Penn State Could be the Most Loaded Team in the Big Ten

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Gerard Arceri finished 2018 with a 68.1 faceoff win percentage, helping lead the Nittany Lions to an 8-6 record.


US Lacrosse Magazine released the Nike/US Lacrosse Division I Men’s Preseason Top 20 on Jan. 2. Team-by-team previews will be unveiled on uslaxmagazine.com through the end of the month and will also appear as part of the magazine’s NCAA preview edition in February.

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No. 11 Penn State

2018 Record: 8-6 (2-3 Big Ten)
Coach: Jeff Tambroni (Ninth season)
All-Time Record: 528-522-8
NCAA Appearances: 4
Final Fours: 0
Championships: 0

Did Penn State expect its top offensive player, Grant Ament, to miss the entirety of last season due to a foot injury? No. Did they plan on long-stick midfielder Tommy Wright to be out all year, too? Nope. Or that defensive midfielder Brandon Stern, a one-time starter heading into his sophomore year, would sit out a second straight season with knee injuries? Not exactly.

Unfortunate as these unplanned events may have been, in a logistical puzzle-piece sort of way the circumstances may be just what the doctor ordered for the Nittany Lions heading into 2019. Ament, the Lions’ proven QB, now has two more seasons to play alongside running buddy and prolific scorer Mac O’Keefe, which is an exciting proposition. Junior Nick Cardile, who filled in at LSM while Wright was out, moves back to play close defense next to seniors Chris Sabia and Mike Aranow, who redshirted two years ago because of a knee injury. That move strengthens what was already a stout defense a season ago.

Meanwhile, with a recruit like freshman TJ Malone from The Haverford School (Pa.) having arrived on attack, Nick Spillane shifts back to his more natural midfield position. That means he and fellow senior Kevin Hill, who drew a pole last year as the Lions top scoring middie, can create more matchup problems for defenses and take pressure off each other. And let other midfielders develop behind them.

So, while stacking up multiple injuries wasn’t exactly how ninth-year coach Jeff Tambroni drew up the creation of a championship-caliber roster, this year’s Nittany Lions might now just have the right blend of experience — and motivation — to be a player in the Big Ten, and thus, national conversation. Penn State went 8-6 a year ago and missed the conference tournament.

“Last year I thought we were in a better position to reload versus replace, but three starters got hurt and we didn’t do a great job with it,” Tambroni says. “But I think we took a big step in culture. Looking at our record, you wouldn’t know, but if you pay a little bit more attention to who we are, from where I’m sitting, I saw them invest a little bit more, work a little bit harder, take care of the details. I saw them taking ownership of things like extra workouts, and some of the leadership activities. That, combined with some of the experience we now have out there, will lead to a more confident and successful group.”







The Case For Penn State

Penn State has offensive firepower in Ament, O’Keefe, returning starting attackman Dylan Foulds, and do-it-all freshman attackman TJ Malone, who is projected to see a lot of minutes too. The roster includes a few seasoned midfielders, too. And the defense brings back multiple starters from what was one of the better units in the country. Couple that strength of both ends with one of college lacrosse’s more dominant faceoff takers and you have a recipe for success.

After several years of high expectations around the program, this group might be the one that makes a deep NCAA tournament run. Tambroni says the shot clock shouldn’t affect how the Lions’ play very much — “The last few years we’ve been playing quick,” he says — and he thinks the new rules make for a better game.

The Case Against Penn State

We’ve written this too many times to count. The Penn State men’s lacrosse program has never won an NCAA tournament game. The program has made strides in fits and spurts during Tambroni’s tenure, but still hasn’t gotten over the postseason hump. After reaching No. 1 in the national rankings two years ago, the injury-ridden Nits missed the playoffs altogether last year, not even qualifying for the Big Ten tournament. Three one-goal losses, including to conference foes Maryland and Michigan were killers.

Path to the Playoffs

Every game in the Big Ten is a must-win, so take your pick of one to watch. Winning the conference tournament is the Lions clearest path to the Big Dance, because with a schedule like theirs, there’s likely to be a handful of defeats along the way, and odds of landing on the right side of the tiny NCAA tournament bubble in any given year are slim. Penn State goes on the road to play defending NCAA champion Yale on Feb. 23.

Players To Watch

Grant Ament, A., R-Jr.​
30 G, 30 A (2017)

The quarterback of the Nittany Lions offense missed all of last year because of a foot injury sustained in practice before the start of the season. He led the team in points when healthy as a freshman and sophomore. “Our offense is just much better whether he has the ball or whether he’s just on the field,” Tambroni says.

Mac O’Keefe, A, Jr.​
35 G, 38% SH

Everybody knows O’Keefe as a prolific, hard-firing dynamic shooter — with 86 goals through his first two seasons, “but he has really worked hard on refining other parts of his game,” Tambroni says, “being able to be more of a ball-carrying attackman and be much more effective in the two-man game, being a dodger, a better rider and a better leader within our team.”

Gerard Arceri, FO/M, Jr.​
68.1% FO, 145 GB

Somebody has to become college lacrosse’s next Faceoff King after Trevor Baptiste’s graduation from Denver. Arceri is a candidate. “We feel really good about where he is and what he can provide us,” Tambroni says. Sophomore Jake Glatz and junior Nick McEvoy will back Arceri up.

National Rankings

Category

Rank

Value

Offense 8th 12.57 GPG
Defense 24th 9.57 GAA
Faceoffs 5th 65.5 FO%
Ground Balls 12th 31.07/game
Caused TO 30th 12.71/game
Shooting 7th 34.0%
Man-Up 58th 26.5%
Man-Down 3rd 78.8%
Assists 13th 6.86/game
Turnovers 30th 12.71/game
Clearing 13th 88.8%

Power Ratings (Scale of 1-5)

Offense
⭐⭐⭐⭐

Defense
⭐⭐⭐

Goalkeeping
⭐⭐⭐⭐

Faceoff
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

29

Games started in goal by junior Colby Kneese through his first two seasons. There’s no question about who is the Penn State goalie. “He will be our starter,” Tambroni says, and that the Texan continues to mature and progress.

5-Year Trend
Clearing Percentage

Year

Rank

Pct

2014 27th 10.31
2015 48th 9.21
2016 14th 11.87
2017 6th 13.31
2018 8th 12.57

Coach Confidential
Jeff Tambroni

“I’m hoping that some of that ownership I talked about will help with some of the fourth-quarter losses that we had last year. These guys have competed and played hard from the moment we stepped on campus this year.”

Enemy Lines

"Does anybody return more? That whole team is back and then you add in their best player from the year before. They have the best faceoff guys in the league. The score a lot of goals and they have a two-year starter in the goal coming back. That’s a lot. They probably have the most experience of anybody in our league, easily."

"Brings back almost their entire team."

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