By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Heading into the 2017 season, the Penn State men's lacrosse team will be looking toward veteran leadership and some new faces to help propel its defensive performance.
Head coach Jeff Tambroni noted that senior defender Peter Triolo has been doing a great job mentoring the younger players who have had to step up even before the season started.
"Now that he has become a senior, he has just become very consistent in his day to day mentoring of these younger players," Tambroni said. "He has been extremely vocal, he has been a tremendous leader and mentor on and off the field and has been by far our most consistent defender."
Tambroni also noted that he's looking forward to Triolo becoming even more comfortable as a defensive leader on the field as the season progresses, and thinks that's what will make him an even more effective leader.
Triolo started all 15 games during the 2016 season at close defense. He picked up 30 ground balls in his last three seasons with the Nittany Lions, 14 of those during last year's campaign.
Despite an injury sidelining junior defenseman Mike Aronow, the Nittany Lions defense is confident in its healthy players. Aronow was second on the team last season with nine caused turnovers picking up 18 ground balls.
The Nittany Lions will look to fill the gaps left by defensive midfielder Tommy O'Neill, who picked up 25 ground balls last season, and defenseman James Chakey, who picked up 23 ground balls last season, as both graduated last year. Despite the loss, Tambroni has seen several players move into the positions vacated by O'Neill and Chakey.
"Dan Craig has absolutely stepped into that role and has fulfilled a lot of that void," Tambroni said. "He's an extremely poised and mature young man off the field, very well connected with seniors through the freshmen."
Craig, who is a senior midfielder, will be taking on a more defensive role than previous seasons. He started all 16 games for the Nittany Lions last season, closing out the year with 12 goals and seven assists under his belt.
"He's got every tool necessary to have an absolute breakout year," Tambroni said. "He could be one of the best lacrosse players in the country and he just needs to believe it on a daily basis."
Tambroni noted that during the exhibition game against Army last Saturday when the Nittany Lions looked a little sluggish, it was Craig who took the initiative to put in a great effort to get some points on the board, sparking momentum to get the team back on track.
Sophomore defender Tommy Wright is also back for the Nittany Lions. During last Saturday's exhibition game against Army, Tambroni praised Wright for his performance and playmaking in the last quarter of the game.
Sophomore defender Chris Sabia is looking to make yet another impact this year. Sabia said he has learned a lot since his freshman campaign last season and is looking forward to contributing more on the score sheet. Sabia was one of two freshmen to start all 15 games last season, and finished second on the team with 26 ground balls. He ended the season second on the team in caused turnovers with 12.
"For me last year I looked up to a lot of the seniors and juniors like [Triolo]," Sabia said. "It was a completely new world for me, so if the new guys this year can do the same thing and see what the older people do as an example I think that's a good start."
New faces for the Nittany Lions include freshmen defenders TJ Connellan, Nick Cardile, and Matt Fisher, a trio that Tambroni pointed out as already having stepped up in the preseason games as injuries presented challenges in the lineup.
"I think that since we're a younger defense we're starting to finally realize that we can compete with and defend some of the best offenses in the country," Sabia said. "I think that's huge for us mentally heading into the season."
Triolo noted that he has a great deal of confidence in his teammates heading into the first regular season game against Robert Morris this weekend."Having a bunch of younger guys out there sometimes they're nervous to communicate with upperclassmen on the team," Triolo said. "We just want to bridge that gap and not view those guys as younger, but as members of the defensive unit."