The Penn State men’s lacrosse team is looking to make a big leap in 2017.
It’s easy to be optimistic when nine starters return to the lineup and nearly every one of last season’s top scorers.
“There’s a great deal of chemistry into this year’s season,” coach Jeff Tambroni said last week previewing the season. “As a coach we’ve been able to kind of step back a little bit. This group is very mature, especially in the offensive end. There’s a lot of veteran starters or guys that logged a lot of minutes last year. Even the sophomores are playing like veterans right now.”
The season kicks off at 3 p.m. Saturday, hosting Robert Morris at Holuba Hall.
Tambroni is looking to build on last season’s 8-7 record, which actually had a number of highlights. The offense ranked in the top 15 nationally in both scoring (11.87 goals per game) and shooting percentage (.343).
Combine that with the entire starting midfield returning and plenty of depth — Tambroni figures 7-8 midfielders and 4-5 attackmen will be getting regular minutes — and the Nittany Lions are looking to pick up the tempo on the field, making waves of changes like it’s a hockey game.
“Offensively, it’s kind of easy for the core guys to be leaders because we’ve been playing together for so long,” said midfielder Dan Craig, who posted 12 goals and seven assists last season.
The offense is led by sophomore attacker Grant Ament, who led the way with 20 goals and 34 assists in 2016. The team also brings back senior attacker Nick Aponte (30 goals, 19 assists), senior midfielder Matt Florence (20 goals, 4 assists) and senior midfielder Mike Sutton (19 goals, 2 assists).
Only TJ Sanders, who had 28 goals and 15 assists, is gone from the top 10 in team scoring last season.
Tambroni sees a few more question marks in the back, mostly because of who is spending time in the training room despite returning all three starters.
“Finding chemistry at both ends of the field is important,” Tambroni said. “We do have some young kids playing at the defensive end right now. At one point I looked out, (senior defenseman) Pete (Triolo) has got flanked with a freshman to his right, sophomore to his left. We’ve got our hands full with some younger kids playing.”
Minding the net is Will Schreiner, who stepped into an emergency starting role last season after the death of Connor Darcey and did well. He allowed 10.89 goals per game and had a .458 save percentage.
“He put us in a number of games and a number of situations and was never the reason we were ever on the losing side of any game,” Tambroni said. “But I would say his confidence has grown significantly over the course of the summer and into the fall.”