They went across the continent to win a world championship. Now, they’re tasked with something that hasn’t been done since 1988: help bring an Ivy League title back to University City.
This past summer, four sophomore members of Penn men’s lacrosse — attackers Alex Roesner, Simon Mathias and Tyler Dunn and defenseman Noah Lejman — traveled to Coquitlam, British Columbia to compete in the FIL U-19 World Championships, the most prestigious international competition for their age group. Penn had more players on Team USA than any other program in the country.
Not only were these four selected for Team USA; they dominated. Over the course of six games, Roesner led Team USA in goals and was tied for the lead in points, tallying 18 and 22 respectively. Mathias finished tied for third place in the points column, adding six goals and nine assists. Dunn added four goals and an assist while Lejman played in all six games on defense.
The players from Penn had the added benefit of being coached by current Penn assistant Patrick Myers and his brother Nick during the competition in Canada, and they’re hoping to bring the lessons they learned from the tournament with them back to Philly.
“I think one of the biggest takeaways from the experience was the team culture and the atmosphere that we had around the team,” Roesner said. “I really think that’s something we can bring to Penn this year. Just the unity, and everybody playing their role, and doing the little things right everyday.”
“Coach Myers and his brother established a very elite culture, not accepting anything but the best,” added Mathias. “I think that’s a major item we can bring back here. Our goal is to get every win that we can. Accepting nothing but the best will do a lot for us and we’ve accepted that sort of mantra this year and I think it will serve us well.”
The Quakers are going to need this maturity from their young stars if they hope to improve upon . Those seven losses included three one-goal defeats in the last six games of the season, two to the hands of Ivy powerhouse Yale and one against cross-city rival St. Joe’s. Had the Red and Blue won those games, it could have put them in conversation for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
The team will also be tasked with figuring out how to replace the production of attackman Nick Doktor, who graduated after last season. Doktor, who was selected in the second round of the Major League Lacrosse draft by the Charlotte Hounds, put up 14 goals and 34 assists for the Quakers in his final season, earning second team All-Ivy honors as well as a spot on the Tewaaraton Award watchlist at the beginning of the season.
“[Doktor] was a great leader, great captain, great player overall, you know, a very clean player and was great in his role,” Mathias said. “This year, we’ve been focusing on calming the offense down when we need to. He was a great captain in that sense, that he was able to put the ball in his stick and pull it out when we needed to chill out a little bit. All of our players on offense are capable of doing that and all of us are aware that we need to do that.”
“I think we’ll be a bit more balanced this season,” head coach Mike Murphy said. “Simon and Alex are both back on attack, and they have a pretty good grasp of how the offense works and runs. We lost Nick Doktor and we lost Pat Berkery, but pretty much everyone else is back. Ten out of twelve are returning guys for us, so I think that type of continuity along with the return of coach Myers is going to help a great deal.”
Another important member of the Class of 2019 who will be returning for the Red and Blue is goalie Reed Junkin. Junkin, who took the starting spot in net as a freshman last year, will be looking to build upon a stellar rookie campaign that saw him take home Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors four times last year. Last year, Junkin posted a .535 save percentage and 9.91 goals allowed per game.
“We’ve talked with Reed and freshman Alex DeMarco just about getting better at the basics,” Murphy said. “They’re both capable of making highlight-reel saves, but we want them to be making the fundamental saves more consistently. The bigger thing for Reed in particular is working on his clearing game and communication.”
One key member of the Class of 2019 that could be missing for the Quakers this year is Lejman. After coming last year as the seventh-ranked recruit in the country per Inside Lacrosse, the defenseman suffered an injury in the fall and may not be able to return to action in time for the spring. The Quakers will undoubtedly be looking for a quick recovery from Lejman so that he can build upon a freshman season in which he played in 11 games and started five.
After coming in to college being ranked as the fourth-best recruiting class in the country, the sophomores certainly have some high expectations for themselves and for their team to make waves in the Ivy League as well as in the national spotlight. Despite injuries and other challenges, the players are confident that they will be able to improve upon their 2015 campaign with the maturity and experience that they have gained.
“I’m really excited, I think a lot of us have become smarter players, and we’ve become more accustomed to what we see out there,” Mathias said. “If we keep growing in those areas, we become more complete players, and when you put complete players together you get a complete team. If we can keep developing that and we keep making progress then I think anything is possible for us.”