Know Your Enemy: No. 7 Penn State Men’s Lacrosse vs. No. 10 Princeton Tigers
No. 7 Penn State men’s lacrosse is set to welcome the Ivy League champion, Princeton, to Panzer Stadium in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Sunday night.
This challenge will be the fourth installment of the series all time, a set that Princeton leads 3-0. The last matchup came 27 years ago in 1998 when the Tigers won 13-5. The Penn State program has matured a lot in the last quarter-century, though, and the Nittany Lions are in a position to serve ice-cold revenge.
Regarding recent form, the Tigers are on a two-game win streak following their Ivy League Tournament run to the top. The Nittany Lions are coming off their loss to eventual champion Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament, so the stage is set for a return to the win column with a statement victory.
The Tigers are 8-6 coming into the big dance in a season that’s seen injuries, tight losses, and streaky runs when it mattered most. Princeton will still be without two All-American leaders, face-off specialist Tyler Sandoval, preseason Tewaaraton watchlist nod recipient midfielder Sam English, and some other offensive contributors. That’s not to say the Tigers won’t be bringing firepower to the matchup, as team leader Coulter Mackesy will be in the lineup and pushing to add to his impressive 72-point tally on the campaign.
Its close defense is still healthy as well and will aim to correct its record against Big Ten opponents, which sits at 0-2 this year. A big focus of shutting down the power-oriented Penn State offense will be its ability to stay physical throughout the contest to keep shots at a distance. Ivy League-leading goalie Michael Gianforcaro will likely snag unscreened shots and uninspired attacks, so Penn State will have to pressurize the unit in close and force the Tiger defense to play up close and personal.
Keys To The Game
Ivy League lacrosse has largely been centered around speedsters and sneaky offensive cuts throughout the years, while the Big Ten tends to focus on powerful one-on-one dodges and driving to the cage. Both sides fit their molds to a tee, making for a quintessential intra-conference clash. In the past, Big Ten teams have had success against Princeton when they keep the pace of play slow and methodical, not allowing the high-octane slashing attacks of their opponents to draw them out of position.
The Penn State defense will need to be disciplined and have its head on a swivel, and considering its healthy core led by Jack Posey and rock-solid goalkeeping from Jack Fracyon, the Nittany Lions will match up well against a smaller Tiger offense.
Penn State’s offense will also have to play a controlling style of attack to exploit Princeton’s less physical defense. Exploiting matchups on short-stick defensemen with more imposing and deliberate rushes should be a top priority, especially with Princeton defensive midfielder Luc Anderson likely still on the sideline with a broken wrist. We’ll likely see the pick and roll used to shift long sticks to the midfield so attackers Kevin Winkoff, Jack Traynor, and TJ Malone can go to work in close quarters on Princeton’s defensive midfielders.
One final focus of the Nittany Lions needs to be ball security. As the season has reached the playoffs, Penn State has had a tendency to turn the ball over in transition, especially when setting its offense up following a clear. Winning the possession battle will go a long way in keeping the stamina of the defense high while smothering Princeton’s ailing midfield.
Penn State is in a position to make a statement win over the Ivy League on its home turf, and Panzemonium will be in full effect. We expect the Nittany Lions to feed Malone and Traynor for multiple points each and mix in their deep offensive contributors for a high-scoring affair.
Heavy-hitting defenseman Kevin Parnham will be tasked with keeping the crease clean on the defensive end, keeping Fracyon protected up close to give him the luxury of snagging shots from range, and keeping Princeton off the board. Penn State will be moving on to round two in the NCAA Tournament following a 14-8 win over the Tigers.
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