Coach Jeff Tramboni’s men’s lacrosse team has been as close to perfect as any team in the country this spring. The Nittany Lions are 10-1 on the season and have taken down Ohio State and Penn, among other top programs. A recent loss against the Maryland Terrapins, however, highlighted some potential weaknesses for the Nittany Lions.
Penn State has an abundance of young talent, including freshman goalie Colby Kneese.
The Dallas native had an outstanding performance against then-No. 5 Ohio State to open Big Ten play. Kneese played out of his mind — saving 13 of 17 shots-on-target from the Buckeyes — but those impressive numbers only tell part of the story, as a handful of terrific one-on-one saves kept Ohio State at arms length throughout the second half. After this showing, Kneese was named the Inside Lacrosse National Player of the Week.
Kneese’s save percentage on the season is a somewhat more modest 52.0%, good for seventh out of eight Big Ten goalies with at least 20 saves. This is not to say that Kneese is plaguing the Nittany Lions in goal, but rather that this team’s defensive unit cannot count on their young goalkeeper to produce insane performances week in and week out. When Kneese plays out of his mind, there is no doubt that Penn State is in great shape. It’s when Kneese struggles that Tramboni’s team needs to find another way to win.
The performance in goal for Penn State wasn’t stellar in the team’s first loss of the year against No. 8 Maryland on Saturday. Kneese had a tough game between the sticks, saving just 10 of 25 shots on target. Both goalies seemed to struggle to some degree as the sun shone down brightly in College Park.
Penn State cannot depend on outstanding performances in goal every game, especially as the season wears on and Nittany Lion defense continues to face tough opponents like No. 13 Johns Hopkins and No. 11 Rutgers – two Big Ten teams with exceptional attacking play. Against Maryland, an inability to win face-offs and some struggles in goal combined for a tough outing.
“I always felt like we were coming from behind which was a challenging venture, especially with the face-off X,” Tramboni said.
Despite Gerard Arceri’s great start as the face-off specialist, Penn State’s seemingly unstoppable force didn’t look so invincible against Ohio State. Struggling against Ohio State at the face-off X is entirely forgivable because Jake Withers is one of the top face-off specialists in the country. What’s perhaps concerning in the long run is that Penn State won just 10 of 30 face-offs against Maryland, a team not known for their face-off prowess.
Noting that Maryland’s face-off stats may not tell the whole story behind the unit’s skill, Tramboni certainly has not lost his faith in his own face-off unit.
“I think with Gerard [Arceri], Billy [Lombardi] – and now with Drake Kreinz being put in that mix – I think we have a really formidable face-off unit,” Tramboni said. “I think in the last couple of weeks, there’s probably been more thinking and I think that’s just a position that’s so instinctive, it’s so reactionary off the whistle.”
With a struggling Colby Kneese in net, it’s no wonder that Tramboni felt like his team was fighting an uphill battle when face-offs were not going Penn State’s way. But for the Nittany Lions, maybe just getting out of their own heads will do the most good when it comes to face-off battles.
“I think we have to get back to the basics as a team, not just as a face-off unit, and allow Gerard and Billy to just think about one thing: winning face-offs.”
It is entirely possible that the struggles of the Nittany Lions will turn out to be isolated to just the game against Maryland. If not, however, Penn State will have some tough games ahead. In any case, be sure that no one on this squad is going to let one loss get to them.