By Jackson Thibodeau, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - A cohesive defensive effort composed of lights-out goaltending and clutch stands propelled the Penn State men's lacrosse team to an impressive 8-7 win at Notre Dame last weekend.
"We moved in the direction of playing the defense that we know we are capable of playing," said assistant coach and defensive guru Peter Toner. "A number of guys stepped in at different points of the game, which gave us the chance to win. We played as more of a unit."
The first two games of the season for the Nittany Lions (against Michigan and Loyola) were high scoring, double-digit goal affairs. The high-flying offense provided more than enough to down Michigan, but the defense wasn't able to stop Loyola's attack in a loss at home. Saturday's trip to South Bend, Ind., was a much different story, a defensively-oriented story.
"Loyola exposed a few of our weaknesses defensively and we addressed those things in last week's practices," Toner said. "At Notre Dame we were more consistent across the board."
The game started on a high note for Toner's defense, as the Blue and White didn't allow a single shot on goal for the first 11 minutes of the contest. The first Irish goal came with just under four minutes left in the opening quarter.
Jumping ahead, Penn State held a four-goal lead early in the third frame before Notre Dame began to chip away at it. As the advantage dwindled, the defense stepped up to exhibit their most clutch performance of the season to this point.
Senior goalie Austin Kaut and his frontline kept it a one-goal game and held the Irish attack from equalizing for the final seven minutes. Kaut came up huge, making save after save to deny the chance of overtime.
"Austin played extremely well so when we did make mistakes defensively--he was there to bail us out," Toner said. "He came through in the fourth and made multiple game-saving saves. That's why he's the backbone of our defense."
The reigning NCAA goaltender of the year denied 13 shots in a game that was evenly matched in nearly all facets of the sport. Penn State won nine faceoffs compared to Notre Dame's ten, both teams were 1-for-2 on the man-up, and the Nittany Lions scooped 26 groundballs to the Irish's 25.
This nail-biter went right down to the wire as the hosts had possession in the final minute with a chance to tie it. After a penalty sent junior defenseman JP Burnside to the box with 38 seconds left, the Irish got one more crack at it. A calculated, strategic zone defense forced Notre Dame to throw the ball away--giving Penn State possession and the win.
"After the penalty, we got our group in there and Mike Richards made a really nice play on mad down crashing in on the crease," Toner said. "He instinctively stepped in."
Complacency isn't an option for the squad, as last weekend's road test was just the first of three-straight against top-15 ranked opponents on the road. Trips to Ohio State on Sat., Mar. 1 and Denver on Mon., Mar. 10 remain on the slate for this away stand.
"It was good to see some of those older guys--like Steven Bogert, Tyler Travis and Mike Richards--take a challenge and run with it," Toner said. "There's no doubt we still have tough places to play, but it is good for our guy's confidence to work on things in practice and see it carry into the game and work."
Toner is pleased with the strides the unit made last week, but he knows even more must be done to get a win in Columbus, Ohio.
"Looking ahead to Ohio State, it's another great challenge on the road," he said. "We have to do all the things we did well against Notre Dame but do them even more consistently and do them for 60 minutes or however long the game lasts."
Recently in Men's Lacrosse Category
By Jackson Thibodeau, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In the next two and a half weeks, the Penn State men's lacrosse team will take on three top-20 opponents--all of which will be on the road. This daunting road trip comes at the heels of the Nittany Lions dropping an overtime thriller to Loyola last weekend.
Battles against No. 4 Notre Dame, No. 17 Ohio State and No. 6 Denver (in that order) will challenge head coach Jeff Tambroni's team to push their own limits and prove their deservedness of a top-15 ranking.
"We set out to create the most challenging schedule that we could this year knowing that the automatic qualifier through our conference was not an option," Tambroni said. "At the end of the day, the NCAA selection committee cares more about your wins than it does your losses."
Due to Colonial Athletic Association bylaws, the Blue and White will not be able to compete in this year's CAA Tournament because they are leaving the conference to compete in the Big Ten in 2015. Without the chance to play for an automatic bid via a conference tournament title, the squad knows they must accrue as many wins as possible before selection Sunday in May.
But for Tambroni and his No. 12 Nittany Lions, getting caught up in thinking that far ahead could potentially hurt Penn State's chances.
"The key for us is to not be overwhelmed by the moment, not overwhelmed by winning or losing--but doing the best we can at competing to the best of our ability," the fourth-year coach said.
This veteran-laden group will have to bring its highest level of competitiveness to its next test: a march into South Bend, Ind., to take on Notre Dame on Sat., Feb. 22. The 1-0 Irish are fresh off a dominant 19-7 win over Jacksonville in the Moe's Lacrosse Classic last week.
"We have to have more than a wanting to win, but a willingness to win," Tambroni said. "That's the resiliency that I'm hopeful and optimistic our team will have heading to South Bend."
