By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The Nittany Lions dropped a tough 12-5 decision at Maryland on Saturday.
Taking on their second Big Ten foe, the Nittany Lions traveled to College Park over the weekend in arguably their biggest matchup of the season so far. No. 3 Maryland opened the game with several unanswered goals, giving the Lions a lot of ground to make up for.
Head coach Jeff Tambroni explained that after the first quarter, Penn State's defense had to adjust to withstand Maryland's explosive offense. The Nittany Lions also had to change strategies for getting possession of the ball. Possession time has been one of the team's biggest struggles this season.
"We just couldn't seem to get into any rhythm today and that really hurt us," said Tambroni. "Trying to stop [Maryland] before we got the ball in the offensive end is not a very good strategy."
In response to Maryland's strong start, Penn State's defense had to really batten down the hatches to keep the game close. The defense, led by senior JP Burnside, kept Maryland to just four goals in the final 45 minutes of the game. However, it was the offense's struggle to make opportunities for themselves that led to very few scoring chances.
"I don't think we played great team offense," said Tambroni. "I thought we had extremely limited possessions in the first half and maximized all we could, but in that third and fourth quarter we just couldn't adjust."
The outcome may have not been ideal, but this game proved to be yet another learning opportunity for Penn State. Now knowing what it takes to keep a top five offense at bay, the Lions will go into this week of practices with new motivation and momentum.
"I think we've got to take away the fact that we got down by a bunch and were able to come back and at least fight and make the last few quarters a competitive contest," said Tambroni. "We gotta take that as we move forward."
The Lions will take the tough road loss and use it as motivation to prepare for another trip to Maryland to play Johns Hopkins on Saturday.
Recently in Men's Lacrosse Category
By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com Student
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State men's lacrosse program welcomed the Big Ten Network this week during practices to do filming for an upcoming feature on the network. The feature will focus on both sides of the Penn State-Maryland matchup this weekend in College Park.
Often known for outstanding cinematography, Big Ten Network features garner local and national attention, which will help Penn State lacrosse reach audiences previously unavailable. Due to its demonstrated prowess in the field of sports coverage, the Big Ten Network has helped push audiences on the sport of lacrosse by broadcasting games throughout the season.
Penn State was approached by the Big Ten Network to cover the week leading up to the much-anticipated Maryland game because of the rivalry between the two Universities. The episode will feature both teams as they prepare to face one another, as well as game content and coverage.
"It was a surprise but it was very exciting at the same time," said senior JP Burnside. "We're all very excited and people out there who can tune into Big Ten will get to take an inside look at our program which is awesome exposure."
The cameras will not only be filming during practices, but also around campus and during the players' downtime during the week. From following a player to class, to visiting their homes at school, this episode will give audiences a look at what it means to be a Penn State Lacrosse player off the field, as well as the motions they go through in daily practices and film sessions.
As with any new entity being introduced to a close-knit team, the cameras made their presence known during the first practice with the team.
"The first time [the camera crew] walked in some of the guys were looking over there," said Burnside. "You know we just got to try to make sure we eliminate all distractions and that's one of them so I think guys are getting used to it now."
Head coach Jeff Tambroni welcomed the opportunity to let audiences know more about his program and his players. Tambroni loved the idea of the exposure the program would get, especially in regards to possible recruits in the future.
"It's pretty neat to be one of two programs included in this. I think it'll do a lot for the sport," said Tambroni. "Even just having games on [the Big Ten Network] during the weekends means a lot. But I think this gives recruits a true insight into Penn State Lacrosse."
Many fans and community members know Penn State lacrosse for their performances on the field, but most don't know the hard work put in on non-game days. Since this is the first time the Big Ten Network will produce a feature show on lacrosse, audiences will be introduced to a world previously unchartered on such a large scale.
"I think what this will do will give people on the outside and inside perspective into maybe how much these guys work or the kind of stuff that they do to prepare for these games before we walk onto that field on Saturday," said Tambroni. "At the very least this will give Penn State Lacrosse a bit of much-needed exposure in its hundred year history."
