Carrying momentum from back-to-back wins over local foes Quinnipiac and Hartford, the Yale women’s lacrosse team will travel to No. 8 Penn this weekend to begin Ivy play for the 2019 season.

The Bulldogs (2–1, 0–0 Ivy) demolished Hartford (0–4, 0–0 America East) on Tuesday, besting the Hawks 18–4 in a midweek blowout at Reese Stadium. Penn (3–0, 0–0 Ivy) also enters Saturday’s contest on the upswing, riding a three-game win streak. Notably, the Quakers clinched an overtime win against No. 14 Johns Hopkins on the road in their second game of the season.

“We’ve worked really hard, and everyone is really coming together right now to set us up for a great Ivy League opener on Saturday,” midfielder Jill Gollob ’22 said. “We’ve been watching film of Penn’s attack and defense, and we’re looking for places where we can use our strengths to capitalize on their weaknesses.”

Averaging an unprecedented 16.3 goals per game through their first three contests, the Elis will need to continue their offensive explosion against Penn’s top-tier defense. Quaker goalie Mikaila Cheeseman led the Ivy League last year with 157 saves and finished second in save percentage. This year, the junior from Suffern, New York, is already off to a hot start, recording 12 saves against Johns Hopkins and boasting a .600 save percentage through two games. As a team, Penn ranks eighth nationally in goals allowed as a defensive unit.

Yale’s incendiary offense may have its answer to Penn’s defense in first-year phenom Gollob. The McLean, Virginia, native currently ranks among the top-25 in the country, averaging 3.67 goals per game while also recording a career-high five tallies against the Bobcats during the snow-plagued matchup. Joining Gollob on the Eli offense are first-year attacker Olivia Penoyer ’22 and sophomore midfielders Sam Higgins ’21 and Olivia Markert ’21. In their second season with the program, Higgins and Markert have combined for 21 points over three games.

“As an offense, we need to handle their pressure and move the ball quickly, but mostly just have a lot of fun and play loose because that is when we play our best.” Gollob said.

In the face-off X, midfielder and captain Izzy Nixon ’19 has been a steady presence for the Bulldogs over the past two seasons and continues to be a crucial source of leadership in her final season. In Tuesday’s contest against Hartford, Yale went 22 for 24 on draw controls. Even in the Elis’ narrow loss to Albany to open the season, they dominated the X, winning 19 of 30 face-offs.

On the other side of the field, Yale’s defense will have a sizable challenge in stopping the Quaker trio of midfielder Erin Barry and attackers Zoe Belodeau and Gabby Rosenzweig. Barry led Penn last year with 51 goals on the season en route to being unanimously voted first-team All-Ivy for her offensive performances. Belodeau, who was listed on the 2018 Tewaaraton Award Watch List as a rookie, holds the Ivy League freshman draw control record after securing 103 last season.

Between Belodeau and Nixon, the center of the field will be a test of skill and experience. Rosenzweig, who joined both of her teammates on the All-Ivy first team last season, was also a 2018 Tewaaraton Award Nominee but was held to just two goals against Yale when the two teams faced off last spring.

Anchored by goaltender Amelia Drake ’21, who saw limited playing time last year behind senior starter Sydney Marks ’18, Yale’s young defense currently includes just one upperclassmen starter. However, the unit has seen success early this season, holding Quinnipiac and Hartford to 11 combined goals.

“Going against a tough opponent, we are focused on playing with grit and intensity as soon as the whistle blows,” midfielder Vanessa Yu ’20 said. “Our dynamic on the offensive end is really strong this year and we look forward to attacking the goal.”

In the teams’ last meeting, Penn took a three-goal win back home to Philadelphia before continuing on to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, the loss to the Quakers marked the 2018 season finale for the Bulldogs.

This Saturday the Elis will play at 1 p.m. on Franklin Field.

Jane Miller | jane.miller@yale.edu