By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State men's lacrosse program welcomed back alumni and introduced the 2016 freshman class over the weekend.
The fifth-annual Alumni, Family and Friends event kicked off with an alumni scrimmage Friday night, followed by the Blue-White scrimmage. For graduated members of past Penn State lacrosse teams, this night gave them the opportunity to once again put on their beloved jersey and play on a field with their former teammates one more time.
The next morning, the weekend kept rolling with Penn State men's lacrosse's annual golf outing at Mountain View Country Club. Despite chilly temperatures, it was all smiles as the alumni and current players battled it out on the links.
As member of the 2014 class of Penn State men's lacrosse, Steven Bogert flew in from California to attend the weekend's festivities.
"The weather for golfing was definitely not ideal, but it was great to see some of my old teammates, coaches and friends," said Bogert. "It's weird to think that my time at Penn State is over, but it was great to be back for a weekend to be a part of it again."
A team banquet hosted at the Penn Stater capped off the weekend. The coaching staff summarized the 2015 season, handed out season awards, and introduced and welcomed the class of 2019.
Head coach Jeff Tambroni delivered a passionate speech about what it means to be a part of Penn State lacrosse. Tambroni told of how grateful he is to coach many years of tremendous young men and how the impacts of their time with Penn State will reach far beyond the lacrosse field.
Tambroni told a story of how the young men who collect rocks along their journey in life are the unselfish ones who collect lessons, learn to work hard and succeed down the line.
He explained that awards banquets are great, but it's the time spent with fellow teammates and former teammates that make weekends like this so special.
Tambroni urged his young players to ask themselves about their relationships with current and past team members and what they mean to each other.
"When I took this job five years ago I knew there was going to be an opportunity to travel on that journey today and now it's gone way beyond my wildest dreams to be a part Penn State lacrosse," said Tambroni.
The banquet concluded with a highlight film of the 2015 season, which spotlighted fond memories of the program's first Big Ten Conference win against Rutgers, and being a part of the first Big Ten Tournament. But Tambroni quickly brought the room of over 150 people back into focus.
"Awards nights are great and you hand out those awards and everyone claps but I think the true legacy is in those rocks, collecting rocks about what it really means to be a part of Penn State lacrosse," said Tambroni.
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By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - A trio of midfielders will lead the Penn State men's lacrosse team during its 2016 campaign. Seniors Tommy O'Neill and James Burke and redshirt junior Drake Kreinz have been voted as captains to lead the Nittany Lions during their 103rd season.
O'Neill, who played in all 14 games during the 2015 campaign, is honored to be named to the highest position within the program.
"It's definitely a humbling opportunity to be named captain for this team," said O'Neill. "It's a special year for us, our senior year and everything that's gone on this summer, I think all three of us are really excited to lead this team."
The New Jersey native collected 11 ground balls last season, a career-high, and hopes to only improve on this number come spring.
Alongside O'Neill serving as captain will be Burke, a fellow senior midfielder. Burke, who had his most successful season in 2015, caused a team-best 12 turnovers in 11 contests.
To finish off the trio, it's only fitting that head coach Jeff Tambroni's go-to faceoff man would fill the spot. Kreinz appeared in 13 of 14 contests in 2015 and notched a .544 win percentage at the 'X.'
The process for choosing captains has remained unchanged for years and Tambroni is confident in the system he has in place.
"There are a number of different factors going into the captains process," said Tambroni. "One is a consensus vote from last years team, we want to get exiting seniors, graduating seniors opinions on who they believe will lead this team most effectively."
After the team vote, Tambroni and fellow assistant coaches evaluate upperclassmen during the fall semester before making a final decision. Usually this announcement comes a few weeks after the players arrive back in Happy Valley. However, this year Tambroni chose to announce the names sooner than usual.
"With this years group we just really felt comfortable with James and Tommy and Drake and we announced them on day one of the fall," said Tambroni.
Penn State men's lacrosse has experimented with the number of captains the team has every year. In 2014 three seniors led the team but in 2015 the task fell solely on senior Kyle Zittel. In 2016 the magic number will once again be three, a number Tambroni is confident with.
"I think it's good that we have three captains this year just to have three different minds going into it," said O'Neill. "We can always bounce ideas off each other."
O'Neill was quick to add that just because there are three captains, doesn't mean other seniors don't get a say in what happens among the team. Burke, O'Neill and Kreinz emphasized they always relay ideas to other upperclassmen members of the team.
Another task the captains will have to rely on their fellow upperclassmen for is delegating responsibilities. With all three captains being midfielders, there are some obstacles that can present themselves. During practices, when the team breaks off into position drills, Tambroni and the captains will have to look to other upperclassmen to set the tone for their respective groups.
