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By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Making its fourth NCAA postseason appearance in program history, seventh-seeded Penn State men's lacrosse's historic 2017 season came to a close in the first round of the tournament.
Equipped with multi-goal performances from arguably one of the top attack trios in the nation, Grant Ament, Mac O'Keefe and Nick Aponte combined for all eight goals, with Ament and O'Keefe scoring three apiece.
For Towson head coach Shawn Nadelen, he knew coming into the matchup that the Tigers would likely meet their toughest attack of the season.
"We knew we were going to be challenged," Nadelen said. "It's hard to keep an attack like that at bay."
Without surrendering the lead until the midway point of the third quarter, Penn State battled from behind to tie the score at 7-7 early in the fourth quarter before Towson shifted the momentum and ran away with the win.
Under the cloudy skies, the Nittany Lions lost to the Tigers 12-8, but as head coach Jeff Tambroni took just a moment to reflect postgame, there's still much to be proud of despite the final score.
For Tambroni, Penn State lacrosse has plenty to build on and even more to look forward to in 2018. Proud of the progress the Nittany Lions have made throughout the last few seasons, it's what's still to come that will continue to drive motivation even with an unwelcome outcome.
"I'm excited about the future, I've got one on my left and one on my right here," Tambroni said, nodding to Ament and sophomore Chris Sabia. "They're going to be back for the next couple years and I'm hopeful that the sting of this game will help us look forward."
Penn State returns several of its key contributors next season, including Ament who netted 30 goals this season in addition to O'Keefe. With a three-goal outing, O'Keefe set a single season program record with his 50th and 51st goals, surpassing a 60-year old record set by Bill Hess (49).
On the opposite end of the field, the Nittany Lions return freshman goaltender Colby Kneese, and important underclassmen defensemen in Sabia, Tommy Wright and Kevin Fox. Standout freshman faceoff man Gerard Arceri will also return next season.
"It's obviously an exciting thing," Ament said. "We can learn from this, specifically Chris [Sabia] and I are going to be upperclassmen next year which is kind of scary to think of, but we're just excited, we have a lot of young guys who are excited to come back and grind in the fall, day in and day out, get better and hopefully we can get past this first round and more next year."
Among all of the optimism surrounding who's back and what's ahead, Tambroni, Sabia and Ament didn't end their media session without acknowledging the foundation for the success of the season - the senior class.
"They've made the path for us, specifically with Nick [Aponte], I've learned so much from him," Ament said. "I've played alongside him the last two years, it's going to be sad to see him go but I know he left a great legacy that I think the entire offense can build off of."
For Tambroni, the loss is just a little more bitter considering the impact the senior class has made on something a little more intangible, the culture of the program.
"They set a really high standard," Tambroni said. "In past years we've had some great kids that have done their very best to kind of push this thing forward and kind of taken incremental steps, and I think they've learned very well from the groups behind them, but then [this year's senior class] stood on top of that standard to try to raise the bar a little bit more."
Evident in the upward trajectory of the program even amidst the move to the Big Ten Conference, both Tambroni and the rest of the team are grateful for the positive leadership of such an impactful senior class.
Now ready to move forward with tremendous returning talent, that hunger to build on the strengths of the season and the foundation of those who have come before, the drive to reach the NCAA Tournament again for another shot will only grow stronger in time.
"This group that is coming back next year, the juniors, sophomores, and freshmen will learn from the optimism of [the senior class], the fun that these guys created," Tambroni said. "At the same time they worked really hard to get to that point and instill the sense of belief, the championship type culture that needed to be instilled here and I think is here now, we just have to take the ball and keep running with it."