Although the goals for this weekend's game are similar to those of all games, to win, the Nittany Lions will face arguably their toughest opponent yet. No. 3 ranked Maryland, a powerhouse in the sport of lacrosse, is eager to bring a rivalry between the two Universities. Due to the two schools being so close, and having a history of playing one another before the Big Ten was created, Penn State and Maryland are no strangers to such rivalry.
This weekend will prove a tough road match for the Nittany Lions as they take on their highest-ranked opponent yet.
"It's now a huge Big Ten rivalry, I know our team is excited and our coaches are excited so I just can't wait to play," said Burnside.
Penn State will face Maryland this Saturday in College Park at 3 p.m.
By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion men's lacrosse team kicked off its Big Ten conference schedule by welcoming Ohio State to Happy Valley on Sunday. Despite a late rally, the Nittany Lions fell to the Buckeyes, 10-8.
Penn State got off to a quick start with senior Michael Richards scoring the first goal of the game, bringing the home crowd to its feet.
"Luckily [James] Burke passed me the ball and I just happened to be in the right place and luckily it went in," said Richards.
Although the Nittany Lions struck first, it was the Buckeyes who would return with five unanswered goals in the first half.
During the fourth quarter momentum shifted in favor of the Lions. Rallying from six gols down, sophomore Nick Aponte kick started a scoring spree for the Nittany Lions. Followed by goals from Brian Prestreau, Dan Craig and Matt Florence, the Lions came within two goals of tying the game.
"[The momentum] was nice, it's just we can't have that that late in the fourth quarter you have to have it earlier in the game," said Richards.
Richards also credited the change in momentum to several players that stood out in Sunday's game.
"I think that once we started winning faceoffs with Drake Kreinz, and James Burke played his heart out picking up ground balls, I think they did an insane job," said Richards. "I think those guys really made the difference coming out and then our offense did their job, when we actually gave them the ball, they did their job."
Penn State powered through its slow start and proved their skills and endurance can keep pace with the tough opponents they've faced.
"I think we realized that we can absolutely hang especially with all the close games we've had," said Richards. "We just have to realize that you need to put in a full 60 minutes, you can't just play in spurts. We know exactly what we can do and we have the power to do it we just have to put a game together."
Head coach Jeff Tambroni was satisfied with his teams overall performance against their long-time foe, but knows there is always room for improvement.
"Our kids came to win today and we were hoping not to play in the first Big Ten conference game here at Penn State, we were hoping to win," said Tambroni. "So I think that's going to probably put a cloud over, unfortunately, the kind of day that it maybe could have been at Penn State. But the other side of it is I thought our guys competed and I said that to them in the huddle, one thing I learned about them is that they gave an effort until the end."
With the first Big Ten game under their belts, the Nittany Lions look to learn and build off their experiences from Sunday's game. As soon as one game ends, the focus then turns to the team's next game; this week will be focused on Maryland. The team works one game at a time, a theme set early on in the season in attempts to focus all energy on one opponent.
"We have a short week of preparation against a really good Maryland team, so it's just going to be on us as a staff and as a team to get excited about a really good opportunity and opponent," said head coach Jeff Tambroni. "You know to win a game like that could change a lot, so from this moment on we'll go into the locker room, we'll start talking about that."
The Nittany Lions will spend this week gaining momentum for their road trip to Maryland on Saturday.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions are eager to begin their second season as they open Big Ten competition for the first time in program history. As they look ahead to Ohio State, the Nittany Lions prepare to take on their long-time foe.
Discussion of Big Ten lacrosse started several years ago, when Maryland and Rutgers were in talks to join the conference. With the addition of honorary member Johns Hopkins, Penn State joins five other teams for the inaugural season of Big Ten lacrosse. Head coach Jeff Tambroni applauds the fellow programs in the conference for their decorated history within the sport of lacrosse.
"With the addition of teams like Johns Hopkins, Rutgers and Maryland the competition is not only raised but the exposure of those particular programs and how tradition rich they are," said Tambroni. "Those are the blue bloods of college lacrosse and the attachment of our association with them as well as Michigan and Ohio State just makes for very exciting opportunities."
