Penn Still Has Plenty of Upside Heading into 2022

(Photo Courtesy of Penn Athletics)

In 2019, the Penn Quakers broke through as they won the Ivy League, and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014, giving Mike Murphy his third trip to the big dance as the head coach of the Quakers.

Penn’s run, which ended in an overtime loss to Yale in the NCAA Quarterfinals, was truly magical and made the Quakers out to be the darlings of college lacrosse that year. Not only did the Quakers’ season see them reach the NCAA Quarterfinals for the first time since 1998, but they did so while winning 12 consecutive contests, which included a triple-overtime win against No. 2 Yale in the regular season and a one-goal win over the Bulldogs in the Ivy League title game, following an 0-3 start in which the Quakers fell to top-five teams in Maryland, Duke, and Penn State.

Since that magical 2019 season, Penn hasn’t played much lacrosse. The Quakers posted a 2-3 record, which included wins over Duke and Saint Joseph’s, during the shortened 2020. The Ivy League cancelled the 2021 season, but Penn was one of the lucky Ivies as they were able to get a game in, beating 2019 DIII champion Cabrini 23-9 that saw Adam Goldner break the program record for goals in a game (9).

Penn comes into the 2022 season in a very similar boat as the rest of their Ivy League neighbors, having played very minimal lacrosse over the past year. And while the very nature of the situation raises many questions as to just how good this Quakers squad will be, it looks like Mike Murphy will be leading a pretty strong roster into the spring once again. However, the question as to if this team can even sniff the success they found in 2019 is one that will only be answered with time.

The offensive end of the field is one where the Quakers will see the most new faces, as well as familiar ones, leading the way after nearly two years without a full season. Attackmen Sean Lulley, who will be playing his final season of college lacrosse at Duke, and Adam Goldner have moved on. Midfielder Mitch Bartolo has also graduated. The trio was instrumental in the Quakers’ impressive 2019 campaign.

Seniors Sam Handley and Dylan Gergar headline this Quakers offense heading into the 2022 season. Handley hasn’t played since the shortened 2020 season, where he was limited to just one game due to injury. He put up 61 points (35G/26A) as the team’s third-leading scorer as a freshman in 2019. Gergar was Penn’s top reserve attackman as a freshman in 2019, tallying 22 points off 17 goals and five assists. He stepped into a starting role as a sophomore during the shortened 2020 season and was the Quakers’ second-leading scorer with 23 points (19G/4A). He had seven goals and two assists in Penn’s lone contests in 2021.

Handley and Gergar may have not played as much lacrosse as they would’ve liked coming into their senior seasons, but the pair are proven, playmakers. With them on the field, this Penn offense has a very good chance of finding success.

Fifth-year attackman Jack Schultz and junior midfielder James Shipley are just two of numerous players who will be in the mix to start and be heavy contributors this spring. Schultz started all five games in 2020, putting up eight points (4G/4A), and was one of the Quakers’ top distributors during their one contest in 2021 with four assists. Shipley saw action in all five games with one start as a freshman in 2020, where he had three goals and two assists. The North Carolina native put up one goal and two assists against Cabrini this past spring.

Ben Bednard, a fifth-year returnee, is another player to watch out for as a potential impact player on the offensive end. After starting his career as a defenseman/LSM, Bednard started at midfield in three contests during the shortened 2020 season and started in the Quakers’ lone game this past spring. He had two goals during that contest.

A big part of Penn’s success during that last full season in 2019 was their ability to find success in transition. Much of that credit has to go to LSM BJ Farrare, who led the Quakers in caused turnovers (12) while also scooping up 26 ground balls and dishing out four assists as a freshman. A top-three player at his position, Farrare has one of the best motors in the game and should be the heart and soul of Penn’s back end again in 2022.

The second-biggest returnee for this Penn defense is goalie Patrick Burkinshaw. After spending his freshman season at Virginia, Burkinshaw shipped up to Philadelphia and assumed the starting role in cage as a sophomore during the shortened 2020 season. He posted a .449 save percentage during those five games and 12 saves with a 60% save percentage during Penn’s lone game this past season.

Surrounding Burknishaw at close defense, junior Peter Blake is the only returning starter back from that 2020 season in which he started all five games as a freshman. He scooped up seven ground balls and caused seven turnovers during those five contests. Sophomore Brendan Lavelle and junior Tommy Bavuso started at close in the Quakers’ game against Cabrini last season, and could very well continue in that role. Although, there is likely to be a pretty good amount competition at close ahead of this spring with such little experience back.

Now two years removed from Kyle Gallagher dominating the faceoff dot as one of the best in college lacrosse at the position, senior Jamie Zusi looks to be the Quakers’ primary option at the dot this spring. Zusi went 22-for-29 (.759%) at the dot against Cabrini last season. Sophomores Matthew Wang and Chris Arceri, and junior Matt Palazzi also return at the dot.

Penn Might not have the amount of proven talent up and down the roster that they did in 2019, or even 2020. But the Quakers have enough talent and experience at the top on both ends of the field to put together a successful season in 2022, and possibly challenge for the Ivy League title in a year in which many of the same questions surround nearly every team in the conference.

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