For those of you who don't often pay attention to our non-revenue sports, it may be time to take notice of what is happening with our men's lacrosse program. Link on the story and my analysis after the hop...
First, let's put this in perspective. At the time of this upset victory, Penn State was ranked as the #20 team in the nation. In lacrosse, unlike basketball or football, teams outside of the top-ten rarely, if ever, beat a top-five team. To give you some measure of how big an upset this is, if you discount this loss to Penn State, the top five teams in the country are a combined 10-0. Sure, Johns Hopkins, Virginia, and North Carolina came close to losing earlier this season, but when push came to shove, these elite teams just have too many weapons all over the field. Notre Dame is an elite team, with plenty of scoring punch at the attack and midfield positions and bar none the best defense in the country. This is a huge win for the Nittany Lions.
In that vein, we should give credit where credit is due--Coaches Jeff Tambroni and Peter Toner. Tambroni came to Penn State in 2011 as the highly-heralded coach of a Cornell program that had participated in each of the previous four NCAA Semi-Finals. Arriving in State College, he brought his brilliant recruiting mind, an aggressive defense, an innovative offense to the stagnating Penn State program. (Note: Does this sound familiar to anyone?) Coach Toner, a former assistant to the now-exonerated Mike Pressler (see Duke Lacrosse Scandal), learned defense at the hand of a true innovator in the sport. Bringing Toner on board ended the mistakes of the previous regime where players admitted they didn't know whether they were playing a zone or man-to-man. This victory says a great deal about the coaching staff and what they have done in just two short years to erase the memories of a subpar 2010 season (2-11 record).
But, unlike the boom years of the past, this team gives the impression that this is just the stepping stone to national relevance. More than half of the roster are freshmen or sophomores, and most are contributing on the field. Austin Kaut (goalie) has been named to the Tewaarton Award watch list and is coming off a season where he garnered All-America and All-Conference honors as a freshman. Shane Sturgis, a sophomore, is an indispensable part of this offense and is the third leading scorer after three games. Finally, Jack Donnelly, JP Burnside, and Pat Manley--all freshmen--have seen the field in each of the first three games, with Donnelly and Burnside both starting. On the recruiting trail, Penn State has picked up two big time commitments from Long Island. Michael Aronow, a defender from Sachem North, and Nick Aponte, a midfielder from West Islip and the #29 ranked player in the country, have both given their oral declarations to the Nittany Lions.
So, although most of you probably don't give the lacrosse team a second look, now may be the time to turn that head once more and take notice of what is going on across the street from the Lasch Football Complex. There's something special starting to take shape there, and we should enjoy it while it does.