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Penn State Men’s Lacrosse Still Searching For Defensive Chemistry, Consistency

After allowing 17 goals to No. 3 Maryland Sunday, Penn State men’s lacrosse’s defense needs to do some soul-searching.

It’s easy to fixate on a team’s offensive output, but Penn State’s struggles have come on the defensive end of the field as well. In 2021, the Nittany Lions have allowed the most goals in the Big Ten (113) and generated the fewest turnovers per game (5.56).

In head coach Jeff Tambroni’s eyes, some of Penn State’s struggles have come because of the quality of opposition.

“I think we’ve played a really good slate of opponents,” Tambroni said. “The thing is, you want to compare yourself to that group. That’s who you need to play well against and limit.”

On the field, a team’s defensive efficiency comes from how well the team plays in multiple facets of the game. It stretches from the ability to win face-offs to limit the opponent’s possessions to the offense’s ability to ride after losing possession. All in all, it comes down to a team’s ability to play as a team in all aspects of the game.

“Offensively, you can get away with one or two players creating offense,” Tambroni said. “Defensively, it’s a team game where you have to get six players to work well together and develop chemistry.”

Chemistry has been hard to come by for the Nittany Lions this season. COVID-19-related regulations and a host of injuries on the back end have meant the Penn State defense has been a revolving door all season. It’s led to a mismanagement of communication and collaboration on the back end, too.

“You need guys that can be leaders and fulfill roles whether they’re on-ball or off-ball guys,” Tambroni said.

One player who has been a leader is Nick Cardile. The graduate student defenseman was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week following the Nittany Lions’ victory over Johns Hopkins last weekend. He’s been a big stabilizing factor on the back end for Penn State despite its struggles.

“When we’ve played well and limited teams, typically Nick is leading the charge,” Tambroni explained.

A couple of other defensive players have been key pieces that have kept the Nittany Lions afloat this season. Sophomore Sutton Boland’s emergence is one that has Tambroni and his staff pleased.

“Sutton is definitively one of our most improved players and has developed significantly since the fall,” Tambroni said.

Two other players that haven’t gotten any outside praise this season are defenseman Brett Funk and midfielder Grant Haus. The duo doesn’t really stand out because of their roles and personalities off the field, but Tambroni said there isn’t a player on the team that works harder than both of them.

“They’re the unsung heroes of this team,” Tambroni said.

The biggest stabilizing factor on the back end for Penn State, especially recently, has been netminder Colby Kneese. Despite allowing 17 goals versus Maryland, Kneese has reemerged as one of the best goalies in the Big Ten after a slow start to the season.

A lot of the criticism of Kneese has been unfairly placed upon him, as Penn State has struggled to stretch shooters and cut off passing lanes leaving him on an island a lot of the time. Still, Kneese has stood tall on multiple occasions.

“We’ve asked more of him than any goalie in the country is capable of,” Tambroni said.

Even with his personal struggles, Kneese has continued to not only perfect his craft as a goalie, but as a leader, too. Through all the adversity the team has faced in 2021, Kneese constantly puts the team above himself.

“Having a goalie like Colby is a luxury,” Tambroni said.

The schedule for the remainder of the season doesn’t get any easier for Penn State, with all but one of the teams being ranked. In the end, it all comes down to finding the necessary chemistry and consistency during practice and a full 60-minute game, especially on the defensive end of the field. If Penn State can find that, it may see some much-needed success down the stretch of the season.

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About the Author

Connor Donohue

Connor is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. He hails from the great state of New Jersey and is proud of it. Lover of the greatest city in the world, New York City, he strongly dislikes the city of Philadelphia and will not hesitate to tell you that. He's also been cursed as a Penn State fan since birth. If you want to call him a bum or maybe go out on a date with him, follow him on twitter @ConnorDonohue00 or email him at [email protected]

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