"You hope that they delegate some responsibility to some upperclassmen in the offensive end, like a TJ Sanders, like a Matt Florence, who we believe will manage a lot of what goes on offensively when the groups are split," said Tambroni.
Veterans setting the tone early is what Tambroni is confident will happen during this offseason. As the team welcomes 16 freshmen, the eight seniors will certainly be looked at to set the standard, but the captains said this is a challenge they are up for.
"[Sixteen freshmen] are a lot to handle but they've been great so far," said Kreinz. "They've been a great addition to the team, a lot of great players, really good guys who came to work and are competitive kids. There are only eight seniors so a little outnumbered but nothing that we can't handle and so far it's been amazing."
O'Neill explained that although each individual is unique, the captains have a few things in common when it comes to displaying the characteristics of a leader.
"We're not the most vocal but we all lead by example, on the field off the field, especially with academics," said O'Neill. "We're not ones to say something, we're more of the players see us do it and then they do it."
This concept of leading by example is something Burke and Kreinz agreed with.
"We're definitely more the doers, the opening faceoff it's us three, the guys in between the 30's, not the guys always making the flashy plays but just getting the job done," said Kreinz.
Tambroni expanded on his reasons for believing the three captains set to lead his team will be reliable young men.
"I think if you blanketed all three you'd say that they all fulfill the mantra of 'well done is better than well said.' All three of these guys are soft-spoken leaders and they all are in that top one percent of team in terms of work ethic both on and off the field," said Tambroni.
The average fan of Penn State men's lacrosse may see hard working young men on the field in Burke, O'Neill and Kreinz, but most fans don't see the hard work the three put in when not wearing a lacrosse jersey.
"The quality that's seen least in the exterior that is valued the most on the interior is their compassion for their teammates," said Tambroni. "They really care about one another on this team and they have a great deal of passion for Penn State lacrosse and the way we run our program."
The passion that drives the three young men is derived from the love of their teammates, coaches, and program. This passion and dedication will be the cornerstone for their 2016 season.
Before their first game, however, Burke, O'Neill and Kreinz will have to prepare their team the best they can during the offseason. Burke explained the methodical means of getting a team ready in the months leading up to game day.
"We're working on just getting in to practice, being competitive and working on bringing a good energy to practice," said Burke. "Just getting in the weight room, making sure people are bringing a focused and driven attitude to everything we do before January and the upcoming season."
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Penn State has won 92 Big Ten titles, including 21 in women's soccer (16 regular season).
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Just four months into his tenure as commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, Jim Delany recalls an idea brought to the table by former Illinois President Stan Ikenberry.
It was October of 1989 when Ikenberry, who spent time as a senior administrator at Penn State earlier in his career, broached the thought of adding an institution to the Big Ten for the first time since Michigan State was invited to become a member in 1949.
The Big Ten then began a formal research process of an institution that would bridge a Midwestern league to the East.
The Pennsylvania State University was on the table for discussion as a superb academic institution with a rich tradition in athletic success.
Delany, whose sister attended Penn State as a graduate student, didn't need much convincing. He knew the level of potential a partnership between Penn State and the Big Ten could foster.
"The Big Ten hadn't changed in many, many decades, but I thought if the opportunity to expand presented itself it was a no brainer," Delany said earlier this week. "Excellent academics. Excellent athletics. And pointed towards the East Coast, I thought there was a lot of potential there. That was my recommendation at the time."
The process moved forward with the presidents and chancellors of the Big Ten institutions discussing the topic before news broke just before the holidays in December of 1989 that Penn State could be on its way into a new conference. Under the direction of athletic director Jim Tarman at the time, Penn State had been competing as an independent in football for more than a century, and the rest of the department had been a member of the Atlantic 10 since 1976.
When the news initially surfaced, women's volleyball head coach Russ Rose, who along with field hockey coach Charlene Morett-Curtiss are the two current Penn State head coaches who were on staff in 1989, was giving a presentation at the annual women's volleyball coaches convention (AVCA) about the importance of NCAA Tournament at-large bids for teams in smaller conferences.
"I remember talking in front of the group about the importance that not all of the at-large bids go to the bigger conferences and that there were good teams in other conferences even though they didn't have the same notoriety, said Rose. "We have a lunch break. I turn on ESPN at lunch, and I see that Penn State is going to be a member of the Big Ten. I come back. I say to some people that I would like to retract what I said about at-large teams."
The formal process concluded with a vote in Iowa City on June 4, 1990, at which time Penn State was officially accepted as a member of the Big Ten Conference. Twenty-five years have passed in a partnership that allowed both the University and conference to reach unprecedented heights on the field and in the classroom.
