Pat White, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's lacrosse coach Jeff Tambroni doesn't want to sound cliche when he says he wants the program to build one step at a time, but that is exactly what they are doing.
"We look to prepare for the postseason, something that is not part of Penn State's tradition," Tambroni said. "This is the 100th season of the Penn State lacrosse and we have only been part of the playoff structure twice. [This season] is more of a day-to-day grind to give our guys the opportunity to focus on the details and the importance of preparation."
Penn State will play one more exhibition game against Johns Hopkins next weekend before opening the regular season. The Nittany Lions have a tough opening schedule, facing two Big Ten schools - Michigan and Ohio State. They also play three teams ranked above them in the International Lacrosse poll in No. 3 Notre Dame, No. 8 Lehigh and No. 12 Massachusetts. Those games will help the coaching staff evaluate the team heading into CAA play.
"We have to focus on one game at a time while also maintaining the scope of the season," Tambroni said. "We have to play well going into the CAA and hopefully we compete and play to our potential. We have to be more consistent and that we give ourselves a chance that we can play in the playoffs."
Two key words Tambroni emphasized were culture and tradition. Penn State has not made the postseason in 10 years, but has taken strides over the last two seasons to come closer to the NCAA Tournament. The Nittany Lions have improved each season that Tambroni has been at the helm for Penn State and finds itself at No. 15 going into the season, the highest ranking since Tambroni arrived.
In some cases, a high preseason ranking can cause teams to take its foot off the gas and complacency can set it. Tambroni embraces the respect his team is garnering and expects it to inject confidence throughout the program. However, they are still on the outside looking in at No. 15, and need to continue to move up in the standings if they hope to compete in the postseason come spring.
"In the first six games we'll look up at our opponents and will be considered underdogs in the rankings," Tambroni said. "We're in the progression stage right now...I want them to feel confident and good about getting to that point that they weren't at in year one and climbing up to the top rankings. I want them to feel encouragement that we are moving in the right direction, but nowhere near complacency or satisfaction. We have to move into the top 10 or win our league."
Tambroni previously coached at Cornell, a program with a rich lacrosse legacy. He brought with him to Penn State postseason and National Championship experience, as well as knowledge of a winning culture that can propel a team to the next level. His track record is a good starting point, but his players are the key to success.
The team leadership falls upon the shoulders of the seniors and team captains. The process of selecting captains took longer than in years past to evaluate where the team was. Redshirt seniors Jack Forster and Travis Crane have assumed the leadership roles, and will be vital to the development of the younger players.
"Since those captains have been announced, they have done an unbelievable job of taking the ball and running with it," Tambroni said. "They have hit the ground with such great stride that our leadership right now is ahead of where we imagined it to be knowing where we were back in September. We're at a point now where a majority of our guys have played for our coaching staff and know what our expectations are. We don't have to teach as much, they are now teaching our younger guys."
There is a foundation set for how the coaching staff wants the team to play both offensively and defensively. The leadership of the experienced players makes the teaching process for the younger players easier for Tambroni. He can add nuances to his game plan because of the way the captains have taken the new comers under their wing.
Tambroni's teams are known for running a grind-it-out type of offense dependent on ball control and holding for smart possessions. Due to new rule changes that have implemented a 30-second shot clock when a stall warning is called, Penn State may have to adjust to a faster pace to the game.
The transition in style will be easier because of goaltender Austin Kaut who was First Team All-CAA the past two seasons. His ability to stop shots and control rebounds makes clearing the ball and getting into transition much easier. The added depth at midfield and attack will help Penn State play a faster style without tiring out.
"We need to play more guys this year because the pace is going to be a lot quicker," Tambroni said. "We're being forced a little bit to play a pace that may not have been so comfortable in the first two years. Through recruiting and squad size we are in a better position this year to be able to adapt to this rule change and not fall behind too much."
Tambroni doesn't want his team to think of success in terms of what the scoreboard reads or by wins and losses. Building a program is a process, and Tambroni wants his team to continue to make strides toward the ultimate goal.
"I want them to ask themselves what they want to look like at the end of a game, end of a week, and the end of a season," said Tambroni. "If that means you want people to respect your effort, and you want people to utter words of respect and being role models, than I think we will have done a great job when the year is over. Winning will be the byproduct of that kind of effort, chemistry and a genuine investment in your teammates and that you will do everything on a daily basis to be successful."
Men's Lacrosse Looking to Take Next Step
Pat White, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
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