By Erin Neri, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Making for a dramatic season-opener, Penn State men's lacrosse forced overtime but ultimately fell short to Villanova. Despite the final score on the scoreboard, the Nittany Lions have lots of positives to build upon headed into week two.
"I thought we did a nice job early," Penn State head coach Jeff Tambroni said. "I thought we battled in the middle portion and the second and third quarter. I was really proud of what we did going into that fourth quarter."
Captain Ryan Keenan had a record day, scoring a career-high five goals to go along with two assists. The senior midfielder is already showing promising signs of being a main contributor offensively, but for Tambroni this isn't anything he didn't expect.
"It didn't surprise me because that young man is as much of a competitor as anyone I've ever coached," Tambroni said. "He takes a lot of chances out there and today it really payed off for him."
Tambroni also noted during a pregame dinner with the team last night, Keenan wore his heart on his sleeve and made it clear to everyone how special he felt to be able to play with all of his teammates.
"He stood up in front of the team and said a few heartfelt words to his team about what it meant to be a part of this team and he followed it up today with an unbelievable performance," Tambroni said.
In the eyes of Keenan, the unbelievable performance was simply doing what he had to do to help his team. Hardly focusing on his own accolades, the New York native made humbly plays his best and does whatever is asked of him.
"I see myself as a role player on offense, just part of the unit out there," Keenan said. "I do what the coaches ask, if they want me to play defense [or] if they want me to play wings, I just play hard compete and that's really it."
Alongside his career-day, Keenan also wore Penn State's No. 16 jersey for the first time in the regular season, continuing a Penn State men's lacrosse tradition.
In honor of Penn State goalie Connor Darcey's tragic passing in 2015, the program has made it a yearly tradition to pass down the No. 16 jersey in his honor.
Last year it was redshirt senior Matt Sexton who had the honor of wearing No. 16, who then passed it onto Keenan for the 2018 season.
"He's a competitor, there's a reason why he wears No. 16," Tambroni said. "He is so symbolic of Connor Darcey and the way he used to compete as a goalie."
Although Keenan's regular season game wearing the special jersey didn't have quite the anticipated outcome, he'll continue to honor Darcey's legacy as the year progresses.
"First day wearing No. 16 is just an honor and I wanted to go out there, compete and honor Connor's spirit," Keenan said. "That's really all I wanted to do."
Considering the outcome as a team, Penn State's season opener was one filled with shifts in momentum giving an opportunity for both positives and negatives to learn from moving forward. While there is still plenty of lacrosse left to play this season, Tambroni is looking for the Nittany Lions to move on quickly, preparing for next weekend's outing against his alma mater, Hobart."We have a really resilient team and a team I really love to be around," Tambroni said. "I think they were a little bit uncharacteristic in certain areas today and Villanova took advantage of it."