"From a broad perspective, at the time, my view was that it was a tremendous fit for both sides. And history has proven that," Delany said. "With all the other expansions around the country, I'm not sure there was one that benefitted both institution and conference as much as this did, largely because of the characteristics of Penn State were so well matched with the characteristics of the Big Ten."
The positive news zipped throughout campus shortly after the vote in Iowa.
"I remember hearing about the announcement from Mary Jo Haverbeck, from the Sports Information office," said Morett-Curtiss. "She told me about us going in and how it was going to have a major impact for women's athletics at Penn State."
It was an announcement that changed the landscape of funding and development for all of Penn State's 28 programs at the time, and it was a day Morett-Curtiss remembers quite well.
"Ironically, I had gone for a run that day on the trails near Sunset Park and as I'm running, I see someone walking in front of me and it was Joe Paterno," Morett-Curtiss said. "And it was that day, so I said to him, 'hey what's going to happen?' He said, 'I think this is going to be a really good thing for Penn State and the exposure all of the programs are going to get.'"
The women's volleyball program captured Penn State's first Big Ten title in 1992, marking volleyball's first of 16 conference crowns.
Penn State's teams felt the impact of the Big Ten conference almost immediately.
"What it did for us when we joined the Big Ten is that it No. 1 it resulted in a reassessment of the levels of commitment we had to the various programs," Rose said. "We became fully funded when we joined the Big Ten. Prior to that, we were not fully funded. And we were not fully staffed. Entering Big Ten, collectively, for all of the sports resulted in us having a new commitment from the University to try and be competitive. From a volleyball perspective, we had been competitive prior to that, but playing in the Big Ten in women's volleyball made us better because the level of competition was better than we were experiencing in the Atlantic 10."
At the time, women's volleyball had just one assistant coach on the staff alongside Rose and nine scholarships to field a roster. Joining the Big Ten boosted the program to full funding and 12 scholarships.
"As I look at it now, we could have had some great teams if we had funding in the early years," said Rose. "That was just the way that it was. When you take a job, that is the job you took. When we joined the Big Ten, a lot of us got a better job without having to move. But it's way more competitive. Recruiting is a lot different than what we had experienced in the Atlantic 10."
The same can be said for what Morett-Curtiss experienced within the field hockey program.
"The financial support from a scholarship standpoint was huge right away," said Morett-Curtiss. "And knowing our field that we were going to build was going to be a first rate facility."
The investment for success around the Big Ten stood out during Penn State's transition. Every institution and athletic program strives to be the best. It's a trait that has not changed during the department's 25 years as a member, and it's something that will be a trademark of the Big Ten for decades to come.
"The level of commitment to being good across the conference, everybody cared," said Rose. "I don't believe every conference across the country has that sort of commitment in all of their sports. I think that is one of the things that makes the Big Ten really unique. If they offer it, they care and they want to be relevant."
Penn State's time in the Big Ten has been marked by excellence in the classroom and on the field of play. In all, Penn State's programs have accounted for 92 Big Ten championships from 15 different programs - 76 regular season and 16 post-season. Additionally, more than 170 student-athletes have accounted for nearly 300 individual Big Ten titles.
Penn State student-athletes have earned more than 5,000 Academic All-Big Ten recognitions since it joined the conference, with its three highest totals during the past three years, led by 296 in 2012-13.
"Penn State's entrance into the Big Ten not only changed the intercollegiate sports landscape, it also changed our academic landscape and our future. Our size, our academic reputation and our athletic tradition matched up well with Big Ten schools," said Penn State President Eric Barron, who also noted that all Big Ten schools are flagship universities for their states. "The academic side of the Big Ten is known as the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) and the institutions together have annual research expenditures topping $10.2 billion -- more than the Ivy League and the University of California System combined -- and they educate a total of nearly 600,000 students. The benefits from being part of such an outstanding and prestigious organization with such an expansive footprint across the nation are immeasurable."
The women's volleyball program earned Penn State's first Big Ten crown during the 1992 season, just one year after the team began competing in the league. The title marked the first of Penn State's superlative 16 Big Ten titles in women's volleyball, in addition to seven NCAA Championships since 1999.
Like women's volleyball, the women's soccer program has been a benchmark of success in conference play. The program became the department's 29th varsity sport in 1994. Since then, Penn State has won an unprecedented 16 conference titles, including a string of 15-straight from 1998-2012.
The football program claimed the Big Ten title in its second season of competition during an undefeated Rose Bowl championship campaign in 1994. Coach Joe Paterno's '94 squad became the first Big Ten team to ever post a 12-0 record. The '94 crown marked the program's first of three Big Ten championships to date (2005 and 2008).