The level of competition increases as Penn State continues their 2015 campaign, but the Lions are poised to take on every team, one game at a time.
Another welcomed change to the rest of the season, other than the level of difficulty, is the exposure Penn State will get from the Big Ten. With the rest of their games on television, Penn State will see national attention and be thrown into the spotlight every coming weekend.
"You certainly get a lot more exposure because the Big Ten wants to promote one of their sports on television," said Tambroni. "Through regular season games all the way to our conference tournament, the exposure is there."
Coach Tambroni believes the television component will be vital in marketing the Penn State lacrosse program to a wider audience. Making the game available to previously unreached audiences is vital for the program to build a larger fan base.
"I think [television exposure] is going to do a lot for the sport of lacrosse and I also believe it will do a lot for Penn State," said Tambroni.
Penn State will open Big Ten play against border rival Ohio State. The Nittany Lions have faced the Buckeyes every season under head coach Jeff Tambroni. Most recently, Penn State defeated Ohio State 11-8 in Columbus last March. This weekend's game will be vital in setting the tone for Penn State's identity as a Big Ten contender.
"I think no matter what the records are this is always an extremely hard-fought game," said Tambroni. "I think both teams compete hard against one another. You know when you play Michigan and Ohio State, you know kind of the founders of the Big Ten lacrosse conference, and these guys go after each other pretty good."
Tambroni knows the new Big Ten conference boasts powerhouses in the sport of lacrosse, but believes with the beginning of the season to build off of, the Nittany Lions have what it takes to hang in a tough crowd.
"There's a lot on the line now," said Tambroni. "It's not just Ohio State-Penn State it's the first game of the Big Ten and you want to get yourself off to a good start in the Big Ten conference and secure each and every win that you can because those things are going to be so valuable in the end."
Tambroni and company have been working on emphasizing the team aspect of the game. Working as one will be a key component to the Lions' matchup against Ohio State.
"I want to maximize the talents of this team, not necessarily each individual, but the talents of this team and I think if we can do that, regardless if it's the first time we've ever competed in the Big Ten or we've done it for years," said Tambroni. "We just want to make sure we can look back and do it without regret."
Tambroni emphasized that with this inaugural season as members of the Big Ten, wins aren't the only focus. Building a strong foundation for Penn State amongst the other member teams is just as important.
"Hopefully we develop the kind of relationships that are going to last a lifetime and that have nothing to do with the scoreboard," said Tambroni.
As the Big Ten games kick the season into full gear, Penn State is prepared to fight for every goal and every save, and demonstrate their strengths for the community.
"At the end of the day we would hope when someone walked away from one of our games they would say 'man that team plays hard, man that team really cares about each other' and it makes anybody who's associated with Penn State very proud to be associated with the same team that's on the field competing and playing for them," said Tambroni.
Penn State takes on Ohio State Sunday at 3 p.m.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For Penn State men's lacrosse, the Blue and White has been a part of many players' lives long before they put on the jersey. Players Matt Florence and Hunter Pearl, whose fathers played lacrosse for Penn State, keep the family tradition alive and well in Happy Valley.
From 1989 to 1992 J.J. Pearl protected the net for the Nittany Lions, playing goalkeeper and dominating his time between the pipes. He ranks fifth all-time in saves for Penn State. His son Hunter is a freshman, following a familiar path of goaltending for the Nittany Lions.
"For me, Penn State was born inside of me," said Hunter Pearl. "We were always fans since I was really young and my dad definitely had a big influence. He was really helpful in deciding where to go to school, he wasn't necessarily biased towards here but this is really the only place I wanted to go."
Redshirt sophomore Matt Florence, after transferring from the University of Virginia, put on the blue and white for Penn State just like his father, Tom. Tom Florence was a goaltender for the Nittany Lions from 1981 to 1985. Although he plays a different position from his father, Matt Florence, a midfielder, gives credit to his lineage for helping to make the transfer process a simple one.
