An Ivy title and a dramatic NCAA tourney win for the “Cardiac Quakers.”
After the Ivy League became the only Division I conference to cancel spring sports last year, Penn men’s lacrosse coach Mike Murphy GEd’04 had little idea what to expect from the 2022 season.
So for the Ivy League to emerge as the premier conference in men’s lacrosse, with a staggering six teams qualifying for the NCAA tournament, “really was a surprise,” Murphy says.
So was the Quakers’ rise to the top of the Ivy heap, as they battled back from a 1–3 start in league play to win their final two regular-season conference games and sneak into the four-team Ivy League Tournament as the No. 4 seed—thanks to a tiebreaking formula and a Yale win over Harvard that had the Penn players “going nuts” on a bus ride back from a game in Albany.
With “renewed energy,” Penn then captured the Ivy tourney championship with resounding victories over host Brown and Yale. The semifinal game in Providence was “as hostile an environment as I’ve ever coached in,” Murphy says, and the 16–9 win over Yale in the title game two days later was “the best we’ve probably played in five or 10 years.”
The Ivy crown also came with an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament, where Penn hosted Richmond on May 14 during Alumni Weekend. With the team’s usual home, Franklin Field, getting prepped for Commencement, the Quakers had to play at Penn Park. There, in front of lacrosse alumni, other curious Alumni Weekend attendees, and a raucous supporters’ section for both teams, the Quakers had their most dramatic win of the season. Trailing by one in the final minute, freshman Ben Smith scored the tying goal, before netting the sudden-death game-winner early in overtime, sending Penn to the final eight of NCAAs and reviving the “Cardiac Quakers” nickname for a program prone to dramatic victories.
Sam Handley, who helped set up both goals, finished the season with 73 points (36 goals, 37 assists) and became the first player in program history to be a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award, given annually to the nation’s best player.
In the end, Handley and the Quakers were stopped one game short of the final four—just as they were the last time they played a full season, in 2019—with an 11–9 loss to Rutgers. But after seeing the grit his players showed following two straight seasons lost to the pandemic (and encouraged that Handley and fellow seniors BJ Farrare, Piper Bond, and Dylan Gergar plan to return next season), Murphy can feel the momentum rising.
“We want to win the whole thing,” the head coach says. “We don’t just want to go to the final four and enjoy being there.”—DZ