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Offense Looks to Set Pace vs. Michigan

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By Pat White, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- It has been a long wait for the No. 15 ranked Penn State lacrosse team in anticipation for the regular season. The time has come to put on the jersey and take the field on Saturday as the Nittany Lions head to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan.

8552993.jpegJunior attackman Gavin Ahern (Rockville Centre, N.Y.) is pleased with the preparation and mindset of the team. Although the team has played competitively in its two scrimmages and worked hard in practice, Ahern said that game days are on another level.

"We just want to get back out there and put everything we've been working on into a game," Ahern said. "Finally we get to strap it up against someone else and see what we're made of."

Head coach Jeff Tambroni has seen the anticipation and excitement levels rise within the last week. Keeping the team focused on preparing for Michigan has been the goal of the week.

"They've done a great job of remaining focused and we've been impressed with how they handled the first two scrimmages," Tambroni said. "They still understand that our record is 0-0 coming out of the preseason. Nothing really matters except what happens against Michigan in game one."

Tambroni expects to see a new-look offense this year. He admitted that last season's offensive attack was conservative and predictable. This year's group looks to be more explosive and better in transition.

"They are more mature and they believe in each other a lot more," Tambroni said. "Those factors have helped us with the addition of the freshman and the young talent added to the mix."

The NCAA implemented a shot clock this season when teams are called for a stall warning and must keep the ball in the offensive box. Playing a slow, possession-based style of attack may be a dying breed, but Tambroni still preaches being judicial and deliberate with the ball in the offensive end.

"The game when it's played at its best is when it's played at a high speed," Tambroni said. "We try to teach our guys how to read a defense and read a particular play when they are faced with certain obstacles. Teaching them how to be better lacrosse players versus being solid in a system of lacrosse is important."

Depth will play an even bigger role now with the faster tempo. Redshirt Senior Jack Forster (Jenkintown, Pa.), junior Shane Sturgis (Downingtown, Pa.) and Ahern will be joined by freshmen TJ Sanders (Orillia, Ont.) and Matt Sexton (
Niskayuna, N.Y.) to jumpstart the Nittany Lion attack.

The midfield is paced by senior Nick Dolik (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.), junior Tom LaCrosse (Canandaigua, N.Y.) and senior captain Travis Crane (Parkhill, Md.). Sophomore Erik Myers (Del Mar, Calif.) and freshmen Tom O'Neil (Shamong, N.J.) and Sammy Davis (Pittsfield, Mass.), among others, are expected to provide offensive depth. Getting contributions from multiple players and staying fresh will be key to competing for a playoff spot.

"It's allowed us to practice a little more efficiently," Tambroni said. "Our guys are fresher and making plays. These guys have all contributed at a level where we feel we can play a lot more people this year than we did last year. With the rule change, transition it's a necessity."

Learning an offensive system can be a difficult task. The freshmen have stepped right into their roles, and look comfortable among the veterans.

"The freshman have fit right in and bought into the system," Ahern said. "I've learned a lot from them and hopefully I've taught them a little something. They are meshing in great."

Although the Nittany Lions compete in the CAA, the matchup against Michigan has the same rivalry feel as any other sport on campus. Penn State, Ohio State and  Michigan compete for the Creators Trophy that goes to the team who wins both matchups against the other two teams. Penn State currently holds the trophy and looks to keep it in Happy Valley.

"We won it last year and we want to keep here at Penn State forever," Ahern said. "Knowing what's on the line, the first step is Michigan and they are on our way. We have to get through them and keep the Creators trophy where it should be."

Tambroni said his players know what the matchup against the Wolverines means across the University. They are treating this game just as they would a CAA matchup.

"It goes beyond our league and more into the fabric of Penn State," Tambroni said. "Our guys are cognizant of that and hope to represent not just our program, but our school within the Big Ten."

Penn State and Michigan will faceoff at 1 p.m. at Oosterbaan Fieldhouse on Saturday.

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