Last year, the Nittany Lions dropped a 10-9 overtime heartbreaker to the Irish in Happy Valley early in the season. Although it hurt to lose in sudden death on home turf, this team is adamant about that loss being in the past.
"Our focus has to be laser sharp and it has to be 110 percent on the 2014 version of Notre Dame...not last year's Notre Dame," Tambroni said.
Saturday's contest will be the first chance this year's squad has at demonstrating its ability to bounce back from a loss. Given how well they performed against Loyola, this showdown with Notre Dame should be a tight back-and-forth contest as it was last year.
"Based on this year's fall and preseason, I would expect these guys to bounce back rather quickly in a resounding fashion," Tambroni said, "and that's a testament to the leadership of this senior class."
After reviewing the game film from the loss to the Greyhounds, the coaching staff expressed that they were pleased with how the team played despite the result.
"We didn't play poorly against Loyola--we just didn't win," Tambroni said. "We have to find a way to continue our momentum and we are going to have to find a way to add an element of success."
The Nittany Lions' potent offense has put up 33 goals in just two games so far this season. Last weekend, it took until the fourth period for the offense to really start to click--so expect to see a faster start and an attempt to gain control of the momentum early against the Irish.
"We have to show how much fight we have in us and we need to put more goals on the board in any way we can," said senior Shane Sturgis.
Opening faceoff is set for 3 p.m. ET in South Bend on Saturday as the Blue and White will try to bring their record back above .500.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The energy inside Holuba Hall was electric when the Nittany Lions stormed back from a four-goal, fourth quarter deficit to send Saturday's game against No. 12 Loyola into overtime. Despite the heartbreaking 12-11 overtime setback, the team quickly started looking to the future and how they could grow from disappointment.
"I think you have to go through these things as a program and a team," said head coach Jeff Tambroni. "We want to get to that next step and this is the kind of pain that we have to endure to get there."
The Blue and White couldn't quite grab the momentum from the Greyhounds until late in the fourth quarter when the offense systematically chipped away at the visitor's lead. Once the late surge started, the 1,000-plus fans and the veteran-led squad set a completely new tone.
"I was really happy with how we came back and fought hard to send it to overtime," said senior attackman Shane Sturgis. "Everyone put everything we had into it and on offense we just fell short."
The true tone-changing play came right before Penn State made it a one-goal contest. Junior midfielder Kyle Zittel chased down a ground ball in the corner near the Nittany Lions' goal and flipped it to goalie Austin Kaut--leading to a full field fast break and a score.
"It was an unbelievable play by our transition defense and then into our attack who just buried it," Zittel said. "The energy and electricity on the sidelines was high."
Sturgis and the rest of the attack were challenged by the Loyola defense, but still managed to put up impressive numbers and execute when they needed to. When the pressure began to build as time winded down, the team looked to its veterans.
"Our guys fought hard down the stretch and showed a lot of courage," Tambroni said. "That's a testament to the leadership of that senior class and that's what we can take from today's game."
The look of disappointment on the faces of student-athletes and coaches was evident upon Loyola's game-winning goal, but quickly shifted to a gaze towards the future.
"It's like we've done in the past. We have to stay together as a team and when we pick it back up at practice we are going to hit the ground running," said junior Erik Meyers, who scored the game-tying goal with a minute remaining. "We have a tough schedule coming up so it's going to be real important to grind every day."
The Nittany Lions will be on the road for the next three weekends for a trio of top-10 showdowns. Trips to Notre Dame, Ohio State and Denver will pose a true test at the team's ability to bounce back and move forward during this promising season.
"I think this team is going to be in the position to be successful late in the season," Tambroni said. "A lot of it is going to be determined by how we handle this type of adversity."
Penn State has been in this position before. Just last season the squad dropped overtime battles to Notre Dame and Ohio State at home, but still went on to win a record 12 games and earn a NCAA tournament berth. For this team to push their success further into the postseason, Tambroni and his staff know that they must model their approach similar to that of past champions.
"Loyola has been in this situation before as well. They've been in the playoffs and they've won a national championship game," Tambroni said. "Seniors and juniors led the way for them and we need to get our guys to couple that and do the same."
Next up for the Blue and White is a showdown with rival Notre Dame. Opening faceoff is set for 3 p.m. on Saturday against the Irish in South Bend, Ind.
"We're excited to get back out there and continue to improve," Sturgis said.
By Jackson Thibodeau, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After an explosive season-opening win over Michigan last weekend, the No. 9 Penn State men's lacrosse team is gearing up to host No. 12 Loyola at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Holuba Hall.
Saturday's showdown will be the 63rd battle between the former ECAC rivals, with the Nittany Lions leading the series 29-22-1. The Greyhounds are just a year and a half removed from their first national championship in 2012 and, like Penn State, they got bounced out of the NCAA Tournament in the first round in 2013.