The fall season of 2005 stands out as a monumental period in Penn State's history within the conference. Nittany Lion teams clinched five Big Ten titles in a span of 30 days. The list included field hockey, football, men's soccer, women's soccer and women's volleyball. Since the fall of 2005, Penn State teams have won 51 Big Ten championships (5.1 titles per year in a 10-year span).
Penn State clinched five Big Ten titles in a span of 30 days during the fall of 2005, including one for the women's volleyball team.
It's impossible to quantify how the partnership between Penn State and the Big Ten altered the recruiting landscape for the teams on campus and how the recruiting gains equated to success on the field of play. But pitching a world-renowned education with an elite conference affiliation cultivated relationships with premier student-athletes.
"The name recognition was big for football, but when you see how many of the Universities and programs have been successful on a national level, I think that has greatly helped," Morett-Curtiss. "Exposure for all of the Universities within the conference has helped us all grow. Combining the academic side of what these Universities have with the athletics, it's a very powerful combination when we go out recruiting student-athletes."
A big piece to the exposure of Penn State teams during the past 25 years was the launch of the Big Ten Network on Aug. 30, 2007. More than 800 Penn State sporting events have aired live on the BTN since it launched. The benefits of the conference's TV network, which is in more than 60 million homes, increased visibility across the country for the department in a way that cannot be measured.
"The Network was a major step for us," Morett-Curtiss. "Just having the opportunity to have games on TV so that little girls can watch and learn about the sport. It's helped, not only exposure for the program, but it's helped the sport grow. It's just a phenomenal avenue for us to showcase our University and the sport."
The BTN's impact goes back to what Rose talked about as one of the immediate impacts his program felt - funding. Not only did the BTN infinitely increase exposure for Penn State teams, it has played a paramount role in increased revenues for each institution.
"Certainly, the Big Ten Network has been instrumental in generating funds for the Universities and the conference and the bowl revenue sharing has resulted in more money for all of the schools and the conference," said Rose.
In 2008, Penn State captured its third Big Ten title in football en route to a trip to the Rose Bowl.
While the competitive atmosphere is intense between teams across all of the conference's sports, each member institution understands that the individual success aids in the growth of the collective conference.
"I think the relationship has been a really positive one," said Rose. "There are a lot of similarities between the various Universities."
"Everybody in the Big Ten shares what they do and why they do it; best practices," said Dave Baker, Associate Athletic Director for Business Operations. "We share lots of ideas, at least from the business manager and ticketing perspective. We learn things from one another. And there aren't secrets. We all work together and try to help each other out...We all don't do things the same way. We all have limitations, but we are all looking to help one another out for the betterment of the conference.
"Some people would find it hard to believe that people in the Big Ten root for other Big Ten teams in the postseason, but we do. We follow what is going on...It is a cooperative spirit and a partnership."
Baker is one of just a handful of Penn State administrators and coaches who have been with Intercollegiate Athletics during the past 25 years. That list includes Jan Bortner, who was head coach of the men's tennis team in 1990 and has since transitioned into a role as an associate athletic director. Among the key changes Baker felt from the business operation centered on travel. Bus trips were the norm for Penn State teams in the Atlantic 10, but the geography of the Big Ten led to more plane travel.
A quarter century has passed since initial discussions of a new relationship took place and bonds were formed. Many things have changed significantly for Penn State, the conference and intercollegiate athletics nationwide, but it's been 25 years marked by growth stemming from a vision in 1989.
"Pennsylvania is a very important state. It served as a bridge to the East for us. It made our football offerings stronger," said Delany. "It has been excellence with national championships in a variety of sports. And I have always felt that the 1994 Penn State team was the best team in the country; no disrespect to Nebraska. When you look at the players that team had (five first team All-Americans on offense) and what that group accomplished. That team was the national runner-up. That was a tremendous football team. I've seen some very good basketball teams both on the men's side and the women's side. And obviously, the wrestling and volleyball programs have been dominant on the national scene."
Penn State has won a total of 27 national championships since joining the Big Ten, including three in 2013-14, and the department's collective success speaks for itself.
By no means was the integration in 1990 an easy one, but the partnership between the University and Big Ten is a match that enabled both sides to mutually prosper in a way neither side could have envisioned when the formal vote concluded 25 years ago today.
The wrestling team began a string of four-straight Big Ten titles in March of 2011.
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By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State men's lacrosse 2015 season may be concluded, but the team's persistence and energy will be forever remembered as staples during their inaugural season as part of Big Ten lacrosse.