"Once I decided to transfer my dad had somewhat of an impact, just that looking at the school and knowing kind of background about Penn State and what it meant to him," said Florence. "When I came here and visited I saw all those things that he had really loved about the school stood true and definitely was a place I felt comfortable in."
The family ties run deep for Penn State men's lacrosse. Not only are there second-generation Penn State lacrosse players on the team, but several team members also have other connections to the University. More than a handful of the Nittany Lions have had grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings attend Penn State.
"I think it's very special, it's really unique and it kind of adds to the family atmosphere that everyone tries to instill here," said Pearl.
Head coach Jeff Tambroni knows when recruiting, family ties do have an impact, and the idea of having players with family ties to Penn State makes the passion burn that much brighter.
"I always think it helps, having a Penn State lineage," said Tambroni. "I think most of these kids grow up with it in their blood, so to speak. And when it comes to lacrosse just thinking as a parent myself, you look back and think about what it would be like to have your kids play at the same university and walk on that same field. That would be a really special occurrence."
All Nittany Lions make an impact on the field, and it's not just lineage that makes Penn State such a special place. The impact the alumni have and the respect they have for the program is unparalleled. Past alumni come back to watch regular season games, and even more participate in the team's annual Alumni Weekend every fall semester.
"It definitely ties into the family aspect when those alumni come back," said Florence. "You definitely have a special connection with them and you really bond with them over being Penn Staters and taking pride in that blue and white."
This weekend the men's lacrosse family takes on No. 6 Denver.
"[Denver has] a really talented offense, they bring a lot to the table," said Florence. "For us it's really going to come down to how much do we want it and how much are we going to show that heart out on the field. If we can bring it and be absolutely relentless out there then we have a good shot at winning."
The team is up for the challenge playing Denver offers, as a win against such a highly ranked team would bring validation to all the hard work the team has been putting in. For all members of the team, not just those with Penn State heritage, this game will provide yet another chance to take the field with the pride of the Lions.
Penn State will take on Denver at the neutral site of Hofstra this Saturday at 2:30 pm.
By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State men's lacrosse team returns home to Happy Valley after its spring break campaign in Massachusetts with one win and a pair of losses.
The first leg of the trip was spent in Boston taking on the Harvard Crimson. Penn State would fall to Harvard 12-9. Despite this loss, the Nittany Lions bounced back and picked up a win against Marist on neutral ground three days later. The 9-8 win was the Nittany Lions' building block during the week.
"We had some strong playing from start to finish [against Marist]," said head coach Jeff Tambroni. "The guys really put in the effort to get the win. I thought we shot the ball well, I thought we took advantage of the opportunities the offense created."
Working off of momentum provided by Penn State's starting faceoff man, junior Drake Kreinz, the Nittany Lions were able to create opportunities in front of the net and capitalize on them. Several Nittany Lions propelled Penn State to the win, notably Dan Craig, Mike Sutton and Drake Kreinz, each scoring two goals. The strong scoring energy would be just enough to keep the Nittany Lions ahead and come out with a much-needed win following a tough loss.
With only a few days between the Marist and UMass games, the Nittany Lions used this quick turnaround as an opportunity to work on communication in front of the net in the offensive zone, as well as creating better scoring opportunities. The Nittany Lions' efforts would be noticed in the first minutes of their matchup against UMass.
In its final matchup of the week against UMass in Amherst, Penn State got off to a fast start, thanks to Kreinz scoring three seconds after the opening faceoff, only to be followed by three more goals from fellow Nittany Lions. Despite this quick start, the power shifted in the second half in favor of the Minutemen.
"We got off to a great start," said Tambroni. "Drake [Kreinz] and Billy [Lombardi] winning faceoffs, getting the team quick opportunities. But our downfall was possession time and us not being able to take advantage of some of the possession time we did have."
Despite their late efforts, and two first career goals for Billy Lombardi and Tanner Peck, the Nittany Lions were unable to come back from a four-goal deficit.
