UNIVERSITY PARK — Scan the Penn State men’s lacrosse roster and one name will immediately stand out: Tom LaCrosse.
As if destined to play the sport, LaCrosse plays an integral role for Penn State (10-3, 5-0 CAA), a team ranked eighth in the country in both the USILA Coaches and Nike/Inside Lacrosse media polls.
After defeating Delaware 13-7 Saturday night, the Nittany Lions clinched a share of the Colonial Athletic Association regular season title for the first time in program history.
Penn State will play 20th-ranked Hofstra on Saturday in its regular season finale, then host the CAA Championships May 1-3.
LaCrosse, a junior midfielder, is one of the Lions’ top players, with 20 goals and three assists this season.
“I’d be hard pressed to find a young man that has worked harder than he does on daily basis,” said head coach Jeff Tambroni.
Reared in Canandaigua, N.Y, approximately 30 miles southeast of Rochester, LaCrosse grew up in a family passionate about the sport.
His dad played lacrosse in high school and in college at the club level and has been a referee of the sport at the high school and college levels for 20 years. LaCrosse’s uncle played lacrosse at Hofstra.
With his last name and pedigree in mind, it was almost a no-brainer for LaCrosse. He started playing the sport at a competitive, organized level in second grade.
LaCrosse was a two-year starter at Canandaigua Academy in high school. After scoring 35 goals and 11 assists during his senior season, he chose Penn State, only three hours away from his home.
“That was big to me so that my parents could come to the games and I could see them a lot,” said LaCrosse.
When LaCrosse committed, longtime head coach Glenn Thiel still was in charge. Thiel retired in May 2010 and Penn State hired Tambroni that June. LaCrosse said he enjoyed being part of the rebuilding process.
“It was nice coming in with a new coaching staff,” he said. “We started from ground one. It was a new experience for all of us, so I liked that.”
As a freshman and sophomore, LaCrosse contributed significantly, with 18 goals, five assists and 22 ground balls. However, his progress didn’t take place without growing pains.
“He has struggled mightily in his first two years at some stretches where we just felt like he needed to play a little bit more intelligently, because he plays that one speed and he never knew when to back up,” said Tambroni.
The 5-foot-10, 160-pound LaCrosse praised Tambroni and the coaching staff for his development.
“He’s just the best coach in the country, and he just knows everything, so you just talk to him and he can help you,” said LaCrosse. “You watch film with him, anything that gets you talking with him, he just helps in any way.”
Lacrosse’s coaches and teammates see him as a terror on the field.
“He’s just a hard-nosed, blue-collar kind of player,” said senior midfielder Nick Dolik. “He’s gonna lay his head down into guys when he’s dodging. He’s just gonna give it his all.”
But Tambroni said LaCrosse is the opposite off the field. “He’s just a sweetheart of a kid. You wouldn’t know it based on his personality on the field,” he said.
In the CAA tournament, Penn State, the top seed, will play in the opening semifinal at 3 p.m. May 1 against the yet-to-be-determined fourth seed. Based on the final week in regular season play, that fourth seed could be Hofstra (2-3), Saint Josephs (1-4), or Massachusetts (1-4). Delaware (1-4) has been eliminated from the tournament because of tiebreakers within the conference.
Second-seeded Drexel (5-1) and third-seeded Towson (3-2) will play in the other semifinal game at 5:30 p.m. on May 1.
The winner of these two semifinal games will play in the CAA Championship at 5 p.m. on May 3.
Jon Blauvelt is a Penn State journalism student.