The Nittany Lions (5-9, 2-3 Big Ten), in a season of many firsts, fought until the end, culminating in a playoff birth to the Big Ten Tournament.
After a solid start to the season, the Nittany Lions were unable to find their footing in the middle of the season. However, after a double overtime loss against Johns Hopkins, Penn State was able to find the confidence needed to finish out the season strong.
"Beginning and the middle of season I think we weren't truly confident with ourselves," said junior James Chakey. "Once we gained some confidence, I think once we played Johns Hopkins the first time, we started believing in ourselves a little bit more and our leadership came together and we were more organized."
Head coach Jeff Tambroni believes that this team has laid the foundation for Penn State's role in the Big Ten. Tambroni emphasized that the class of 2015 set the tone for the younger players and for any class that comes after them. Led by the first lone captain since 1978, Kyle Zittel, the senior class paved the way for the season with great grit and relentless determination.
"Through it all I look back at our seniors and certainly appreciate and admire what they've done for this program," said Tambroni. "But with great excitement we look with our underclassmen at what we believe will be a bright future."
With the season concluded, Tambroni and the rest of the coaching staff will use the summer to develop off-season training programs, as well as take time to travel and watch high school players committed to Penn State lacrosse. The summer is a great time to watch some of the young commits and see how they have progressed over the season. This time also allows the coaches to get an idea of what the new class will bring to the program.
As for the players returning next season, summer is a time to relax, but not completely. Players are expected to workout on their own and keep up with their skills. It is an individual's responsibility to remain in shape over the summer.
A defenseman, Chakey knows that if an individual doesn't work hard over the summer, it will affect the whole team once they reconvene for fall workouts. He also knows that as part of the class of 2016, he and his fellow seniors now bare responsibility for the team, to not only make sure players are working out over the summer, but to make sure all players are in the same mental and physical shape upon returning to school.
"I think coming back with the mentality that we're going to hit the ground running everyone should be on the same page," said Chakey. "So as the senior class that's going to be our goal, have everyone on the same page over the summer."
As for the 2016 campaign, the Nittany Lions are already looking forward to it. The Lions have set both individual and team goals to reach, with strategies for getting there as well.
"I think we just need to prepare as a team more on an individual basis once the season hits," said Chakey. "Next January/February when we come back we should treat every game like a Big Ten game, so therefore when we get to Big Ten games at the end of the season we'll be ready to go."
Although Chakey and his fellow rising seniors now have responsibility over their team, that doesn't mean this responsibility only applies to lacrosse. As a senior, an individual's role develops further and spans being a mentor to younger players both on and off the field. Chakey believes there are a few characteristics that make someone an effective leader, and he hopes that the class of 2016 can apply all of them to their final season.
"Being effective when it comes to communication," said Chakey. "Also, making sure the team doesn't separate and make sure there's not a break in the tight bond we have, especially off the field. We have to make sure the guys are enjoying being a student athlete here at Penn State and at the same time getting their schoolwork done, not getting into trouble, and making sure they focus on what they have to do here."
The 2015 campaign certainly saw the foundation being laid of a team that is capable of being a powerhouse in Big Ten lacrosse. For now, the Nittany Lions can enjoy their summer breaks, but not without a bigger goal emerging in the distance.
"It's important to get moving on 2016 quickly," said Tambroni. "Our hope is that these guys are going to go home with a great deal of urgency and a great deal of hunger and start to focus on how well prepared they need to be and how well prepared we will be."
By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The Penn State men's lacrosse team battled Johns Hopkins until time ran out in the first round matchup of the Big Ten Tournament. Despite the strong effort, and outstanding performance by several Nittany Lions, the No. 4 seed Penn State fell 14-9 to the No. 1 seed Johns Hopkins.
After putting is a valiant effort, the Nittany Lions (5-9, 2-3 Big Ten) found themselves on the defense early and weren't able to hold off Johns Hopkins' quick start. Penn State let up five goals in the first quarter, and Johns Hopkins (8-6, 4-1 Big Ten) was able to hold Penn State to just 14 shots in the first half. Head coach Jeff Tambroni knew that to come back and be competitive he had to bring his team in and calm their nerves.
"I said relax, just relax," said Tambroni. "I felt like defensively we tried to do some things that didn't seem to work. Offensively, we were just rushing everything and giving the ball right back to their offense. We were exhausted within the first ten minutes of that game. I think we were just really worn down."
Once the Nittany Lions defense was back on track, the offense took the lead, netting in what seemed to be an endless stream of goals kick-started by junior TJ Sanders. From then on it was a constant game of cat and mouse, with Johns Hopkins and Penn State trading leads and ties throughout the second half. The two opponents would tie each other twice during the game, and were never separated by more than two goals during the third quarter.
