Big Ten Opener Against Maryland A Major Stepping Stone For Penn State Men’s Lacrosse
The last time No. 1 Penn State men’s lacrosse played Maryland on the road in 2017, the previously undefeated Nittany Lions were handed their first loss of the season in a 15-11 loss.
The team was off to the best start in program history, and then-freshman Mac O’Keefe led the nation with 35 goals.
Two years later, the Nittany Lions find themselves in a familiar situation against the powerhouse Terrapin program they’ll face Sunday. Penn State has climbed back to a No. 1 ranking, and O’Keefe again leads the country in goals. Only this time, the team hopes it can reverse its fate.
“I think when it comes to the Big Ten, the opener is always a tone-setting game, no matter who the opponent is,” head coach Jeff Tambroni said. “I think it’s important for our guys to recognize that it’s a long season — that the regular season is a long season and the Big Ten season is a long season. It’s a grueling season both mentally and physically, and that we got to just approach each one the same way.”
One potential setback is that Penn State may be without one of its most important players at the start of the biggest stretch of the season.
After missing last week’s game against Cleveland State, star attackman Grant Ament is still listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury, according to Tambroni. Although the Nittany Lions could be at a disadvantage without Ament’s unselfish playmaking abilities, it’s far from uncharted territory for them.
“I think everyone got a little bit better last year when Grant went out because everyone’s role certainly increased,” Tambroni said.
With or without Ament, the road contest against Maryland will be a major test for the Nittany Lions and the first of a few tough match-ups they’ll have down the stretch of this season. Other dangerous Big Ten opponents remain on the schedule as well. No. 4 Ohio State, No. 18 Johns Hopkins, and Rutgers should all prove to be challenges. It does help, however, that Penn State will face all three of those teams in the friendly confines of Panzer Stadium.
“I’m hoping that we ourselves will create our own tone regardless of the opponent,” Tambroni said. “And every one of those opponents that we’re going to be facing after [Maryland] may not have the ranking that we’re talking about currently, but still, is very capable of making a run in the Big Ten. “
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Penn State earned a ranking in the preseason AP Top 25 poll for the third consecutive season.
The past five No. 15s in the preseason AP Top 25 poll have been a mixed bag of seven-loss mediocrity and 9-4 records, but the 2017 Georgia Bulldogs proved that starting at No. 15 isn’t all bad.
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