One may have been worried about Penn men’s lacrosse this season after graduating 10 seniors last year.
However, with the returning players accounting for 212 out of the 220 points scored last season, this offense should have nothing to fret about.
The seniors have led the way to a strong start for the Quakers (4-3, 1-0 Ivy). In the unexpected but close 10-9 upset against then-No. 1 Duke, senior Chris Santangelo won 15 of 22 draws. In the season-opening win against Michigan, captain and attackman Kevin McGeary scored 4 goals and recorded one assist.
Even though many strong players did return, there are still many readjustments Penn has to make. After losing starting defensemen Kevin Gayhardt, Eric Persky, and Kevin McDonough, the defense, specifically, has focused on readjusting.
In the past, All-American senior Connor Keating was a long stick midfielder who often had to substitute for a different long stick midfielder or offensive midfielder. However, this season he is playing close defense so that he is on the field almost all the time and is able to help the younger defensemen grow.
Even with Keating moving closer to a more traditional defensive role, it's not like the other side of the ball will be at all short on talent. Each of Penn's top 11 — yes, 11 — scorers from 2017 returns, with big names like Simon Mathias, McGeary, Tyler Dunn, and more ready to come back even stronger with another year of experience under their belts.
“We need to build on our past performances obviously," Keating said. "We need to rely heavily on the coaches and what they’ve been preaching, our pace of play, winning our matchups, and kind of just trusting our personnel out there and trusting the leaders."
In order to make sure next season sees as many strong returning players as this season did, the team is focused on developing the younger team members while also capitalizing on the more experienced players.
“Last year, we thought we had some great personalities who graduated, and we thought there was gonna be this huge void in the defense. It happens each year; the younger guys step up,” Keating said. “The kids all work extremely hard. Next year they’re gonna be great. If they keep working hard, they can be better than we are this year.”
To that point, the juniors have also shown great promise for next year’s season. In the game against Michigan this season, goalie Reed Junkin was in for the last three quarters and made seven saves, while only letting in four goals, and Dunn scored two goals. Against No. 4 Villanova, Junkin made 13 saves in a tough loss.
Mathias, a valuable attackman to the team since his freshman year, scored three goals against Michigan. Against Villanova, he extended his school record point-scoring streak to 34 games. However, even with so many strong upperclassmen, he believes, like Keating, that there is still a lot of hope for the future of the team.
“We have some young guys who have a lot of talent and show a lot of potential,” Mathias said. “Here, on our team, we have standards that we set for each other in how we are on and off the field."
"We just try to instill those standards in their heads, and once they feel like they are really immersed in the Penn lacrosse culture, it kind of works for itself."
Our Take: With wins over Duke and Princeton already in tow, Penn men’s lacrosse has proven itself against the nation’s best. However, for the Quakers to realize their potential and become Ivy League champions, they’ll need to establish consistency from game-to-game. Returning 212 of 220 points from last year’s team and opening this season with arguably the most difficult schedule in the nation, the Red and Blue should be more prepared than ever for their Ivy foes.
Still, obstacles remain. With All-Americans Ben Reeves at attack, Connor Mackie at the faceoff X, and Christopher Keating returning to the defense following last season’s injury, Yale is the team to beat in the conference until proven otherwise. As the Quakers’ recent matchups with the Bulldogs have demonstrated, Penn is on the precipice, but Yale holds the edge. That being said, the Quakers are a few faceoffs, a couple lucky bounces, or maybe a fortuitous call or two away from their bitter rivals, and who knows, maybe 2018 will be the year it all falls into place.