"I thought when we had our hand free and had room and space to shoot the ball we did a really nice job with it," said Tambroni. "When we didn't the result was evident, we turned the ball over on four possessions in the second half and that proved to probably be a little more than we can handle."
Connor Darcey had an outstanding game in net, saving 11 shots in the first half. Darcey's 11 saves helped him achieved a feat that hasn't happened since Penn State's March 23, 2013 game against Bucknell. His total saves for the night would come to 17, a large number by any comparison.
Although the season ended sooner than they would have liked, the Nittany Lions have much to be proud of from their 2015 campaign. Being a part of the inaugural Big Ten conference for lacrosse makes this season that much more special. Having secured one of only four spots in the Big Ten Tournament, Penn State further proved their ability to contend against the elite programs in the Big Ten.
"It was a honor to be involved in the Big Ten," said Tambroni. "It was a lot of fun for all of us to be involved in the first ever Big Ten Tournament. It is such a first class conference from start to finish. From the way that they promote and market, run games, run the tournament. It has been an honor and I think our guys sensed the difference from where we were to where we are right now."
For the 2015 senior class, this season was the opportunity to steer Penn State men's lacrosse in a new direction, with them at the helm. The nine seniors set the standard for work ethic and sportsmanship that will be in place for years to come in Happy Valley.
"We said to these guys during their senior day, they are the link," said Tambroni. "They are the link to the past and the future."
Penn State men's lacrosse has a bright and promising future ahead thanks to their senior class.
"This was really the last group between the old coaching staff and the new coaching staff and I think they've done a pretty good job of holding on to what we believe is a honorable past, but also leading this group to a new culture and a future to what we think is going to be really bright," said Tambroni.
By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State men's lacrosse team has fought for every win so far this season, and on Thursday the team will battle for one more, this time in the first round of the inaugural Big Ten Tournament.
With history waiting to be written, the No. 4-seeded Nittany Lions (5-8, 2-3 Big Ten) are prepared to face a familiar foe, the No. 1 seed Johns Hopkins (7-6, 4-1 Big Ten).
The Lions and Blue Jays saw one another just less than three weeks prior they took to double overtime in one of the most thrilling games of the regular season. Although the outcome of that game didn't land in the Penn State's favor, this time around the Lions hope to change that; playoffs are a whole new ballgame.
Head coach Jeff Tambroni knows the significance of what his team has accomplished so far this season. Tambroni noted that just being in the tournament is an accomplishment in itself, since only four of the six Big Ten teams qualified; Michigan and Rutgers missed the cut.
"I think it's significant because of the fact that it's the inaugural Big Ten Tournament," said Tambroni. "I feel really good for our guys. I just think it's a wonderful group of young men who have worked very hard, we just have not always gotten the results that we would hoped for throughout the course of the regular season, but winning the last two games - must-win games - I think feels real good for our guys. I'm sure there's a sense of relief, but also a sense of pride, knowing that they're going to be representing Penn State in the inaugural tournament."
The pride the Nittany Lions have going in to the tournament stems from two strong wins to end the regular season, a home win against Rutgers and a win in Ann Arbor against Michigan. Penn State also has a sense of familiarity going in to their matchup against Johns Hopkins, after an 11-10 decision decided the first meeting in double overtime.
"I think it certainly provides our guys with the link of understanding that we can play with Johns Hopkins," said Tambroni. "Both teams were at a different place, I think both teams were coming off a loss, so I think the mindset of both teams coming in there was probably a little bit questionable. It's going to be a completely different game when the whistle blows [on Thursday] and you got to go back to square one."
Penn State will turn to its key players to contend with Johns Hopkins. Attack men like TJ Sanders will now more than ever need to find the back of the net, and continue to be aggressive in the offensive zone. Goalie Connor Darcey will need to find his groove early and settle in in net to stave off his opponents. And the defense must build off of its strong start against Michigan and continue holding off their opponents early on in the game.
"I think if we want or expect to win then our best players are going to have to show up and make plays, I think that's just fact of the matter," said Tambroni. "Both teams really want to win; I think it's going to come down to willingness of certain guys to make plays at certain times."
Although there are four teams in the tournament, Coach Tambroni emphasized that it's not about being better than all three of the other teams; it comes down to beating one team at a time.
"We don't have to play three teams; we have to play one team on Thursday," said Tambroni. "The reality of it is we don't have to be better than all three teams; we have to be better than one team on Thursday and one team on Saturday. I think if we don't bite off more than we can chew, we can put ourselves in a position to win."
Coach Tambroni has put great importance during the past month on his players getting back to the simplistic way of playing lacrosse. This strategy has proven successful, giving the Nittany Lions necessary wins to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament.
