Vol. LXI, No. 22
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)
In her sophomore year at the Hun School, Tarah Kirnan traveled down to Loyola College in Baltimore to check out the 2002 NCAA women's lacrosse Final Four.
Kirnan liked what she saw as the Princeton University squad went on to beat Georgetown for the title. "I thought this is so cool," said Kirnan, who made the trip with Hun teammate Brianne Tierney and her father, Princeton men's lax head coach Bill Tierney. "It was really exciting."
Inspired by that weekend, Kirnan went on to star at Hun, culminating her brilliant career by scoring 66 points in her senior campaign.
Catching the attention of Ivy League coaches, Kirnan headed to Penn where she hit the field for the women's lax team in 2005.
This past weekend, Kirnan, now a standout junior defender for the Quakers, was on the field at the NCAA Final Four as Penn hosted Northwestern at venerable Franklin Field.
While the Quakers came up short, falling 12-2 to eventual national champion Northwestern, the team still accomplished a major goal.
"We had a different attitude from the beginning of the season," said Kirnan, reflecting on a season which saw the Quakers win the Ivy League title and go 16-2. "Having the Final Four at Franklin Field was a really big motivation. Our motto all season long has been 'protect this house.' I've been playing lacrosse since seventh grade and I've been working towards something like this."
After a smooth ride at Hun, Kirnan found that she had to rachet up her work ethic at the college level. "It was so much more intense playing lacrosse everyday all year long," said Kirnan.
"In high school it was easier to be better. In college, every player is good. At the beginning of my freshman year, I didn't even get in the first three games. I thought what I am I doing; it was motivation for me to make the most of everyday."
Kirnan ended up making three starts that spring, scoring a goal against Loyola and collecting 19 ground balls on the season as Penn went 8-7.
In her sophomore year, the Quakers showed signs of turning the corner, going 10-6 with Kirnan scoring four goals and coming up with 16 draw controls.
"Last year we wanted it so much but the seniors were used to losing to the same teams and we couldn't get past that barrier," said Kirnan. "We lost to Princeton and Dartmouth but those games were much closer than they had been in the past.
In 2007, the Quakers served notice early on that it was primed for a breakthrough. Penn started the season with three one-sided wins before falling at Northwestern. Penn didn't lose another game for the rest of the regular season, enjoying big wins over Princeton and Dartmouth on the way to a 7-0 Ivy campaign.
A big factor in Penn's success was a stingy defense that came into the Final Four giving up just 6.29 goals a game.
In Kirnan's view, the defense reflected the team's special camaraderie. "The team is so close overall, we live off campus together and we do everything together," asserted Kirnan.
"We are close on the field; we trust each other so much. We know where we are going to be. We have a great goalie, Sarah Waxman, who allows us to take risks."
Kirnan, who played as a defensive midfielder in her first two years at Penn, has enjoyed being a full-time defender this spring. "I love it so much," said Kirnan, who had started every game and came into the Northwestern game with 19 ground balls to her credit.
"I'm so much more comfortable, I've always liked playing defense. I can concentrate on doing what I like doing best."
Penn's defense helped the program make history as it beat Boston University 11-5 in the opening round of the NCAA tournament before stopping perennial power Maryland 9-7 in the quarterfinals.
"It was a huge breakthrough; we hadn't been in the NCAA since 1982 and we lost to Duke something like 18-1," said Kirnan.
"We knew if we won, we'd be making history. Against Maryland, we were really nervous. We knew that they are a really good fast break team and that's not our strength. We wanted to slow the ball down; we don't play many ACC teams so it was a good test."
And while Penn didn't pass its last test of the year, Kirnan came full circle from her 2002 jaunt to Loyola.
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