defense in front of him game in and game out, especially Meyer.

"Maxx knows when to slide or what kind of shots I like without me having to yell 'fire'," Feeney said. "Having these guys in front of me allows me to know that during the game, it might not always be the first shot, but eventually I am going to get a bunch of shots in a row that I like to see to help me get going and get me in a groove."

Feeney and the entire defense will have to be in a groove Sunday. The Dragons (12-4) score 11.7 goals per game this season, 15th in the nation. Penn is up for the challenge, and looking forward to christening a new rivalry.

"We are pumped," Meyer said. "I'm sure they are really pumped. They are a great team. I don't think they like us, and I wouldn't say we like them. We scrimmage each other a lot, and it usually gets pretty intense. I can't even imagine what an NCAA playoff game is going to be like."

The Quakers have just a few more days to wait and see what the atmosphere at Franklin Field will be like when they make their return to the postseason for the first time in 3 years.