By Maria Canales, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's lacrosse head coach Jeff Tambroni addressed the media earlier this week ahead of the first Nittany Lion appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2013. This will be Penn State's second appearance under Tambroni, and the fourth in program history, with the Nittany Lions securing the No. 7 overall seed.
"They had a goal coming in, back in the fall," Tambroni said. "To be here at this very moment, with an opportunity to compete and play in the playoffs."
Expanding on his statement, Tambroni noted the determination of this year's team has stemmed from the leadership of the senior class, specifically the example shown by senior captain Nick Aponte.
"They have done a wonderful job of just keeping us all on track," Tambroni said. "We've had our moments where I feel like we were really going in the right direction and some moments where I feel like we've gotten off track, but those guys have kept us focused the whole year."
Last year, Penn State concluded its season with a loss to Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament, marking a season where the Nittany Lions developed strength but opposing teams capitalized on areas for improvement.
While Penn State ended the 2016 campaign with a winning record at 8-7, they worked hard in the months leading up to the 2017 season with a goal of playing in both the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament as long-term goals.
Undefeated in their nonconference schedule to start the 2017 slate, the Nittany Lions built on the early success of freshman attackman Mac O'Keefe, combined with the veteran presence of Aponte and sophomore attackman Grant Ament. Together, the trio has combined for nearly half of the team's 205 goals this season (97) with O'Keefe leading the way with 48 of his own.
At the other end of the field, veteran defenseman Peter Triolo has provided a steady presence in front of freshman goaltender Colby Kneese, who earned the starting job earlier this season securing a .507 save percentage through 15 games. At midfield, Nittany Lions like Gerard Arceri and Billy Lombardi often do the dirty work to secure faceoff wins.
For Ament, this year's team has built great camaraderie, which is both important for the team's success early on, and continued success into the postseason.
"As time goes on our chemistry has grown," Ament said. "I think that's a big focal point for us."
As for last Sunday's selection show, senior midfielder Matt Florence said it was phenomenal seeing Penn State on the television screen, securing the No. 7 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament and another chance at a home outing Saturday against Towson."It was definitely exciting to hear," Florence said. "Just to have this tremendous opportunity presented to us, it definitely brings a smile to all the senior's faces knowing we have another game to play, another opportunity to continue our season, and really just strive for the goal we set out to accomplish all season."