With the clock about to strike midnight on 2011, I figured it’s time to look back at the year that was in Penn sports. And what better way to do so than by counting down the most exciting/meaningful/awesome games of the year. Unfortunately, this kind of list excludes some of the best performances in more individual-oriented sports but you can find some of those here and the rest in next June’s “Year in Penn Sports” post. For now, like last year, I’ll be counting down (my own subjective list of) the top ten games of the calendar year. If I’m forgetting any great ones, please let me know in the comments section.
10) December 22: Women’s Basketball – Penn 67, Drexel 65, OT
It may still be early in the basketball season but this recent game, perhaps more than any other, shows just how far the Penn women’s basketball team has come. In the “Battle for 33rd Street,” the Quakers outlasted their neighborhood rival in overtime, after surrendering a game-tying basket from Drexel at the end of regulation. Standouts Kara Boneberger and Alyssa Baron led the way with a combined 53 points for the Quakers, who had lost four straight to Drexel, including a 31-point defeat last year.
9) April 2: Baseball – Penn 8, Harvard 7
Few things are more exciting in sports than walk-off wins. Throw in the fact that the Quakers needed 12 innings to complete its Ivy League sweep of the visiting Crimson at Meiklejohn Stadium and you have one of the most memorable games of the year. Called upon as a pinch hitter, sophomore Spencer Branigan was the hero of the day, hitting the game-winning sacrifice fly for the Quakers, who finished the season with a 19-21 overall record and a 10-10 mark in the league.
8) September 9: Women’s Soccer – Penn 1, Villanova 0
The Penn women’s soccer team matched a program record with 14 wins this past season, including a 3-1 defeat of rival Princeton in the season finale, an 8-0 thrashing of NJIT and a staggering 12 shutouts. But only one of those victories came inside a professional stadium. In a game that truly energized coach Darren Ambrose and the entire program, the Quakers used the first career goal from freshman Megan York to beat Villanova at PPL Park, the home of the Philadelphia Union. The atmosphere was memorable for the players and so was their performance — especially considering the Quakers were 1-11-1 against the Wildcats coming into the game.
7) February 26: Men’s Lacrosse – Penn 7, Duke 3
Duke may have rolled into Franklin Field as the defending national champs but they left as just another team to feel the Quakers’ wrath at home. In its first game of the season, the Quaker surprised 10th-ranked Duke, holding the powerful Blue Devils to three goals in a game for the first time since 1986. Freshman goalie Brian Feeney was the thorn in Duke’s side, making nine big saves for Penn, which won all six of its games at Franklin Field last season, including three against nationally ranked opponents. (Scroll down further to find another one.)
6) April 16: Women’s Lacrosse – Penn 10, Dartmouth 9
In a pivotal late-season contest between two powerhouse teams that were not only nationally ranked teams but also tied atop the Ivy League standings, the Quakers reigned supreme. Goalie Emily Leitner tied her career high with nine saves and Caroline Bunting broke a 9-9 deadlock with the game-winning goal with three minutes remaining. The win turned out to be the final triumph in Penn’s 34-game Ivy League winning streak (the third longest streak in NCAA history) as the Quakers lost to Princeton four days later and then again to the Tigers in the Ivy League tournament. But this win over Dartmouth still helped Penn capture its fifth consecutive Ivy League title.
5) November 12: Men’s Soccer – Penn 3, Harvard 2, 2OT
As season finales go, they don’t get much better than this. The Quakers ended up with a 3-4 record in the brutally competitive Ivy League but saved their best for last, winning at Harvard in sudden death fashion. Thomas Brandt, Penn’s senior captain, was brilliant in his final collegiate game, scoring all three goals (a Penn player’s first hat trick since Steve Marcinkiewicz did it in 1995), including the golden goal in the second overtime period on a corner kick from classmate Christian Barreiro. The wildly entertaining game also included three yellow cards, a red card, a scrum at midfield and a Harvard equalizer in the final minute of regulation.
4) April 3: Softball – Penn 9, Dartmouth 8; Penn 10, Dartmouth 8
How often does a team come back from a four-run deficit in its final at bat? Remarkably, the Penn softball team managed to do it twice – in the same day. In a home doubleheader against Dartmouth early in the Ivy League season, the Quakers fell behind 8-4 going into the seventh inning in both contests, before staging improbable rallies in both. In the opener, Brooke Coloma tied the game with a two-run double and then Kayla Dahlerbruch drove in the winning run with a single to left. Then in the second game, a three-run homer from Kristen Johnson tied the game at 8-8 in the seventh inning, before Coloma belted a two-run blast the next inning to give the Quakers another walk-off win.
3) April 1: Men’s Lacrosse – Penn 10, Yale 9, 30T
Not since 1973 had the Penn men’s lacrosse team played a game that lasted this long. But when the finally whistle finally blew after four quarters and nearly three overtime periods, it was certainly worth it for the exhausted Quakers. After falling behind by three goals at the half to 15th-ranked Yale in an Ivy League showdown at Franklin Field, the Quakers enjoyed a six-goal third quarter to take a two-goal lead, only to give it back in the fourth quarter. After both teams failed to score in the first two OT periods, freshman Drew Belinsky ended the grueling marathon with a sudden-death goal with just over three minutes to go in the third overtime session, eliciting a huge celebration from the Penn side.
2) October 1: Football – Penn 22, Dartmouth 20
Dartmouth was billing the game its Super Bowl, excited to open the league slate against the two-time defending Ivy League champion Quakers in what was the first night game in school history. Then Penn came to town and spoiled the party – in truly agonizing fashion for Dartmouth fans. The Quakers only had one touchdown all night, but it came with 17 seconds left and it propelled the visitors to a stunning 22-20 victory in both team’s Ivy League openers. The TD, which was caught by receiver Ryan Calvert, capped an 89-yard drive orchestrated by quarterback Billy Ragone. Penn went on to win in its next two Ivy games in dramatic fashion but ended up dropping three of its last four league games to fall short of the program’s third straight conference championship.
1) February 5: Men’s Basketball – Harvard 83, Penn 82, 20T
It’s hard to end this list with a Penn loss – the only one on here – but it’s also hard to imagine any game more memorable than this one. It was, quite simply, a classic game filled with all the elements that make basketball at the Palestra special: buzzer beaters, record-breaking performances and a little bit of controversy. Despite never leading in regulation, the Quakers were able to force overtime against the talented Crimson, in part because the refs decided the buzzer went off before a Penn foul. In the first overtime session, the Quakers erased a couple of five-point deficits, capped by a made basket in traffic from point guard Zack Rosen as time expired. Penn finally took its first lead in the second overtime period but Harvard fought back and escaped Philly with a win thanks to a go-ahead bucket from Oliver McNally and good defense on Rosen (who finished with 21 points and a program-record 13 assists) in the final seconds. If that wasn’t enough, the Quakers lost a similarly agonizing OT game to Princeton just three days later, before dropping their next two games to fall out of title contention. Perhaps in 2012, Penn will come out on the winning end in these kinds of thrillers. New Year’s resolution, anybody?