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Niki Miles, left, and Izzy Rohr are the reigning Ivy League Attacker of the Year and Defender of the Year, respectively.
Photo by Tommy Leonardi C’89

Fueled by battle-tested fifth-year seniors, Penn women’s lacrosse is a legit national title contender.

During their first semester at Penn, way back in 2019, Niki Miles and Izzy Rohr were taking extra shots on goal when Miles stopped what she was doing. Soaking in the Franklin Field surroundings, she told her new Penn women’s lacrosse teammate, “We’re going to be captains of this team one day.”

Four-and-a-half years, two scuttled seasons, and one major injury later, Rohr smiles as Miles recounts that story. Does she remember that moment?

“I do, yeah,” Rohr says. “It’s ingrained in my brain.”

Miles and Rohr have high hopes that the 2024 spring season will mark a triumphant ending to a tumultuous time at Penn. Because they both took a semester off in 2021 when the Ivy League canceled spring sports (following an abbreviated 2020 campaign at the onset of the pandemic), they are among a small cohort of fifth-year seniors on a team loaded with experience and talent. And yes, both Miles and Rohr—the reigning Ivy League Attacker of the Year and Defender of the Year, respectively—became captains, having come a long way since the pandemic cut their freshman seasons short after only five games.

“It feels like we’ve lived 20 lives since then,” Miles says. “I think something special about [head coach Karin Corbett] and the Penn lacrosse program is I’ve learned so much about myself—about being a leader, about being a good friend, a good teammate—from her and from being a part of this team. So being able to be here so long has been extremely rewarding.”

Not everyone stayed when the Ivy League became the only Division I conference to cancel sports in the spring of 2021. Transferring to another school was on the table; so was simply remaining on the typical academic track toward a May 2023 graduation. But taking a semester off was, “in hindsight, the best decision we could have made,” says Miles, who did it along with fellow fifth-year seniors Rohr and all-Ivy goalkeeper Kelly Van Hoesen and all-Ivy defender Grace Fujinaga (as well as midfielder Caitlin Cook, who’s currently injured).

“We were so locked into this team and everything that it embodied, in my mind I had no option to transfer,” Rohr says. “It was always Penn.”

“I didn’t want to wear another jersey,” adds Miles. “I was like, We’re going to do something special here.”

They were bursting with excitement to finally get back on the field in 2022, but the comeback tour quickly stalled. Rohr, who tore an ACL in high school, tore an ACL in her other knee, sidelining her for the whole season. “I don’t think most people could handle three years of being told you can’t play the sport you love,” Miles says, marveling at how Rohr returned to “make herself a force on defense” in 2023.

Miles, meanwhile, had her own struggles in 2022. “She came back ready to take the field and show how good she was,” Corbett says. “But she needed to learn to play in a system.” As the attack failed to gel en route to an uncharacteristically poor 6–9 season, “we had a tough talk with her, and were like, ‘You have to trust us,’” the head coach adds. “And she turned it around. And because she’s such an influencer on the team, her buy-in really changed everything.”

Having “learned the lessons we needed to,” Miles and the 2023 Quakers stormed to a perfect record in the Ivy League, winning the regular-season title and the conference tournament. They won a game in the NCAA tourney, over UConn, before pushing eventual national finalist Boston College to the brink.

Miles enjoyed one of the best seasons in Penn history, scoring in all 19 games and finishing with a program-record 63 goals. On the other side of the field, Rohr forced a team-high 25 turnovers and picked up 35 ground balls. Among other accolades, both were named 2024 preseason All-Americans, along with junior Anna Brandt, last year’s Ivy League Midfielder of the Year, who Miles calls “Captain America” and Rohr notes “has such an impact on every section of the field.”

Rohr, who Corbett says “has a fire and joy” to her game, committed to Penn early. Her brother, Sam Rohr C’16, played lacrosse for the Quakers, so she’d been a regular on campus since middle school, often making the short trip with her family from their home in Malvern, Pennsylvania.

Miles came a longer distance, from California, swayed by the combination of Penn’s high-level lacrosse program and a Wharton education. Her dad, Glen, was a three-time All-American lacrosse player at Navy who was named the nation’s top midfielder in 1986. Miles credits him for her competitiveness and setting a high bar. “I want to make him proud,” Miles says. “And after the game, I already know what he’s gonna say. He’d always been really tough on me, but in a way that he wants me to be the best player that I can be.”

Rohr and Miles quickly became close upon arriving at Penn. Off the field, they share an off-campus house with other teammates, where they enjoy cooking, watching documentaries, and going on excursions to the suburbs. On it, they complement each other well, though with differing personalities.

“We’re united in the fact that we’re competitive and we want to win more than anything, but I’m a little more outspoken,” Miles says. “I think Izzy’s true power lies in the fact that she just shows up every single day and does exactly what she sets out to do.” Miles may talk more on the field, and sometimes gets chippy—“I don’t think other teams would necessarily like me very much”—but Rohr is learning to become more vocal, too. “When she says things, people really listen,” notes Corbett, adding that Miles “is a person who, when the team isn’t doing well will say, ‘Hey this has to be better.’”

Despite their success last season, winning the program’s 14th Ivy League title (the 12th under Corbett), both Rohr and Miles believe the Quakers didn’t fully get the respect they deserved nationally. “We still have such a chip on our shoulder, which I think drives us every single day,” Miles says. “And I love being the underdog. I always carry that mentality.”

When Corbett, in her 25th year as Penn’s head coach, looks at the makeup of this team, she can’t help but think about spending Memorial Day Weekend at the NCAA Final Four for the first time since her 2007, 2008, and 2009 squads got there. “There’s something to prove for them,” Corbett says. “They really want that.” —DZ

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