"This is another tremendous opportunity for our program to continue to grow and compete at an even higher level," said head coach Jeff Tambroni. "To compete with a team that has had so much success in recent years is something that gets our guys fired up."
Pursuit of Lacrosse Immortality
Since the arrival of Tambroni in Happy Valley for the 2011 season, the Nittany Lions have taken significant leaps towards becoming a national collegiate lacrosse power. The Blue and White have earned more wins than the previous season in each year under Tambroni and won a program record 12 games in 2013. After last season's success, the team has its sight set on even greater accomplishments.
"This has been a collective effort," Tambroni said. "Their aspirations for this season defensively and as a team are as high as they've ever been."
Loyola is located in Baltimore, Md., and enjoys the benefits of being in a state that is widely regarded as the lacrosse capital of the world. The Green and Grey have been to 21 NCAA tournaments and have made it to four final fours in their history. The Greyhounds lost to the eventual national champion Duke Blue Devils in the first round of last year's NCAA tournament while the Nittany Lions got bounced in the same round, but at the hands of Yale.
Tambroni's squad was irked by losing a tournament game at home last season, but uses that to fuel this season's fire.
"It leaves a sour taste in your mouth," said defenseman Michael Richards. "You lose that game--you go home and watch that game on your couch. We are taking this season week by week and hopefully we will be one of those teams in the national championship this year."
What to Watch: Penn State
Firing on All Cylinders: Penn State wanted a quick start to the season--and the team did just that with last week's 22-7 domination of Michigan. The Nittany Lions scored just six seconds into the game and the first ten goals of the contest. Senior Shane Sturgis scored a career-high six goals and sophomore sensation TJ Sanders was right behind him with five scores. A hat trick for junior Kyle Baier in his first collegiate start solidified the statement that was sent to the future Big Ten rival Wolverines.
X Marks the Spot: The incredible offensive performance that was headed by Sturgis, Sanders and Baier last week wouldn't have been possible without the success in the faceoff X from redshirt freshman Drake Kreinz. Kreinz won 68 percent of his faceoffs and scored two points in his debut. His counterpart from Loyola on Saturday will be freshman Graham Savio, who won 61 percent of his faceoffs in the second half of Loyola's season opener vs. Virginia. Kreinz's speed and talent in the X provides an energizing spark to the Nittany Lions.
Defense Wins Championships: The offensive charge from last week headlined the win over Michigan, subsequently overshadowing the defensive performance. Last year's NCAA goalie of the year Austin Kaut is the general of the Nittany Lion defense. He registered six saves and allowed three goals against the Wolverines before heading to the bench to give redshirt freshman Connor Darcey some game experience in the second half.
"The challenge for us now is not to become a good defensive unit," Tambroni said. "The challenge is to become a great defensive unit."
The Chalkboard: Don't expect to see 20-plus goals on the board for the Blue and White again this weekend. Loyola will most likely give net minder Jack Runkel his 34th-consecutive start, as he is a consistent leader and goal-stopper. The Nittany Lions will look to Sturgis and Sanders to lead the offensive push again, but that doesn't mean there won't be production from the talented midfield and attack that surrounds them.
"At the end of the day we need to score goals and if that happens to be from one or two people that's the way it's going to be this year," Tambroni said. "When a goal is scored there is so much effort that goes into each and every opportunity."
The second-ranked scoring defense from last year will be a good match for the balanced offensive attack of Loyola. Richards, senior Kessler Brown and Kaut will look to stifle the Greyhounds offense that is eager for a win after losing a heartbreaker in OT to UVa.
Penn State will face three-straight top-10 opponents on the road in the coming weekends (Notre Dame, Ohio State and Denver), so the squad will certainly be hungry for this win at home.
By Jackson Thibodeau, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - "It was great to see our guys establish the tone," said men's lacrosse head coach Jeff Tambroni following Saturday's 22-7 win over Michigan. "Going out there like that provided a lot of confidence and you could see the energy on the sidelines."
A mere six seconds ticked off the clock before the No. 7/9-ranked Nittany Lions found themselves on the scoreboard in their season opener in front of nearly 750 fans inside Holuba Hall. Redshirt freshman Drake Kreinz won the opening faceoff, exploded down the field and dumped the ball to senior Shane Sturgis who rocketed one into the back of the net.
"The past couple of years we didn't really start out too well against Michigan," Sturgis said. "Coach really emphasized coming out quick and it gave us a big boost."
The eight-goal first period was exactly the start to the 2014 campaign that the team has envisioned--especially with the way last season ended. This squad has been eager to get back out and defend their home turf after dropping the first round of the NCAA tournament to Yale at home last May.
"We certainly weren't happy with how we ended last season, so one of our main goals was that we needed to start fast to get the season rolling," said sophomore TJ Sanders, who tallied five goals against the Maize and Blue.
