By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Come Thursday, Penn State men's lacrosse (12-2, 3-2 Big Ten) is set to face Maryland once again this season, only this time in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. The Nittany Lions earned the No. 4 seed in the tournament, while the Terrapins come in as the top seed.
The last time the two teams met, Maryland came out on top with a 15-11 victory over the Nittany Lions. Despite the loss, the Nittany Lions are looking at this week's game with a new perspective and renewed confidence.
"I think we've learned a lot from that time," head coach Jeff Tambroni said. "We lost a couple games to Maryland and Johns Hopkins, but then we won a couple of big games coming down the stretch. So I think this team is battle tested, not just physically but I think mentally, we're better prepared that if things don't go our way early I'm hopeful that we'll battle back."
The tournament, which is being hosted by Ohio State, will be played at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, which is typically home to the Buckeye soccer programs. The grass field will provide a new challenge, as both Maryland and Penn State play on turf fields at home.
"I think since both teams are field-turf teams, adjusting to grass is going to be a push," Tambroni said. "I don't think it will affect either team's advantage. It does take a little while to get used to it and having only two days, knowing we gave them [Monday] off because of exams and travel the day before, may not work in our favor but I think they'll adjust quickly."
The team will only have two days of practice on grass before Thursday's opening faceoff, but the Nittany Lions aren't too worried about an added challenge.
"It's a little nicer on the knees," senior attackman Nick Aponte said. "It's just stuff like the ball kind of dies, it doesn't bounce that well, so it was great to practice on and I think the field [at Ohio State] is just like that. It's great to have that opportunity to play today and tomorrow before we get to Ohio State."
Tambroni said he's looking for his team to make a few key improvements before Thursday too, specifically working on consistency in possession time.
"There's a lot of different ways you can earn possessions, certainly the faceoff is the one that is going to highlight the majority of those possessions but ground ball plays, rides, clears, better possessions for us in the offensive end and eliminating careless turnovers," Tambroni said.
He expanded by explaining that Maryland exposed Penn State's weaknesses last time around, which allowed them to dominate possessions. Tambroni said that the team's likelihood of winning the first game in the tournament will go hand in hand with the small adjustments. With a victory on Thursday the Nittany Lions will either face No. 2 Ohio State or No. 3 Johns Hopkins in the Championship game Saturday.
"I think if we can just do a better job in each one of those areas, of just pushing the advantage towards Penn State, maybe just one in each one of those areas that makes a big difference, not just for offense but for defense," Tambroni said. "It gives them a chance to catch their breath against a really good offensive team, and it gives our offense another opportunity to be on the field."