"You can tend to over prepare, so hopefully we just give these guys confidence in themselves," said Tambroni. "I think if we put in too much stuff they'll start to question if they can do it. [Back to the basics] will be the same philosophy going in to this one."
The Nittany Lions have proven they're fully deserving of their bid to the Big Ten Tournament. Now it is just up to Penn State to bring the competition with them to College Park.
"Hopefully [the team] will have stepped back and reflected for just an instant on the opportunity for us and take advantage of the opportunity that they have earned," said Tambroni.
No. 1 Johns Hopkins (7-6, 4-1 Big Ten)
Points Leader: Ryan Brown 60 points
Leading Goal Scorer: Ryan Brown, 51 goals
Assists Leader: Wells Stanwick, 31 assists
The Blue Jays, coming off an upset against Maryland, are on a hot streak entering the Big Ten Tournament. Johns Hopkins led in both shots (37) and groundballs (34) against Maryland, and will look to bring momentum into the game against Penn State in the first round of the tournament. Junior Ryan Brown looks to continue his standout season, already becoming the first Big Ten player since 1995 to surpass 50 goals in a season. Brown was also named the 2015 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. Freshman Joel Tinney was named the 2015 Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
No. 2 Maryland (12-2, 4-1 Big Ten)
Points Leader: Matt Rambo, 40 points
Leading Goal Scorer: Matt Rambo, 28 goals
Assists Leader: Bryan Cole, 12 assists
Although they didn't win the outright Big Ten regular season title due to their loss to Johns Hopkins last Saturday, the Terrapins will be looking to bounce back against Ohio State during the first round of the Big Ten tournament. Casey Ikeda was named the 2015 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, helping the Terrapins keep opponents to just 6.43 goals per game. Maryland will face Ohio State on Thursday at 8 p.m.
No. 3 Ohio State (10-5, 3-2 Big Ten)
Points Leader: Jesse King, 58 points
Leading Goal Scorer: Jesse King, 35 goals
Assists Leader: Jesse King, 23 assists
The Buckeyes will enter the Big Ten Tournament coming off a 17-10 loss at Rutgers. Despite the late April loss, Ohio State finished 10-5 overall, including wins against Penn State, Johns Hopkins and Michigan. Jesse King earned All-Big Ten Team honors, as well as Carter Brown. Tom Carey and Robby Haus were Big Ten Honorable Mentions. The Buckeyes face Maryland on Thursday at 8 p.m.
No. 4 Penn State (5-8, 2-3 Big Ten)
Points Leader: TJ Sanders, 39 points
Leading Goal Scorer: TJ Sanders, 27 goals
Assists Leader: TJ Sanders, 12 assists, Nick Aponte 12 assists
The Nittany Lions have been gaining momentum following two consecutive wins against Rutgers and Michigan to finish off the regular season. After their win against Rutgers, Mike Sutton was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week, and goaltender Connor Darcey took home Defensive Player of the Week honors. TJ Sanders has been Penn State's most standout player of the year, netting 27 goals to end the regular season. Sanders leads the team in points and goals, and is also tied with sophomore Nick Aponte for assists. On April 28th, TJ Sanders and Mike Sutton were awarded Big Ten honorable mentions. The Nittany Lions will take the field against Johns Hopkins on Thursday at 5:30 p.m.
By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
ANN ARBOR, MI. - The Penn State men's lacrosse team (5-8, 2-3 Big Ten) secured a playoff spot after defeating Michigan (5-8, 1-4 Big Ten), 10-9, on Saturday. Penn State will be the No. 4 seed in the inaugural Big Ten Lacrosse Tournament.
The Nittany Lions came out strong offensively during their matchup against the Wolverines. Nick Aponte and TJ Sanders led the team in goals, netting three apiece to add to Penn State's dominant offensive start against Michigan.
"I think in the offensive end Nick Aponte did a great job just managing our attack, managing our offense once again, so that was a bright spot for us," said head coach Jeff Tambroni. "You know when we were lacking a little creativity and a little ability to run by [Michigan] early, he was the one guy who stood out and made the plays. I think the other side of it is it was nice to be in a close game and learn how to win."
Associate head coach and defensive coordinator Peter Toner had said earlier in the week that his goal for the defense was to begin the game strong and not give up early goals, as they had in weeks past. Head coach Jeff Tambroni believed the defense was able to get their best start of the season, holding off any Wolverine goals until the second quarter.
"I thought [the defense] played really well for two and a half quarters," said Tambroni. "I thought the first half, Connor [Darcey] was playing well but I also thought that our defense was playing really well. I thought we managed two or three sizeable threats in the offense and I thought our guys did a pretty good job of managing possession time and did a pretty good job at limiting quality looks."
