Mac O'Keefe's Box Experience Made Him a Better Finisher


Penn State freshman Mac O'Keefe leads NCAA Division I in scoring with 25 goals.

It’s only five games into his freshman season, but 25 goals, the ability to get his hands free in phone booth-type small spaces, and a shooting range from 15 yards, anywhere on the field, has drawn Penn State rookie attackman Mac O’Keefe some deserved attention.

His five goals per game average for the undefeated and third-ranked Nittany Lions (5-0) currently leads the nation. He scored seven against Robert Morris in his college debut, and O’Keefe’s eight goals against Villanova, in just his fourth game, set a Penn State freshman record.

The Lions’ offense has averaged 17.40 goals per game, second best in NCAA Division I behind Brown (17.67). And after a 14-13 comeback win on Saturday at home against Penn, Penn State is 5-0 heading into a Tuesday afternoon game with Furman, and it is off to the program’s best start since 1992.

To say O’Keefe’s filled the finishing role left open by graduated senior TJ Sanders is an understatement. The rare Long Island product (Syosset, N.Y.) with youth box lacrosse experience, the 19-year-old, 6-foot, 180-pound lefty complements dodgers Grant Ament, a sophomore, and Nick Aponte, the team’s solo senior captain, on Penn State’s attack. The latter two are confident tossing passes the freshman’s way.

Ament (14 goals, 14 assists) and O’Keefe, shooting 52 percent, are tied for the team lead with 28 points. Aponte has six goals and 10 assists.

“If I get my hands free and they beat their guy,” O’Keefe said of his attack-mates, “it works out really well.”

O’Keefe’s father, Brian, played professionally in the National Lacrosse League for the New York Saints and Anaheim Storm and the younger O’Keefe has indoor league experience, and in Canada.

“From about 15 and in, he’s normally lights out,” said Ament, a sophomore who last year led the Lions in points with 54 points. “He’s an incredible shooter, and he brings a lot of creativity to my game and I think Nick’s game.”

O’Keefe showed that game too with the gold-medal-winning U.S. under-19 men’s national team this summer in Canada. O’Keefe scored 11 goals with four assists in six games at the Federation of International Lacrosse U19 World Championship. He often scored through tight coverage with his stick blasting into opponents on his follow-through, or by shooting wormburners, or high heat.

Penn held O’Keefe to his lowest-scoring output of the season, one goal on seven shots, on Saturday, and he expects more attention from defenses moving forward. The Quakers didn’t slide from him, but in a sign of how deep and balanced the Penn State offense may be this year, it got five goals from midfielder Nick Spillane, three assists from Ament, and seven other players scored. Fellow freshman Gerard Arceri won 24 of 31 faceoffs to give Penn State plenty of possessions and the offense cashed in to rally from a 7-3 second-quarter deficit.

“It shows how much trust we have in one another,” O’Keefe said, “and how much chemistry we’ve built since they beginning of the year. We’re working at that every day, and I think it’s getting better every day.”

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