Penn State Men’s Lacrosse’s 2021 Season Report Card
Back in 2019, Penn State men’s lacrosse came four goals short of having a chance to play for a national title in its own backyard in Philadelphia. Then, before a global pandemic in 2020, the Nittany Lions were one of the most well-equipped teams in the nation to make another run to the Final Four. So entering 2021, despite some roster turnover in key positions, Penn State was poised yet again to be a national powerhouse and make a run deep into the postseason.
That quickly proved untrue. After entering 2021 as the No. 7 team in the country, the Nittany Lions finished 4-7 and were bounced from the first round of the Big Ten Tournament by a 2-8 Johns Hopkins team. There were some high points, but the season was mostly made up of a lot of lows for Jeff Tambroni and the program.
Now, with Penn State’s season officially over, let’s take a look back on how each facet of the team performed in 2021.
Penn State’s 2019 offense was arguably the best in college lacrosse history, and the 2020 team was on a similar track before the shutdown. The 2021 edition wasn’t in the same tier as years past.
The Nittany Lions were at bottom of the conference when it came to goals scored (111) and goals per game average (10.09). Shooting percentage is a good indication of how a team is doing efficiency-wise, and Penn State was also at the bottom of the conference when it came to that (.271). For reference, the 2019 team had a .434 shooting percentage.
The reason that the offense is only receiving a B- is because of the roster turnover that the group experienced, mostly when it came to the loss of Grant Ament. Ament left the program after being drafted by Archers LC No. 1 overall in the 2020 PLL College Draft. He was the best offensive player in the country in 2019 and 2020, quarterbacking the Penn State offense with historic efficiency. I don’t think anyone thought losing Ament wouldn’t be a big deal, but people entering the season really underestimated how much his loss would affect the team.
Without Ament, Penn State lacked a quarterback for the offense. Players like Dylan Foulds and TJ Malone were asked to be that, but very few can create space and find passes like Ament. Still, both Foulds and Malone put together solid campaigns.
Malone led the team in points with 43, which is tied for the eighth-best mark in the Big Ten. He also dished out 1.64 assists per game, which was the fifth-best mark in the conference, and was ninth in the Big Ten with 2.27 goals per game. Foulds was third on the team with 25 points. The duo didn’t put together an eye-popping season, but the production is a positive sign going forward for the Penn State offense entering 2022.
You can’t talk offense without talking about Mac O’Keefe. In 2021, O’Keefe set the broke record for the most career goals in NCAA history when he scored career goal No. 213 in an overtime win versus Michigan. The Syosset, New York native lead the Nittany Lions with 29 goals on the season and was Penn State’s most prolific goal scorer.
Throughout his career, O’Keefe hasn’t been as efficient offensively without Ament by his side. In 2021, O’Keefe posted the worst shooting percentage of his college career (.333) and had his lowest goals per game average (2.63). Despite the low numbers for O’Keefe’s standards, he was still Penn State’s best scorer in 2021 and will play professionally in the PLL with Choas LC soon.
Outside of Foulds, Malone, and O’Keefe, no one stood out for Penn State in the offensive half of the field. With O’Keefe’s departure, Penn State is going to have another massive hole to fill in 2022. But with all the circumstances of Ament’s departure and trying to reconfigure an offense amidst a pandemic, the offense gets a reasonable B-.
While the excuse of roster turnover was there for the offense, the same can’t be said about the defense. The majority of the defensive core remained intact, especially with key pieces like Nick Cardile. Still, the defense was brutal to watch at times over the course of the season.
The Nittany Lions allowed the third-most goals in the conference (148) and created the fewest number of turnovers (61). Some of Penn State’s worst performances came against Rutgers, when it allowed 22 goals on 75 (!) shots, and against Maryland, when it allowed 17 goals. Both of those teams boast some of the most efficient offenses in the country.
That was the theme of the season, frustration and repetition. It felt that every single time a team scored, they would expose the same path to goal on the next possession. It looked like very few adjustments were made during games, and if they were, they weren’t being executed properly. Some of it comes down to the talent of the Big Ten, but a majority of it comes down to the players’ execution and the coaching staff’s adjustments.
Player-wise, the previously mentioned Cardile stood out. The former All-American caused 10 turnovers and picked up 24 ground balls over the course of the season. He was constantly tasked with shutting down the opposing teams’ key attackers, and he did a great job in the majority of games that he played. Sutton Boland’s emergence was also a pleasant surprise for the coaching staff, as he caused six turnovers and picked up 28 ground balls.
It wasn’t the play of individual players that limited the defensive unit in 2021, but it was team cohesion. A full offseason where the unit can find some chemistry and get healthy will benefit everyone on that side of the field. Cardile’s expected departure will hurt, but expect some younger players to step up and watch this group improve. But if we’re just going off of 2021, the defense earns a lackluster C.
The Nittany Lions’ specialists stood out in 2021.
Gerard Arceri kept doing Gerard Arceri things in 2021. Arceri was the best face-off man in the conference, winning 58 percent of his draws in 2021. When the team was struggling, he was able to pick up some key draws to give Penn State life and keep it in the game.
When Arceri needed a rest, Jake Glatz came into the game and also did a great job. Despite taking part in only 66 draws, Glatz won 47% of his draws, which was the seventh-best mark in the entire conference. Penn State’s depth at the faceoff X was a key factor when Penn State was successful in 2021. With Arceri leaving Penn State to join Atlas LC in the PLL in the summer, Glatz will step right into Arceri’s role and be a very capable faceoff man in 2022.
In the goal, things weren’t as smooth for Penn State. Colby Kneese was the primary started and struggled at times in 2021. Among the usual starting goalies in the Big Ten, Kneese was second-worst in goals-against average (13.48) and save percentage (.425). Despite the numbers, Kneese had some impressive moments, like his 15-save performance against Johns Hopkins. It wasn’t the usual show-stopping performances Kneese usually put on in previous years at Penn State, and it led to him being replaced in goal.
Redshirt sophomore Aleric Fyock appeared in five games in 2021, including two starts to end the season. In his first start, Fyock put on an amazing 15-save performance during an upset win on the road over Ohio State. That then earned him the start for the Big Ten Tournament games against Johns Hopkins, where he struggled and was replaced by Kneese sooner than later.
Both goalies had their standout moments, but inconsistency is the best adjective to describe the men in between the pipes for Penn State in 2021. But, with a struggling defensive unit in front of them, it’s hard to put all the blame on Kneese and Fyock for their struggles. Both goalies were asked to do more than they were capable of in 2021.
The entire specialist unit had its moments and helped Penn State win games in 2021. Despite some struggles in goal, Arceri’s play rose the entire unit’s grade to a solid B.
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About the Author
“It’s nice to enjoy my 15 minutes of fame.”
“It’s nice to enjoy my 15 minutes of fame.”
A visit from Pat Freiermuth and “We Want Drew” chants highlighted another busy Saturday in Happy Valley.
The Nittany Lions move up three spots from No. 14 last week.