Sturgis and Sanders accounted for half of the team's goals against the rival Wolverines, but the biggest takeaway for the team was that several Nittany Lions got involved in the offensive flurry.
"Everybody had opportunities and we were all able to capitalize on those opportunities," Sturgis said. "The whole team played well."
The Sanders/Sturgis scoring duo was a staple of the team's potent offense last season, but on Saturday there were also several newcomers chipping in. Freshmen Tyler Chambers, Nick Mazza, Brian Prestreau and Mike Sutton each put a goal on the board during the rout.
The 22-goal effort, a number that hadn't been put up by a Nittany Lion team since the mid 1990s, wouldn't have been possible without success in the faceoff circle. Penn State won 20 of 32 (62.5 percent), including Kreinz's 15-22 effort (68.2 percent).
"Faceoffs were probably the deciding factor," Tambroni said. "Especially in the first quarter--Drake did a good job at establishing possession time and tempo for us."
Despite the large margin of victory and the 22 goals on the board, capturing phase one of regaining the Creator's Trophy wasn't all offense. The Blue and White defense forced six turnovers and the team tallied 29 ground balls. When the Michigan attack was able to get behind the Penn State defense, goaltenders Austin Kaut and Connor Darcey were there to deny the majority of their chances.
"We have two great goalies and they both give our defense a lot of comfort knowing that they are back there," Sanders said.
The defense had to get creative in their efforts to shut down the visitors, especially in the second frame. Minutes before the half, the Nittany Lions found themselves in a three man-down hole. A brilliant turnover caused by captain Tyler Travis kept the Wolverines scoreless on the three-man advantage that lasted just over a minute.
"That was impressive," Tambroni said. "We've never worked on that before and we have never had a situation like that."
Although the squad was successful in killing off the penalty, the seven extra-man opportunities that Michigan had (three were scored on) were far too many in Tambroni's eyes.
"I know this, looking at the amount of time we played man-down, we are going to have to focus on playing hard but playing disciplined," Tambroni said. "We lacked some discipline today."
The victory marked the third-straight year and third time in history that the Blue and White downed Michigan. The game had more significance than just a season-opener, as it brought the squad one step closer to bringing the Creator's Trophy back to Happy Valley after losing it to Ohio State last year.
"We want to bring that thing back here," Sturgis said.
Penn State remains home next weekend as they host the 2012 national champion Loyola Greyhounds. Opening faceoff is set for 1 p.m., and barring any extreme weather concerns--the game will be played outdoors at the Penn State Lacrosse Field. Loyola enters the game ranked No. 16 and is coming off a one-goal loss to Virginia.
By Jackson Thibodeau, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State men's lacrosse team will host Michigan in Holuba Hall at 1 p.m. on Saturday to begin its 2014 campaign. After preseason scrimmages versus Lehigh and Johns Hopkins, the Nittany Lions are eager to defend their home turf and begin their quest towards a second-straight NCAA Tournament berth.
The rival squads are both set to join the inaugural Big Ten lacrosse conference next season along with Ohio State, Johns Hopkins, Maryland and Rutgers.
"We have been waiting to get back out there and defend our field and we're glad it's finally here," said senior goalie Austin Kaut, "especially the way last season ended."
The Creator's Trophy
In 2012, Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan established The Creator's Trophy--and award that is to be given to the team that earns a 2-0 record against the other two teams that season. The trophy was created to honor the intense rivalry between the three future Big Ten Lacrosse schools that play North America's first sport. Penn State won the inaugural trophy back in 2012 before Ohio State won it last season.
"We're excited to have a chance to bring the Creator's Trophy back home," head coach Jeff Tambroni said. "Phase one is beating Michigan."
Penn State will play Ohio State in Columbus on Saturday, Mar. 1 at 1 p.m. for a chance to avenge last year's overtime loss and bring the Creator's Trophy back to Happy Valley.
History vs. the Maize and Blue
The rivalry between the two institutions separated by 400 miles extends far beyond the confines of Beaver Stadium and The Big House. Although the lacrosse rivalry is young, the competitiveness between these teams is substantial and will continue to grow when they each don a Big Ten patch on their jerseys in 2015.
The Nittany Lions are 2-0 against the Wolverines, each win coming under fourth-year head coach Tambroni. Penn State won 16-9 in 2012 on their first game on the new turf of the Penn State Lacrosse Field and defeated Michigan again last season 11-6 in Ann Arbor.
What to Watch: Penn State
Preseason Poise: Penn State has earned a No. 7/9 preseason ranking after last year's record-breaking 12-win season. The squad has returned numerous all-CAA starters and eight total starters from 2013 to earn this top-10 placement. For the second-straight year, the Blue and White have been picked as favorites to win the CAA after going 6-0 in conference play last season.
