UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State men’s lacrosse celebrates its 100th season in 2013, its third under head coach Jeff Tambroni. These Nittany Lions are no strangers to tough tests, reaching the CAA Tournament the past two seasons as the No. 2 seed. The next step: earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament for just the third time in the program’s history.
Preparation for the 2013 regular season starts Saturday when the Nittany Lions head to West Point for an exhibition clash with the Black Knights. The scrimmage, which starts at 11 a.m., is closed to the public due to safety concerns. Next Saturday, Penn State hosts perennial power and preseason No. 6 Johns Hopkins at Holuba Hall. Doors will open at 12:45 p.m. with the scrimmage taking place at 1 p.m. All fans in attendance will receive free schedule posters.
With an experienced core of 31 student-athletes and 77 percent of its scoring returning to the field, the 2013 Nittany Lions look to crash the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005. Nearly as important as returning 31 letterwinners is that 10 players with starting experience will help lead a formidable force this season. Even with so much experience back in Happy Valley, 24 of the 45 Nittany Lions have less than two years’ experience.
Last year, the team was predicated on defense starting with USILA All-American Second Team honoree Austin Kaut (Morton, Pa.). Kaut posted a 7.93 goals-against average and looks to claim his third straight All-CAA First Team accolade as the conference’s top goalie. Additionally, the defense as a whole combined to rank 10th in the nation in scoring defense with just 8.13 goals allowed per game.
In front of Kaut are junior Kessler Brown (Springfield, Va.) and freshman Jack Donnelly (Toronto, Ont.). The defensive duo started in every game a year ago and combined for 24 caused turnovers and picked up 31 ground balls with Donnelly earning All-CAA Rookie Team honors. Also vital to the defensive unit are junior Steven Bogert (Carlsbad, Calif.), redshirt-junior Tyler Travis (Geneva, N.Y.) and sophomore JP Burnside (Garden City, N.Y.). An All-CAA Rookie Team member last season, Michael Richards (Skaneateles, N.Y.) will also provide extra defense from his midfield position.
Up front, the offensive prowess will come from redshirt-senior Jack Forster (Jenkintown, Pa.), who was tied for the team lead with 40 points behnd 27 goals and 15 assists. Forster, granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, is one a co-captain with fellow redshirt-senior Travis Crane (Parkville, Md.). Crane, a midfielder, tallied two goals last year in 14 games.
Penn State’s offense will be aided by junior Shane Sturgis (Downingtown, Pa.), senior Nick Dolik (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.), junior Gavin Ahern (Rockville Centre, N.Y.) and junior Tom Lacrosse (Canandaigua, N.Y.). The quartet racked up double-digit points, led by Sturgis’s 30 and Dolik’s 22. Ahern added 13 goals and 18 points, while LaCrosse had a breakout season in 2012 with nine goals and two assists.
Penn State is also expecting the return of redshirt-junior midfielder Kyle VanThof (Penfield, N.Y.), who scored two goals and two assists in just three games last year, but scored 14 times in 27 games his previous two years. Sophomore Pat Manley (Arnold, Md.) figures into the attack as well after tallying eight points in his rookie campaign. Highly touted freshmen TJ Sanders (Orillia, Ont.) and Sammy Davis (Pittsfield, Mass.) will also be in the mix.
Faceoff specialist Danny Henneghan (Beverly Hills, Mich.) looks to return to form after a breakthrough season in 2011. Henneghan won 56 percent of his faceoffs his sophomore year, third best in the CAA en route to All-CAA Second Team laurels. He also added six goals that season while picking up 71 ground balls. Henneghan fell off that pace a little bit last season, winning 51 percent of faceoffs, tallying three assists and 62 ground balls.
Penn State also figures to receive important contributions from midfielders Drew Roper (Columbus, Ohio), Taylor Stothoff (Sparks, Md.) and Riley Lasda (Ithaca, N.Y.) who combined for 32 appearances in 2012. Other Nittany Lions, such as Kyle Baier (Auburn, N.Y.) and Ryne Sternberg (Toronto, Ont.) provide Penn State important depth, while looking to see more regular playing time.
The Nittany Lions again face a challenging slate of games in 2013. The preseason No. 15 by Inside Lacrosse, the Nittany Lions will face seven teams in the magazine’s poll including No. 3 Notre Dame (Feb. 24), No. 8 Lehigh (March 9), No. 10 Denver (Feb. 16), No. 12 Massachusetts (March 16), No. 17 Hofstra (Apr. 27), No. 18 Bucknell (March 26), and No. 19 Drexel (Apr. 6). In addition to those seven squads, two more were ranked by the coaches for the IL poll: Ohio State (19th, March 2) and Villanova (17th, March 30).
With just five regular-season home games, Penn State will be road tested beginning with its first trip to Ann Arbor to face Michigan on Feb. 9 (1 p.m.). The Nittany Lions will also travel to Binghamton on March 19. The Bearcats were Tambroni’s first win as PSU head coach. Penn State also travels to Delaware on Apr. 20 for a 7 p.m. matchup.