Although the primary purpose of this spring break trip was to play several Massachusetts teams, a side benefit of the trip was that the Nittany Lions were able to further bond with one another, having spent the whole week in hotel rooms and on long bus rides. The team enjoyed their visit to Fenway Park and many memories were made off the field when the team took in a Boston Celtics game.
"I thought this was a productive spring break," said Tambroni. "We learned a lot. The team worked extremely hard at our practices during the week and had some fun during their downtime. The guys got to learn a lot about each other."
Spending a whole week on the road is tough, both mentally and physically, and the Nittany Lions battled these challenges head-on. Despite not coming home with more wins, the Nittany Lions learned a lot during this trip, both about their playing strengths and weaknesses, as well as about fellow teammates.
Penn State returns home to work out minor kinks and get back into their on-field prowess that dominated early in the season and prepare for Denver this coming weekend.
By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's lacrosse is set for three road matches against Harvard, Marist and UMass during the academic spring break.
Although their luck on the road hasn't been ideal, the Nittany Lions hope their fortunes will change over their spring break campaign. Historically under head coach Jeff Tambroni the Nittany Lions' record has been superb on the road, and Penn State looks to continue this tradition and notch its first road win against Harvard this Saturday.
"It has always been a part of this program that we find more success on the road than we do at home," said Tambroni. "So finding that formula is going to be kind of what we're gonna set out to achieve this week."
The team will leave Happy Valley on Friday and head to Boston for their first of three games over the course of a week. The long bus ride will give the team and coaches time to further build relationships amongst one another.
After their game Saturday against Harvard, the Nittany Lions face Marist on Tuesday, then travel to Amherst to take on UMass the following Saturday, but despite their full schedule, the Nittany Lions do have a small amount of downtime. The team plans to use this time to take in the sights and sounds of all that Boston has to offer.
"We have extremely generous and gracious parents throughout the course of the entire year, they go way above and beyond caring for this team when we go on the road," said Tambroni. "Connor Darcey's parents are local, they're from Wellesley, Massachusetts, so they have scheduled a number of things including a tour of Fenway Park, we're going to go to a Boston Celtics game and we got a day of bowling. This will give the guys the chance to see each other in a different light."
Small adventures like these are nice ways for the team to further bond with one other, but also get some much-needed downtime during such a busy week. Coach Tambroni joked that, being a diehard New York Yankees fan, he'll have to wear his pinstripes on the Fenway Park tour.
Coach Tambroni hopes that Penn State's successful run at home will translate into wins on the road now that the team knows what needs to happen to notch wins. Communication is key on the field and the Nittany Lions have focused on being more vocal during practices to lay the groundwork for their spring break games.
"We had a great week of preparation before Penn, I think we learned a lot, grew a lot as a team," said Tambroni. "I'm hopeful that we'll travel a lot better going into Harvard and start stringing together some wins."
Junior faceoff specialist Drake Kreinz knows the team needs to get its first win on the road and emphasized the hard work the team has put in during this week of practices. Kreinz believes the team is well prepared, but it all comes down to the mentality of the team during game time.
"I know we've got our hands full," said Kreinz. "Harvard's a very good team, we got a short weekend and then on to Marist and UMass, all great physical teams. Being on the road I know there will be a lot going on but the biggest thing is just staying mentally prepared and, especially with the cold and the snow in Boston, we just gotta play our game and stay focused."
On these road games, the one element that will impact the team the most is the weather. Having played both home games in Holuba Hall, the Nittany Lions have only battled the elements on the road, including blizzard like conditions at Villanova. Overcoming the inevitable cold and possible snow in Massachusetts will be the biggest challenge the team faces, but Penn State is prepared.
The Nittany Lions have studied film, practiced hard, and have conditioned themselves in order to be as well prepared as possible for the week ahead. Winning three games in a row would be the perfect spring break for the Nittany Lions, but Tambroni emphasized that wins aren't the only thing that decide a successful bout of road games.
"At the end of the day I hope we come back a more united team and a much closer team when we head back from Amherst," said Tambroni.
The Nittany Lions will start their spring break campaign at Harvard on Saturday at noon.