The Avengers: Although this matchup won't be played on the turf at the Penn State Lacrosse Field, the Nittany Lions are still focused on avenging last year's home loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Yale. That tournament berth was the third in program history.
Young and Veteran Talent: Goalie Austin Kaut, midfielder Tom LaCrosse, defensemen Steven Bogert and Tyler Travis, and attackman TJ Sanders have all been named to the preseason all-CAA team. Sanders, a sophomore, and senior Shane Sturgis return as the team's leading scorers with a combined 73 goals in 2013.
The Chalkboard: Penn State had the 27th-ranked scoring attack in 2013--the potent charge was led by Jack Forster, Sturgis and Sanders. The team attempted more shots (162) and scored more goals (53) in the third period last year compared to any other frame. Look for the team to come out of the locker room after halftime energized and firing on all cylinders towards the goal. Although this offense accumulated more shots than their opponents last season (606 vs. 581), don't necessarily look for quantity. Tambroni has put an emphasis on his team finding quality-based shots instead of shooting at every opportunity.
The 12-win squad in 2013 was propelled by far more than an offensive attack. The team returns all of its defensive starters, which in 2013 ranked second in the NCAA in goals allowed per game (7.59). Kaut, the team's last line of defense in goal, was tabbed the nations top goaltender last season with a .610 save percentage and a 7.37 goals allowed average.
What to Watch: Michigan
The Wolverines are in just their third year of NCAA Division I play and 2014 will serve as their final season in the ECAC before joining the Big Ten. The Maize and Blue went 1-13 last season, but put up an impressive fight against the Nittany Lions in Ann Arbor that resulted in an 11-6 Penn State victory.
Michigan's offensive rush is headline by midfielders Kyle Jackson, Mike Hernandez and Thomas Paras and attackmen David McCormack and Will Meter--all of which had double-digit points last season. Sophomore faceoff specialist Brad Lott provides a spark for the offense, who had a 47.1 win percentage in 2013. Leading the defensive unit is fifth-year senior JD Johnson, who forced an impressive 13 turnovers last year.
By Jackson Thibodeau, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - "We walked out of the locker room as a team today and our hearts started to pound a bit knowing that the season is just around the corner," said head men's lacrosse coach Jeff Tambroni following Thursday evening's exhibition game against Lehigh.
The Nittany Lions, nine months removed from a record-breaking 2013 season, are ecstatic that a new campaign and a fresh slate are almost upon them.
Thursday's scrimmage against the Mountain Hawks was held inside Holuba Hall, safe from the bone-chilling single-digit temperatures outdoors. While scores and statistics weren't officially kept, the teams played a full 60 minutes and abided by standard NCAA/CAA rules.
"Games like this one give our guys a chance to come out and reward themselves for all the hard work they put in throughout the fall and preseason," Tambroni said. "As a coaching staff, it gives us a chance to tinker with personnel and lineups."
The potent offensive scoring attack from 2013 picked up right where they left off and blasted out of the faceoff x in the first period. The scoring tandem of sophomore TJ Sanders and senior Shane Sturgis set the tone early as they led the potent scoring attack.
Sanders led the team with 44 goals as a freshman a season ago while Sturgis was the team's leader in assists.
This fourth-year coaching staff has often preached and pushed for an emotional and energetic style of play. That level of intensity was portrayed at the end of the first frame when the offense put several goals on the board in less than 90 seconds.
"Any way we can put goals on the board works for us," said senior captain Tom LaCrosse, "but that was certainly an exciting way for us to grab the momentum."
The Nittany Lions continued a formidable offensive push throughout the remainder of the first half, but couldn't find the back of the net in the third frame. A scoreless third quarter is something that this squad isn't accustomed to, as they scored more goals (53) and attempted more shots (162) in the third period compared to any other period last season.
"Emotionally, coming out in the second half--we need to replicate the same kind of excitement and energy that we do at the start of the game," Tambroni said. "That's something we will work on and hopefully see signs of improvement when we play Hopkins."
Creating a standard of playing energetically for a full contest is something the coaching staff will look to their leadership to convey to the team. This season's squad is led by senior captains Tom LaCrosse, Gavin Ahern and Tyler Travis--among many other veteran leaders.
"Our leaders have done a very good job and we have a lot of them," Tambroni said. "They've done a good job of having a unified stance of standards and holding their teammates accountable."
Speaking of veterans--senior goalie Austin Kaut played the first half of Thursday's scrimmage and was pleased with what he saw from the younger players. Kaut was tabbed the Ensign C. Markland Kelly, Jr. nation's top goalie in 2013.
"The younger guys fought hard and it was good to be back out here and play against another color jersey," Kaut said. "You start to get used to playing against your own team and beating up on each other so these matches are good for us to see different styles of play and prepare for the season."
