The Penn State men’s lacrosse preseason is just 10 days away and this Nittany Lions squad hopes to improve upon a very strong 2017 season. Jeff Tambroni’s team went 12-4 on the year, but was ultimately knocked out by Towson in the opening round of the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championships.
Twelve wins tied the program record, gave this team a No. 1 spot in the collegiate rankings at one point in time, and sent the Nittany Lions to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2013. Despite losing a few key contributors, returning and incoming talent should be enough for another big season.
The most obvious loss to this team is Nick Aponte, who graduated after last season. Aponte was a key contributor in the team’s three-headed monster in attack, consisting of Aponte himself, Grant Ament, and Mac O’Keefe. Aponte tallied 57 points on the season, which is tied for tenth in Penn State’s single-season scoring record book.
The attacker was named a USILA All-American and USILA Scholar All-American following his final season and was a First-Team All-Big Ten team twice in his career. His 140 career points (70 goals, 70 assists) ranks 11th-most all-time at Penn State. His consistency in attack will be extremely difficult to replace. Aponte was taken at No. 30 in the MLL draft by the Chesapeake Bayhawks.
Matt Florence also headed off to Major League Lacrosse after being drafted with the Denver Outlaws’ No. 72 pick. Florence started every game for Penn State during his junior year, scoring at least one goal in all but two games on his way to 20 goals. The midfielder got forward into the attack very well in 2017 as well, posting 11 goals and 4 assists.
Key Returning Players
Despite Aponte’s absence, Penn State will return the other two key attackers of that impressive trio. Grant Ament led the team in scoring with extremely balanced offensive play. Then a sophomore, Ament tallied 30 goals and 30 assists, and will likely play a leadership role this year on a team full of young talent.
Mac O’Keefe will also return after lighting up the scoreboard in 2017. O’Keefe, as a freshman, scored an astounding 51 goals and added on five assists. His rocket from the left side proved to be too much for just about every goalie he faced, and fans can absolutely expect more of that this season.
Cole Willard doesn’t just share a name with one of the most recognizable classroom buildings on campus. The freshman from New York also brings a whole lot of talent with him to Happy Valley. Willard is one of the most highly-touted incomers at Penn State, having scored 81 goals and assisted on 32 others during his senior season at Cazenovia Central School.
Daniel Reaume, a midfielder from Michigan, could also make a splash early on in his career. Reaume was named to Michigan’s 1st-Team All-State squad in 2016 after scoring 32 goals and assisting on 21 others. That’s not to mention the fact that he was involved winning three straight Michigan state championships.
This season should be an exciting one at the Penn State Lacrosse Field. The sport is gaining more and more of a following at Penn State, as evidenced by the packed bleachers on one side of the field, complemented by ‘The Hill’ full of fans on the opposite side of the field.
Of course, the hype around this program will only continue to increase after the Panzer Stadium renovations are completed.
Given the amount of returning talent in Happy Valley, it’s easy to imagine another stellar showing from Tambroni and company in a fiercely competitive Big Ten conference. The Nittany Lions play exhibition in games against Navy on January 20 and Army on January 27. Penn State will open regular season play at home on February 3 against Villanova.