By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Although the win against Penn on Saturday was much needed for the Nittany Lions, for some members of the crowd the win was bittersweet. Kim Kreinz, mother of junior faceoff specialist Drake Kreinz, was in the audience cheering on not one, but two of her sons.
Drake's younger brother Austin is a sophomore on the Quakers' lacrosse team, and Saturday's matchup was the first time the two brothers, only a grade apart, have played against each other.
"[This game was] bittersweet," said Kim Kreinz. "It's tough, knowing there will be one winner. They played on the high school team together and my best memory is of them playing against the rival high school that was more dominant than them and Drake had the OT winning goal. They worked together. After that I thought I never had to see another game, but this is a whole new level now."
Also in the crowd were Drake and Austin's younger siblings, along with many members of their extended family. The Kreinz family had known saw this matchup on the schedule over 18 months ago, and had been preparing since.
The family had designed matching T-shirts for the occasion, which made their large group stand out in comparison to the sea of people in attendance. What made the shirts special however, was what was on the back. Drake Kreinz wears number 38 for Penn State, and in a twist of fate, so does Austin for Penn. On the back of the family T-shirts was the number 38, recognizing both brothers, and bringing the occasion full circle.
"Whenever you have that many Kreinz's in one place too long it's nothing but trouble, [laughs] but it was great to see them," said Drake Kreinz. "They were cheering for both sides. It's just always good to see family, there's nothing like them coming twelve hours to see a game."
In the end, Penn State came out with a victory, but both brothers embraced each other after the game knowing an opportunity like this doesn't happen often. The family aspect of the lacrosse is nothing new to the Kreinz brothers, but competing against each other added something special to a matchup the family would never forget.
"[Austin's] one of my fiercest competitors," said Drake Kreinz. "I'm kind of bummed we didn't go against each other at the faceoff, but just having the opportunity to compete against him there's no better feeling."
By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After a hard fought game, the Nittany Lions were able to hold back Penn's relentless offense, earning a much-needed 14-11 victory inside Holuba Hall on Saturday.
Penn State (2-2), once again found itself in an early hole trailing its in-state rival by two goals to start the game. After their early struggles, a strong performance from both the offense and defense kept the game close. The Nittany Lions never trailed by more than two goals. At the start of the fourth period, the Nittany Lion's offense found its stride, and launched into a final offensive flurry to finish off their opponent.
After two tough road losses to Loyola and Villanova, a win was just what the Nittany Lions needed to boost morale and give the team momentum going into their upcoming games over spring break.
"That was much needed," said head coach Jeff Tambroni. "You could see the relief on our guys' faces when the game ended. I think the key was that it was such a hard fought game and they had to work for everything. If we didn't come out with this kind of effort today it certainly wasn't going to work out."
Coach Tambroni was pleased with his players' performance, and effort, to control possession, win face-offs, and score goals. Tambroni noted the heart was back in the game for his players.
"I just felt like our guys played with a whole lot more heart today than they have in the last two weeks, I thought it showed on the scoreboard today," said Tambroni.
The Nittany Lions' gained momentum with every goal; kick-started by a rocket shot by sophomore Matt Florence in the first period. Florence would find the back of the net a total of four times against Penn, all of which were unassisted.
"After these past two weeks I think the team's a little stressed out. We really just wanted to come out off to a good start today and just play as a team," said Florence.
During halftime, the crowd welcomed the Royer family to the center of the field to be honored as official members of the Penn State lacrosse family with a rousing standing ovation. Gavin Royer was diagnosed with a brain tumor just ten days after his fifth birthday last March and has since become a symbol of hope and determination for the Nittany Lions. Gavin and his family were matched with Penn State lacrosse through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation.
At the start of the second half Penn State led Penn 8-7. The game remained close, with each Penn State goal being answered by the Quakers. The momentum and team unity that fueled the Nittany Lions overflowed as the Penn State sidelines got more vocal toward the end of the second half.
"I just feel like a lot of momentum built up throughout the game," said Florence. "Everyone just wanted to cross the finish line and honestly we were all giving it everything we had until the last whistle."