The 2014 regular season kicks off on Feb. 8 against Michigan at 1 p.m. in Happy Valley at Holuba Hall. Before that, the Nittany Lions will travel to Baltimore on Feb. 1 for another exhibition game against future Big Ten rival Johns Hopkins.
By Jackson Thibodeau, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Over the weekend, the Penn State men's lacrosse team welcomed back three decades worth of dedicated alumni to the team's third annual Alumni, Family and Friends Weekend.
The passion and high energy that surrounds the growing program was visible on Friday night as the weekend kicked off with a tailgate, an alumni game and the Blue/White scrimmage between this year's team.
"It is always amazing to see so many people come together to support this great program," said 2013 graduate Jack Forster, who ranks second all-time in goals scored for the Nittany Lions with 104.
The feeling in the atmosphere during Friday evening's event was congruent with that of many Penn State athletic events--highly passionate and extremely close-knit. Occupying the stands on the beautiful autumn evening were families, friends and all sorts of contributors to the program.
"Events like this are so important to the program because of the amount of attention it generates for us," said former defensive midfielder Chris Schiller (Class of '99). Schiller, 36, has over 12 years of professional experience in the sport, competing in both the National Lacrosse League and for Major League Lacrosse.
The current midfielder for the MLL's Charlotte Hounds has built an impressive lacrosse resume over the years and is not the only Nittany Lion to have made a profession out of the sport.
Competing alongside Schiller in the alumni game was faceoff specialist and 2006 graduate Greg Gurenlian, who held Penn State's record for career faceoff wins up until the 2013 season. His dominance in the circle continued after his days in Happy Valley as he currently sits at fourth on the all-time list of faceoff wins in the MLL with 1,029.
Gurenlian, currently a midfielder for the Long Island Lizards, has expanded his professional involvement in the sport beyond just competing. He owns a strength and conditioning company (Brawlic Strength) and co-owns The Faceoff Academy, which hosts nationwide combines that assists young players in developing the skills to be recruited by elite programs.
Both Gurenlian and Schiller are extremely pleased with the growth of the sport of lacrosse and Penn State's program since leaving campus years ago.
"This program's growth has been magnificent," Gurenlian said. "This is now the organization and the type of program that we all knew it could be."
The former student-athletes credited the program's growth and recent successes in large part to current head coach Jeff Tambroni (entering his fourth season) and his staff.
"It's a new era in lacrosse now," Schiller said. "Tambroni has adapted to that and brought this program to the next level--which is where it needs to be."
The program has seen significant changes since Gurenlian and Schiller left campus several years ago. A new coaching regime, a state-of-the-art lacrosse-only complex and a higher level of competition highlight the program's advancements.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't jealous," Gurenlian said.
There is no ceiling in sight for the growth of collegiate lacrosse as new Division I teams are formed seemingly almost every year and new conferences are beginning to sprout up.
Beginning in the 2014-15 season, the Nittany Lions will compete in the Big Ten's lacrosse conference after multiple years of competition and success in the Colonial Athletic Conference.
Penn State will be one of six program's competing on the men's side in the Big Ten alongside Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State, Rutgers and Johns Hopkins.
The program hopes that Friday evening's turnout of support will be telling of the upcoming season and that Penn State faithful will fill the hill at the lacrosse complex.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After leading through most of the first half and battling hard in the second half, the Penn State Nittany Lions fell to the Yale Bulldogs, 10-7, in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
The loss marks the end to a historic centennial season for the program and the end of stellar careers for nine Nittany Lions.
Penn State struggled early in the game turning the ball over, but eventually found their feet and started to play very effectively on offense. Yale, back-to-back Ivy League champions, opened up the scoring just over four minutes into the game, but Penn State responded quickly scoring two of their own to end the first period.
Goalkeeper Austin Kaut had a memorable first period saving five Bulldog shots and keeping his team alive early on. Kaut, a junior, could be heard yelling out commands and was proving why he had earned nomination for a Tewaaraton award.
The Nittany Lions then scored three more goals in the second period, including a rocket of a shot from freshman T.J. Sanders, to take a 5-1 lead into halftime. Penn State had clear control over the Bulldogs but knew they were still in for a fight in the second half. The Nittany Lions fast pace offense had the Bulldogs on their heels and Penn State knew it.
"We felt good at halftime but we knew that there were some opportunities that we missed in the first half to almost put the game away," Sanders said. "We learned earlier this season that the game is never over at half, so we were ready for the second half, things just didn't fall our way."
The Bulldogs answered the challenge of coming from behind. As Yale head coach Andy Shay recognized, this was not the team's first time trailing at halftime. The Bulldogs scored four goals in the third period to only one from the Nittany Lions. They brought the lead down to just one and had started to frustrate the Nittany Lions offense.
