Hot Hand Or Veteran Experience?: Penn State Men’s Lacrosse’s Goalie Dilemma
As the clock wound down in Columbus last Saturday, it seemed that Dylan Foulds’ goal with 45 seconds left in the game would be enough for Penn State men’s lacrosse to escape with a win over No. 16 Ohio State.
That was until a miracle pass off a ground ball found the stick of an Ohio State attackman, who was left wide-open one-on-one with redshirt sophomore goalie and first-time starter Aleric Fyock.
“In that moment, I wasn’t thinking about anything except saving the ball,” Fyock said after the game. “It was just like any other shot.”
The ensuing highlight-reel kick save was Fyock’s 15th and final of the game as the Nittany Lions held on for the massive victory in Columbus. His performance in the cage against Ohio State earned him Big Ten Co-Specialist of the Week honors.
More notably, though, it left Jeff Tambroni and his coaching staff with an interesting question: Who will be the man in the cage for Penn State entering the Big Ten Tournament?
There’s been very little debate on this topic in the past because Colby Kneese has been the main man in net for Penn State for the last four and a half seasons. In his five years at Penn State, Kneese has played 64 games and put together a .506 save percentage and 10.75 goals-against average.
He’s been one of the most consistent pieces in the Nittany Lions’ program ever since he came to Happy Valley. But following Fyock’s performance, Kneese may not get the nod for Penn State’s biggest game of the season against Johns Hopkins on Saturday in the Big Ten tournament.
“You got a body of work from Colby Kneese, which, the last time we played against Johns Hopkins, was very impressive,” Tambroni said. “You also have four and half years to go on from Colby, and he’s put us in a position to win a lot of games in that time.”
Last time out against Hopkins, Kneese put up a show-stopping 15-save performance en route to an 11-8 victory. Similar to Fyock’s performance versus Ohio State, Kneese made some saves he had no business making and was the biggest reason why Penn State won. He was also named Big Ten Specialist of the Week following the win.
“On the other hand, you have the hot hand in Aleric from last week,” Tambroni said. “We monitored both those goalies very close last week and felt like Aleric was more confident heading into the weekend.”
Despite a smaller sample size and a conference-only schedule, Kneese has been having the worst season of his college career. In nine games this season, Kneese has allowed 13.53 goals a game with a .431 save percentage, which are both the lowest marks of his career. That has opened the door for Fyock to compete for the starting role that had been Kneese’s for so long.
When Fyock was given the nod against Ohio State over Kneese, he and Tambroni had to have a difficult conversation.
“His experience and perspective from the last four and a half years with teammates like Aleric who supported him through his experiences maybe helped lessen the blow of the news,” Tambroni said. “I’m not gonna say it felt good to have that conversation, though.”
Over the course of what has been a tumultuous 2021 season for the Nittany Lions, Tambroni has raved about Kneese’s development into becoming a wonderful leader and great teammate.
“He continued to work hard and support Aleric and the team over the course of last week and continues to do so this week,” Tambroni said. “He’s working hard to win that starting job back.”
Fyock’s development can also be contributed to the leadership of Kneese. The younger net-minder has had the chance to sit behind and learn from one of the most consistent goalies in college lacrosse.
“The experience that he possesses has paved the way for me to be successful,” Fyock said. “I’ve learned from him the whole time on how he carries himself in the goal, out of the goal, in school, out in the weight room, and everywhere else.”
In the end, the decision on who will start on Saturday against Johns Hopkins in the Big Ten Tournament still has yet to be decided. It’s a decision Tambroni said he and his staff will make later in the week after a few more practices, giving them time to evaluate who will be the best option.
“Both those guys have a competitive but extremely healthy relationship, and it’s allowed both of them to grow,” Tambroni said. “Whatever the decision ends up being, we’re confident either one of those guys can be in and help us win any of the games in front of us.”
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