With a boisterous team on the sidelines cheering fellow teammates on during the final minutes of the game, Penn State opened up a three-goal lead.
While Saturday's win was much needed for the Nittany Lions, the team already has their sights set on the next matchup. The Nittany Lions will go into spring break matchups against Harvard, Marist, and UMass with a heightened level of confidence brought about after their victory over Penn.
"It's great now but I think we're all ready for next week, we're already wanting to compete a little more. I think that this will just help us carry that momentum," said Florence.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State men's lacrosse team adopted a new teammate last fall, Gavin Royer, age 5. The pairing came together as a result of the Nittany Lions' and the Royers' participation in the Friends of Jaclyn Program.
Gavin Royer was diagnosed with a brain tumor just 10 days after his fifth birthday last March. Since then, Gavin's and his family were adopted by the Penn State men's lacrosse team through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, a program that pairs both collegiate and high school sports teams with families of children battling pediatric cancer.
Not only did the men's lacrosse team adopt Gavin, but also the women's lacrosse team adopted Gavin's two sisters, Alaina and Victoria. The pairings have provided support for the Royer family throughout the past months of Gavin's treatment. Head coach Jeff Tambroni explained that the Royers have provided priceless comfort and support to his players.
"For us, it's more about just kind of that contact in perspective with like 'this is what he's going through, [Gavin] needs a support group, let's make sure we provide that for him' and vice versa," said Tambroni. "Their family provides a wonderful support group respective to our guys."
The men's team went all in when meeting Gavin and the Royers for the first time in December. Gavin was given his own locker in the team's locker room, as well as his own equipment including sticks and jerseys. Gavin proudly wears his Penn State lacrosse attire whenever he gets the chance. He displayed his Penn State pride at both men's lacrosse preseason scrimmages, as well as their home opener, a victory against Vermont.
"First and foremost we're locker buddies," said senior captain Kyle Zittel. "His locker is right next to mine. But just welcoming him in, I guess I took on responsibility because I felt the first connection with Gavin when he first came in and was excited and I got to interact with him from the get-go."
The Royer family, hailing from Morrisdale, Pennsylvania, has made it a goal to be in attendance for all the home men's lacrosse games. The family gets to hang out on the team's side of the field, watching the game with the same view as the players. Being at the games further connects the Royers to the young men that have become family to them.
Gavin and his family are fully involved in gameday rituals, from pregame fist bumps with the players, to the post game team handshakes. Senior captain Kyle Zittel has been one of the more involved players with the program and became instantly attached to the team's newest member.
"Everybody feels a connection with Gavin," said Zittel. "So when we run on the field and your mind is at the game you see Gavin and it's just in the back of your head that he's there and a fist bump is all it takes for us to connect with him initially and you feel it. It's not something I can describe in words because a fist bump doesn't look like much but when you're running by him you just feel it inside in your heart."
The connection with the team doesn't stop there. The Royers hang out at the postgame tailgates, mixing amongst the players, coaches, and families alike.
"He's always sitting on the stairs with his family, and as we go through and get food and interact with our teammates and family and other guys' families on the team, he's there as well," said Zittel. "He's another family member of ours."
This weekend's game against Penn will be slightly different for the Royer family. Penn State men's lacrosse plans to honor Gavin and his family during halftime, in recognition for their continued support and involvement with the team.
While Penn State men's lacrosse is a vital support system for the Royer family, the team believes Gavin and his family have impacted them in an equally important way. Gavin's fighting spirit has brought a new wave of motivation for the Nittany Lions to succeed, not only for themselves, but also for their extended family on the sidelines.
"We say this to our guys, it's a game," said Tambroni. "We get wrapped up in it because it's a profession and it's a way of life, but at the end of the day you look around and look at someone like Gavin who's constantly smiling with all that he has going on in his life and it really forces you to step back from everything that you're doing and stop complaining about the little things and realize that a lot more people out there, including Gavin, have it much more challenging. For that I think he has done a lot more for us than we've done for him."
The Nittany Lions take on Penn this Saturday in Holuba Hall at noon.
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