"I thought they did a great job of playing team defense. They shared responsibility very well. I don't think we moved the ball very well today, I thought we talked about it all week; I thought we did a good job this week. But to their credit, they got their sticks in the passing lanes, took away a lot of our initial options, [we] ran some plays early in possessions and they did a pretty good job of defending that," head coach Jeff Tambroni said. "We probably didn't do our part of sharing the ball enough and, again, to their credit they played with seven guys. All six guys and their goalie played well."
The Nittany Lions struggled to regain their offensive synergy after halftime. The ball was not moving as well in the offensive zone for Penn State, and the Bulldog defense had stepped up their level of play tremendously. Penn State continued to battle and kept generating solid shots on goalkeeper Eric Natale, but the shots just did not find the back of the net.
The game was set up for what was sure to be an epic fourth quarter. Just a few minutes into the quarter the Nittany Lions faced a two man down situation. The game was tied, but the Bulldogs were moving the ball well. Penn State stood tall and killed the penalty off, something they hoped would lead to momentum going forward.
"That was huge for our defense," senior captain Jack Forster said. "Tyler Travis had a nice interception there which was huge for us. Yeah, I thought it was going to definitely turn the tides."
Despite Penn State killing the penalty, Yale continued to move the ball effectively against the Nittany Lions. After forcing a turnover in the defensive end, Kaut launched a pass down the left side of the field to make a quick play for the offense. The pass, unfortunately, went long and opened a breakaway goal for Yale's Conrad Oberbeck.
"Just undisciplined play on my part," Kaut said. "I was trying to make a play for the team, I saw Travis Crane open and just sailed it. Just undisciplined play on my part."
The Bulldogs used a 9-2 run after halftime to earn their NCAA win. The Nittany Lions defense battled hard in the second half, but the Yale offense just had the better day.
"They were really trying to work that invert short sticks behind and they just kept doing it and doing it and they really kept our offensive middies on the field. Our offensive middies played great defense, we just didn't really play great team defense down there and they got the best of us," Kaut said.
All in all the Nittany Lions were forced into nine fourth quarter turnovers, an uncharacteristic performance for the normally sound group.
Along with the rest of the team, Forster battled hard but could not find a way to put the ball past Natale. Even in the face of defeat, the Nittany Lions never once backed down, never once quit and played hard until the final whistle was blown.
"Yeah, it's tough when nothing is falling for you and they're scoring on the other end," Forster said. "It seemed like things just weren't going our way, it was tough."
The Nittany Lions will now take some time and reflect on what a tremendous season they had. They earned their first NCAA tournament bid since the 2005 season. They reached the CAA conference final and Coach Tambroni was named Coach of the year. The team reached 12 wins and was ranked in the top ten all season in the Ratings Percentage Index. Several individual players were also recognized for their excellent efforts during the season.
"Then for our guys, I just feel a sense of pride for our seniors, our captains in particular, Jack [Forster] and Travis [Crane], they did a wonderful job this year of bringing Penn State to new heights," Tambroni said. "I know it hurts and I know every one of those guys in there did everything they could to put us in a position to win today, but it just wasn't mean to be."
The 2013 season was a huge successful for the Nittany Lions and gives the program quite the platform to build from going forward.
"I'm hopeful we will reflect positively on the 2013 season and I'm hoping our seniors will and I'm hoping that our juniors, sophomores and freshman, some that are sitting here to my left and my right, will have learned from this experience and just do a better job when we get back here next year and see if we can start the building process ahead immediately," Tambroni said.
"I'd like to congratulate Yale. I think that they did a great job. They're coaching staff and team certainly believes in what they do and you can see that certainly by the way they played through the Ivy League championship games," Tambroni said. "They got great leadership, they believe in themselves, they believe in their system and I'm sure they're going to do very well in this tournament."
As for seniors like Jack Forster, they will look back on their careers here at Penn State and be pleased. As a group, they worked hard and they worked together, leaving everything on the field.
"It's been a long road. Six years," Forster said. "This season definitely capped it off with making the NCAA tournament. It's been a great year, just sad to leave and it definitely hurts going out from this."
"We wanted so much more than just a step up," Kaut said. "We worked hard to get where we were at today and we wanted to make it even more special than it already is and we just didn't come up with it today."
By Pat White, GoPSUsport.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The third time proved to be the charm for Penn State men's lacrosse (12-3, 7-0 CAA) as it defeated UMass (7-8, 2-5 CAA) 10-7 in the semifinal of the CAA Championship on Wednesday.
Head coach Jeff Tambroni knew going into the game that UMass would not be an easy first round matchup. They played a grind-it-out style that slowed Penn State's tempo in the first half. He was pleased with the way his team fought through despite not having a strong first half.
"I am very proud of our team's effort today. We knew we would have our hands full and I am proud of the way our team responded after halftime," Tambroni said. "These guys have fought through a ton of adversity all year and we are very fortunate to be playing in the CAA Championship."
