Like a fine wine, Penn men’s lacrosse is aging very well this season.
After starting a primarily underclassman group on offense last season, the maturing team has soared to new heights to start 2017. Although the season is young, No. 8 Penn (2-0) is looking very likely to surpass last season’s mediocre benchmark of 8-7. Riding an experienced defense and a young but talented offense, Penn has looked unstoppable with wins against St. Joseph’s and then-No. 6 Virginia.
Still, with Spring Break around the corner and three tough matches coming up, it is important the team doesn’t lose momentum. Luckily, with no classes, that may be significantly easier.
“For a week, we have no school; we’re like professional lacrosse players,” senior defenseman Kevin Gayhardt joked. “It’s always a really important point in our season where we are just learning more about ourselves and start revving up as we hit Ivy League play.”
However, Ivy League play is not that focus quite yet.
“The motto we have is take it play by play,” sophomore attack Alex Roesner said. “We are going to take it one game at a time. We are just thinking about Penn State next week. We aren’t even thinking about Ivy League play. When that time comes we’ll start thinking about it.”
The win against Virginia is a great gauge for Penn State. Both Virginia and Penn State play a frantic style that seeks to push the ball on the offensive end whenever possible. It’s important that Penn plays smart and waits for open shots.
No. 5 Penn State (4-0) has a lot of firepower on offense. Grant Ament, a Pennsylvania high school lacrosse legend, spearheads a Nittany Lion offense averaging over 18 goals per game. It will be a tall task to slow down Ament and freshman sensation Mac O’Keefe.
Fortunately for Penn, the boasts an experienced defense. With three senior defenders starting and junior All-American Connor Keating playing long stick midfield (LSM), the Quakers have the personnel to match up with almost any offense in the country.
After traveling up to State College, the Quakers welcome Navy (1-3), a scrappy Patriot League powerhouse who has struggled to get off on the right foot this season. Despite struggling on offense, Navy boasts outstanding net minder Ryan Kern, who has already earned Patriot League Goalie of the Week honors.
Lastly, the Red and Blue will travel up to Ann Arbor to face Michigan (4-1). Although the Wolverines have posted a strong start to the season, Michigan has yet to face a real test. In a game Penn should win, Michigan might provide a nice tune-up before Penn embarks on its Ivy League quest.
Though the Red and Blue go in with a lot to be happy about, staying content with early season success is dangerous. Spring Break is a time for the Quakers to reflect on the positives and negatives from their two games.
“The biggest thing that we probably need to work on over Spring Break is eliminating unforced turnovers,” Roesner said. “I think we can still get better at transitioning the ball and getting in and out of our sets. But overall I think we did a good job, and if we continue to move the ball like we did [against Virginia], I think we are going to be in a good place for the future.”
Fortunately, Spring Break is the perfect opportunity for the Quakers to iron out such issues.
“It is nice because they do not have the burden of having to go to class and do all the extra work,” coach Mike Murphy said. “It’s nice for them, but the most important thing is that we stay focused, try and get better and win games.”
One area the Quakers hope to improve in during spring break is at the face-off X. Junior Chris Santangelo is 18-41 with face-offs this season. Even with two goals against Virginia, the junior and his wings need to step up. It will be tough to contend in the Ivy League with face-off that subpar.
“If we can gain confidence and build on the good things, and get better at the things we didn’t do well – face-off, wings, clearing and riding – we’ll be productive,” Murphy said.
These past two wins are indicative of a team ready to contend for an Ivy League Championship. In order to avoid last season’s frustrating third-place finish, Penn must continue to build and get better as the beginning of Ancient Eight play approaches.
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