UNIVERSITY PARK — The Penn State men’s lacrosse team doesn’t have just a good goalie, it probably has the best goalie in America.
Entering his senior season, Austin Kaut has won just about every accolade he could.
Last season, he won the Ensign C. Markland Kelly Jr. Award given to the nation’s best goaltender. He was the Colonial Athletic Association’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, and was a United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association first team All-American.
With all of the personal accolades, Kaut is all about the accomplishments of the Nittany Lions, who are seeking their first NCAA Tournament win.
“(You’ve) just gotta think about our team and what we need to do to be successful this season as a team,” he said.
There is optimism in Happy Valley. Under head coach Jeff Tambroni and with likely the best netminder in the country, the Nittany Lions entered the season ranked seventh by Inside Lacrosse. The Nittany Lions face Loyola on Saturday.
Kaut is still finding ways to improve.
“Each and every day, he comes out to play a little bit better, to lead a little bit more vocally and a little bit more effectively,” Tambroni said. “I think that because of the way he approaches daily, weekly, seasonal practices, he’s been able to continue to get better and better.”
For Tambroni, having the senior goalie and a stout defensive unit can change the way the team plays.
“You look at the way you’re handling possessions at the face-off X and the way that you’re handling your matchups in the defensive end,” he said. “If both of those things are going well, you may be able to stretch out and take some chances offensively, based on the success that your defense is having.”
“The awards I got last year, the defense had a lot of a part with it, and it comes down to the whole team’s effort,” Kaut said.
Last season was the first time the team made it to the NCAA Tournament since 2005. The Nittany Lions were upset by Yale and they are using that as motivation for this season.
“We’re hungry,” Kaut said. “Last year, we got a taste of the NCAA Tournament and it’s not enough for us. We got there and we didn’t fulfill our duties and didn’t give enough in that game and didn’t do enough preparation, and that was a regret that we had after the season was over — that we didn’t give enough.”
If Penn State wants to make the tournament, it will need to do so as an at-large qualifier. The CAA’s athletic directors voted the Nittany Lions ineligible for the 2014 conference tournament since Penn State is in its last season before going into Big Ten play.
“It’s a big target, especially this year with them not letting us compete in the postseason,” Kaut said. “You’re always chasing that No. 1, and preseason rankings are nothing. It’s about what you do on the field and it’s about how you prepare.”
Bill DiFilippo is a Penn State journalism student.