Junior Tom LaCrosse (Canandaigua, N.Y.) and senior Jack Forster (Jenkintown, Pa.) got the Nittany Lions a quick 2-0 lead just under three minutes into the game. After that, the Penn State offense went stagnant and couldn't possess the ball for long stretches like UMass did.
UMass' Joe Calvello owned the faceoff X, winning seven of nine first half draws. Tambroni said the lone bright spot for Penn State in the first half was the play of junior defender Steven Bogert (Carlsbad, Calif.). Bogert played one of his best games of the year and stepped up in the first half with four groundballs while played stellar defense.
"I thought Steven Bogert was the player of the game for 60 minutes," Tambroni said. "I thought we struggled in the first half outside of Steven Bogert. He was a monster in between the 30s and outside the wing on faceoffs."
Senior faceoff man Danny Henneghan (Beverly Hills, Mich.) rebounded to win six of 12 faceoffs in the second half. It was a big turnaround for Penn State, and Bogert played a major role in creating possessions. He finished with seven groundballs while adding pestering defense.
"We work on it every day and it was a big part of this week," Bogert said. "Me and Danny have been on a great page. It wasn't just off of faceoffs. I knew coming into this game that groundballs were going to be a big part of this game. I just kind of got in a rhythm and got focused."
Tambroni thought there was a little bit of added pressure to finally move past the first round that may have caused the poor start to the game. Tambroni said that last year's captains-Matt Mackrides, Ryan McGarvey and Ryan Link-wrote the team a note that motivated them coming into the game.
"I thought we played a little tight and lacked mobility," Tambroni said. "I thought in the second half our guys relaxed, played hard, put themselves at ease a little bit, and got over the hump."
Junior Shane Sturgis (Downingtown, Pa.) looked relaxed coming out of the break. Sturgis recorded a third quarter hat-trick for the Nittany Lions and was a major spark plug for the offense. The junior attacked the goal from all areas of the field and got his scoring touch back after being held scoreless in the last four contests.
Sturgis said he was the benefactor of the offense beginning to click with good ball movement.
"I think our offense just moved the ball better in the second half," Sturgis said. "We got some good opportunities and we were able to capitalize on some of them."
Penn State has been led offensively all season by a potent attack. In the fourth quarter, Forster, Sturgis and freshman TJ Sanders (Orillia, Ont.) put the team on their back and cruised to victory. After being held in check the first half, Sander chipped in with two goals to match Forster's output, while Sturgis finished with four goals and a helper.
Penn State now looks to claim its first CAA Championship on Friday at 3 p.m. against Towson. The Tigers defeated Drexel 11-8 in Wednesday's night cap. Nittany Lions took down Towson 10-8 at home on April 13. Bogert said the captains said that the regular season means nothing now and that every team has a clean slate.
"Our captains said it best: that we are zero and zero," Bogert said. "It's the CAA playoffs and granted we got a good win today but it doesn't matter now. We are going to our first ever CAA Championship and that's enough of a motivating factor. We are excited about that."
Tambroni said that both teams will look to play to their strengths while taking away the opposition's. Forster and Tambroni both said that the ultimate goal is to prepare and win the next game.
"I think it starts right now," Tambroni said after the game. "I hope they enjoy it for a half an hour to an hour. It is more about rest. We are going to need legs on Friday, so X's and O's are irrelevant to a certain degree."
Towson head coach Sean Nadelen also said that rest will be the key. His team was dominated 19-3 by Drexel in faceoff wins, and he want to see that improve in what will be a possession dominated game.
"It will come down to a possession game, especially with a quick turnaround," Nadelen said. "Teams are going to be a little beaten down in terms of physical status. It comes down to valuing possession time, capitalizing possessions and making sure that the defenses aren't playing a ton of defensive possessions."
A Look at Towson
Towson looked dominating against Drexel in its victory. Midfielder Ben McCarty led the way for Towson with six goals, matching his season total. McCarty stepped into a rhythm as Drexel contained leading scorer Thomas DeNapoli (39 goals, 16 assists) to just one score. Andrew Hodgson added a pair of tallies to up his total to 22 for the season.
DeNapoli and Hodgson are most dangerous with the ball. DeNapoli is at his best when he can initiate the offense from behind the goal and get his hands free in space. Hodgson primarily dodges down the wing where he either takes the open shot, or uses his vision to find open teammates. Against Drexel, they proved they can be used as decoys, and guys like McCarty can get hot as well.
Towson played a slow and methodical game on the offensive end, working the ball around and slowing the tempo. The Tigers average 8.94 goals per game while allowing 8.81. Senior goalkeeper Andrew Wascavage played spectacular against Drexel and posted a .612 save percentage for the season. Wascavage and Penn State keeper Austin Kaut (Morton, Pa.) will make for a goaltending battle on Friday.
Penn State has won three straight games against Towson dating back to 2011.