By Erin Neri, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - While getting settled back into their normal routine following three of four weeks on the road, Penn State men's lacrosse head coach Jeff Tambroni has had some time to reflect. As Penn State moves in its preparation for the second half of the season, the Nittany Lions are also starting to solidify team identity.
While Penn State has faced collective struggles on both ends of the field throughout the season, Tambroni and his staff feel the pieces are finally starting to fall into place.
"We're honing in on the identity of our team," Tambroni said. "Our defense is gaining a lot of confidence and I think they're getting better in each and every game. I think our offense understands, a little bit more so now after going through this stretch, what we need to do. I think we're still a click or two away offensively [but] we understand that everyone needs to contribute in that end of the field in order for us to be successful."
The Nittany Lions traveled to Philadelphia to take on Penn just as students were traveling home from campus for spring break. The Quakers were riding momentum at the time the two teams met, with Penn having recently upset the top-ranked team in the country. Penn State put an end to the momentum, with the Nittany Lions emerging victorious to start their road stretch on a high note.
"At the end of the year I do think that's going to be a really good win because I do think Penn is going to continue to win games within their league," Tambroni said. "I feel they are going to be a quality win for us."
The strong win put the Nittany Lions in great position to excel against Furman. The team put on an offensive showcase, scoring 16 goals and allowing just three.
The game also provided the bench with opportunities to contribute on the field. Freshman Jake Glatz had the opportunity to take faceoffs toward the end of the game, as well as rookies Cole Willard and John Nostrant each netting a goal.
With only two games separating Penn State from Big Ten play, the outing was helpful for the coaching staff not only to get a look at some new jerseys on the field, but to also boost enthusiasm.
"When [players] have the chance to come off the bench, morale more than depth is really just lifted," Tambroni said. "Getting off the bench gives everyone a little bit of a lift. Our starters get an opportunity to see what it's like on the sidelines and appreciate what those guys do for them, and then those guys that have been in a reserve role get a chance to go out there and compete on game day. When you have a chance to play in a game and everyone feels like they've contributed, that really uplifts their confidence and the moral of the overall group."
Although the Nittany Lions did not get the result they were looking in their next stop on the road at Cornell, there were still many positives to come out of the trip.
One of the most important takeaways was midfielder Kevin Hill's performance. Continuing his a highly productive season, he opened up the first quarter with back-to-back goals, adding another goal and assist in the second and third quarters.
Hill has been clutch in much needed scoring situations throughout the season, and has become an essential part of the offense.
"In a pinch, in a tough situation or in a end of quarter, end of a half, end of a game situation, he has been as reliable as anyone in our offensive end," Tambroni said. "He is quickly becoming one of, or if not, our go-to guy."
After coming off a successful freshman year, Hill's impact didn't fill the stat sheet in his sophomore year. Instead, he was able to learn from veteran middies on his line. Since the beginning of his junior campaign, Hill has not only showed his skill on the field, but has also become a leader in the offense zone.
Tambroni traced Hill's success this season back to his stellar performances during fall scrimmages, helping to give him a boost in confidence heading into the regular season. Tambroni also attributed his success to his work ethic off the field, during preseason preparations.
"I think I just grew a lot the last two years, developed a little more confidence in my game and going out there and believing in myself and my teammates," Hill said. "It's also doing extra work off the field whether it's in the weight room or extra shooting."
Hill and the rest of the Nittany Lions will travel to Fairfield for their last road game before coming back home to host their final nonconference opponent of the regular season.
The Nittany Lions want to utilize these games to work out some final kinks in their game plan to put themselves in prime position to succeed in conference play."I think we're just excited for another opportunity coming off a disappointing loss to Cornell," Hill said. "In the offensive end, we lost our way as the game went on. We're just excited to get out there and show that we can play a full game and not tail-off in the fourth quarter like we have in the past couple games."