UNIVERSITY PARK — The Penn State men’s lacrosse team made program history in 2013.
The Nittany Lions won a school-record 12 games, captured their first outright regular-season conference title with an undefeated run through the Colonial Athletic Association and hosted an NCAA tournament game for the first time.
In the fall, Penn State coach Jeff Tambroni said his players set their sights even higher for the 2014 season.
“It’s the first time that we’ve been here in three and a half years that when we came in, we talked to our guys about goals and expectations, that the realm was outside of conference, it was outside of home and away games, it leaked into May,” said Tambroni, who’s entering his fourth season at the helm. “It was more about the NCAA playoffs. It was more about a chance to compete and represent Penn State University in a final four and to win a national championship.”
The journey toward achieving those lofty goals began Saturday when the No. 9 Lions dominated Michigan in a 22-7 victory in their season opener at Holuba Hall. Penn State (1-0) held the Wolverines to one goal in the first half and scored 11 goals in each half, displaying its ability to win games behind its defense and offense, something the Lions hope can carry them to Baltimore, for the final four in May.
Penn State plays Loyola at home Saturday at 1 p.m.
Senior attacker Shane Sturgis, who was third on the team in scoring last year, scored a career-high six goals to lead the Lions against the Wolverines. The performance earned him CAA Player of the Week honors. Sophomore attacker TJ Sanders, the Lions’ top goal-scorer with 44 in 2013, notched five goals against the Wolverines.
Returning All-American senior goalie Austin Kaut made six saves and allowed three goals to earn the win.
Kaut won the Ensign C. Markland Kelly Jr. Award as the nation’s best goalie last season, along with being named CAA Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. Tambroni said Kaut’s instincts and skills in net are “off the charts,” but the Penn State coach wants to see Kaut improve his leadership ability in his final season.
“I think when you get to that level where he is right now, there’s really one thing left remaining,” Tambroni said. “And that’s to lead … his defenders and teammates to a place that Penn State’s never been before, and that’s into the playoffs to see if we can be victorious.”
It all goes back to the NCAA tournament for this Penn State team.
The Lions lost to Yale 10-7 in the first round of the tournament last season after being outscored 9-2 in the second half.
“It definitely leaves a sour taste in your mouth,” junior midfielder Michael Richards said. “You lose that game you go home, you go sit on your couch and watch other teams play.
“You watch your friends play, win a national championship.”
This year, Richards said, Penn State hopes to be playing in that game. But right now, the Lions are focused on each game in front of them.
“Today, we’re thinking about cleaning up some mistakes from Michigan and not coming anywhere close to really thinking about the final four,” Tambroni said.