Not one, not two, not three, not four...
Penn men’s lacrosse had a disappointing 2014-15 season, finishing 6-7 overall and missing both the Ivy League and NCAA tournaments after beginning the year ranked No. 13 in the nation by Inside Lacrosse.
But with a highly touted recruiting class headlined by an astonishing five U.S. Lacrosse High School All-Americans, the building blocks are in place for the program to prove that last year was a fluke and return to national prominence once again.
“As soon as they got here, we could feel their energy and ability, and the other guys have had to respond just to keep their jobs,” seventh-year coach Mike Murphy said. “These freshmen definitely have already made an impact.”
By just about any metric, the Quakers’ nine incoming freshmen form a group that ranks among both the conference’s and nation’s elite. According to Inside Lacrosse, Penn has three players — defender Noah Lejman and attackmen Tyler Dunn and Alex Roesner — ranked among the nation’s top 20 freshmen; no other program in the NCAA has more than two, and the other six Ivy teams have a combined one.
Within the conference, Penn’s five High School All-Americans rank only behind Cornell’s six. Additionally, Lejman, Dunn and Roesner were all selected to the U-19 U.S. Men’s National Team for summer 2016, allowing the Red and Blue to match North Carolina, Ohio State and Penn State as the only colleges able to make such a claim.
And, most notably, Inside Lacrosse has Penn’s recruiting class ranked No. 4 overall in the nation, joining Yale (No. 5) as the only Ivy League teams in the top 10.
“We’re aware of the rankings, but we try not to focus on it and just be as good as we can be,” said Lejman, who was Penn’s highest-ranked player at seventh overall. “It doesn’t really mean anything — we still have to work and earn whatever we get.”
Although Penn’s most recent season certainly failed to meet expectations, the Quakers appeared on the verge of emerging as a title contender in the preceding years. The Red and Blue finished 8-5 and reached the Ivy League tournament in 2012-13, and a dominant 2013-14 season concluded in a conference title and No. 4 national seed in the NCAA Tournament before the squad was upset in the first round by Drexel.
Consequently, in a sport with increasingly early college recruiting — with Dragons’ coach Brian Voelker lamenting to Inside Lacrosse in September 2014 that “it’s not the reality for players to make their decisions before their junior proms” — Penn’s not-too-distant success played a key role in coercing the highest-ranked class in Murphy’s tenure to don the Red and Blue.
“I don’t think it’s a sign of us doing anything differently in recruiting. We had good years in 2013 and 2014, which is around when we started recruiting these guys, so I think that helped a little bit,” Murphy said. “It’s really just a matter of getting in front of the right kids, and I think we did a pretty good job of identifying the best players and recruiting them in a straightforward way.
“They’re good fits for Penn because they’re good students, good lacrosse players and good people.”
With so much buzz surrounding the nationally esteemed group, there’s potential for an accompanying sense of entitlement within the class, but there’s been no sign of such arrogance thus far.
“Everyone’s really hungry, and [last year’s failure] is something that we keep at the front of our minds,” said attackman Simon Mathias, one of Penn’s five reigning High School All-Americans. “Coach Murphy mentions a lot that we’re still a 6-7 team, and we haven’t done anything to prove otherwise so far.”
Ultimately, while players and coaches know that the potential is there for the Class of 2019 to lead Penn to its first NCAA Tournament victory since 1988, the mentality still remains that no empire can be built overnight.
“We’re just a very driven class, and we’re just going to work as hard as we can and hopefully the results will come,” Mathias said. “If we don’t win that Ivy League title, then it’s not a successful season.
“We play to win championships, and that’s going to be our number one objective.”
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.