By Pat White, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The journey doesn't get any easier for Penn State men's lacrosse as they welcome third-ranked Notre Dame to Happy Valley on Sunday.
The eighth-ranked Nittany Lions will face their second top 10 opponent in two weeks following a 15-12 victory over No. 9 Denver last weekend. Like Denver, Notre Dame is coming off of a road victory against now 14th-ranked Duke. Penn State has a tall task ahead preparing for a well-rounded Fighting Irish team.
Head Coach Jeff Tambroni said that Fighting Irish deserve the high ranking based on their finish last season and win against Duke. Notre Dame's success has picked up where it left off last season, finishing 13-3 and making it to the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament. One of those losses was a 4-3 loss at the hands of the Nittany Lions.
Tambroni said the grinding defensive game last season wasn't one that lacrosse pundits would consider a great game. Both teams are stocked with offensive talent and the faster pace to the game this season should be a recipe for an exciting game.
"Notre Dame gets a lot of publicity because of their defensive end and they are very talented and well coached back there," Tambroni said. "But they are very capable on the offensive end as well after putting up 13 goals against Duke. It should be fun game."
Notre Dame boasts one of the top defenses in college lacrosse, allowing just 6.31 goals-per-game last season and allowing five goals to Duke in its 13-5 victory last Saturday. It is led by All-American senior goalie John Kemp. Kemp led the nation in goals-against average (6.27) and save percentage (.683).
Penn State has proven to be a high-scoring offense, scoring 8.7 goals-per-game last season, and averaging 13 goals-per-game in two games this season. The attack unit of senior Jack Forster (Jenkintown, Pa.), junior Shane Sturgis (Downingtown, Pa.) and freshman TJ Sanders (Orillia, Ont.) have combined to score 21 of Penn State's 28 goals this season.
"They've done a great job and taken turns during the course of the game," Tambroni said of his attack. "They are starting to get comfortable with one another. Hopefully they can continue to share the ball and complement each other. They have come in to watch extra film this week and have practice very hard."
Each attackman brings something different to the table making them hard to defend. Sturgis is a great facilitator and dodger from behind the net. Forster has a great shot both on the run and when given room and Sanders is sneaky in finding space in the defense and finishing his shots. The one thing they all have in common is they can score from anywhere.
The offense will rely on the attack to generate offense against the stingy Notre Dame defense. The extra attention on the attack may open up opportunities for the midfielders to create some shots. Sophomore Kyle Zittel (Eden, N.Y) and junior Tom LaCrosse (Canandaigua, N.Y) each scored against Denver, and hope to continue the trend this weekend.
Scoring goals will be less of a challenge for the Nittany Lions against Notre Dame if they continue to work well in transition. Possessing the ball will be crucial in limiting Notre Dame's scorers from getting in a rhythm.
While the offense conjures up ways to solve Kemp and Notre Dame's defense, junior goaltender Austin Kaut (Morton, Pa.) will be busy stopping the high-octane Fighting Irish offense. Kaut finished last season sixth in the nation in save percentage (.584) and tenth in goals-against-average (7.93 gaa.).
Notre Dame returns its five leading scorers from last season, as well as adding highly touted freshman attackman Matt Kavanagh to the mix. Kaut isn't focusing on Notre Dame's offense, but rather achieving the teams' objectives.
"We just have to focus on us," Kaut said. "We just going to practice hard, play hard and get a good scouting report from our coaches. Hopefully we'll come out on our home turf and come out with a victory against Notre Dame."
The home opener gives the Penn State faithful their first real chance at seeing the No. 8 Nittany Lions. Tambroni is happy to rest his players after two weekends of travel. He said it makes preparing easier when travel is not in the equation and the team can focus on just playing lacrosse.
Kaut is used to the travel by now, but admitted that he is anxious to see how the team measures up to a very talented Notre Dame team in front of the home crowd.
"Hopefully we get a good showing at the game with a top-five team coming in," Kaut said. "We're going to come out and play hard. Traveling isn't anything different, but playing at home with the fans there is always exciting."
Tambroni has said from the start of the season that he wants to climb up the ranks and compete in the postseason. He is happy to be ranked eighth in the country, but knows there is still more to accomplish. A win over a well-established and experienced team like Notre Dame could ignite a lot of confidence for Penn State moving forward.
Lions Face Big Test in Home Opener
By Pat White, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
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