During the second half, Michigan mounted a comeback. The Wolverines were also fighting for the fourth Big Ten tournament spot, and were determined to not give up a postseason spot so easily. It was up to the Nittany Lion defense to stave off the relentless Wolverines and hold on for a win.
"I thought late in the third, early in the fourth, Michigan made a run," said Tambroni. "They were winning more than their fair share of face offs and I think we ended up having two or three possessions in the fourth quarter offensively. The good thing is not only did we get off to a good start but we found a way at the end to just doing us to walk away from Ann Arbor with a win."
Penn State's defense was able to hold off Michigan's attack men and come out with a 10-9 win. This win validated the last few weeks of hard work the team has put in during long practices.
The Nittany Lions, the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament, will face No. 1 Johns Hopkins (7-6, 4-1 Big Ten) on Thursday in the first round. All Big Ten tournament games will be held on the campus of Maryland in College Park.
"I think just being fresh is going to be the most important thing right now," said Tambroni. "It's been a long season, a lot of travel, and the premium will be having a fresh team walk on to the field on Thursday."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After a strong win on Sunday over Rutgers, Penn State (4-8, 1-3 Big Ten) looks to finish the regular season on a high note when they take on Michigan (5-7, 1-3 Big Ten) on Saturday Saturday in Ann Arbor.
Fueled by an outstanding performance by the Nittany Lion offense last weekend, Penn State looks to gain a playoff birth with a win against the Wolverines. The winner of Saturday's contest will secure the No. 4 spot in the Big Ten tournament, a spot the Nittany Lions hope to find themselves in.
Associate head coach and defensive coordinator Peter Toner is hoping this game will prove the final piece to the puzzle that was a trying 2015 regular season. A win against Michigan and a playoff spot will bring validation to the young group of men who have worked hard throughout the season.
"Based on where we're at in the Big Ten we have to kind of treat this as a playoff game," said Toner. "I think at this point I wouldn't say it's do or die but obviously if we don't win our season probably comes to an end mathematically. For the guys we're excited about the opportunity to go to Michigan and do what needs to be done on the field and earn our way into the Big Ten championship series."
Penn State has faced Michigan every season since 2012. The Nittany Lions have won all three contests in those years, including a dominant 22-7 win to open the 2014 campaign. Despite recent successes, this weekend's game will not be without challenges.
The Nittany Lions, having come back from a two-goal deficit against Rutgers, will need to come out strong on defense to stay confident in all 60 minutes of play against Michigan.
"We still have yet to start a game defensively on the right note," said Toner. "Unfortunately we always seem to go down by a couple and I'm not sure if it's our guys overthinking or if they're a bit nervous, I don't know, but we keep working on it during practice. We keep using these scrimmage opportunities and adding emphasis on the early portion of the scrimmages and hopefully our guys will just continue to just have a better focus when the game starts."
Focus will be another key for the Nittany Lions this weekend. In previous years the Nittany Lions have been strong away from University Park, but this year have been inconsistent on the road. This weekend's matchup, in Michigan's "Big House," will prove a challenge for a team that needs one final win. The bus ride will give the players and coaches time to focus and strategize on their one goal of the weekend: to win.
Throughout the season, the team's motto has been "one game at a time." By never getting ahead of the next game on the calendar, the Nittany Lions focus all of their energy on one opponent at a time. Coach Toner emphasized that although this has given the team a new perspective on their season, he does still see room for improvement even as the season winds down.
"I think we just got to keep working on us," said Toner. "I think that's the key. We were talking to our guys last week about just doing what we do, but just doing it a little bit better. I think a lot of our focus earlier in the year tended to be on our opponent versus fixing the things that were going on within our own team."
One other area of improvement the team looks to tackle this weekend is possession time. To start, faceoff specialists like Drake Kreinz will need to win face offs, it then comes down to Penn State's ability to keep and possess the ball.
"Time of possession in this game is going to be key," said Toner. "It certainly highlights our ability to clear the ball effectively. To tip the scales a little bit more in our favor in terms of possession time for our offense and limited possessions for [Michigan's] offense. The fewer times we have to defend them the better off we'll be."
While every game offers the opportunity for improvement, the little changes that the Nittany Lions are focusing on this week could be the difference between extending their season and cleaning out their lockers sooner than they would like.
"I think this is an exciting opportunity for them and for us, knowing that we can extend our season with a win and we certainly look forward to the challenge," said Toner.
Penn State will face Michigan Saturday in Ann Arbor at 6 p.m. The game will air on the Big Ten Network.
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