Nittany Lax Shows Promise Under Tambroni

Nittany Lax Shows Promise Under Tambroni

For many years, nobody quite had the gumption to show longtime Penn State men’s lacrosse coach Glenn Thiel the door. The strange part is that it’s not as if Thiel was this incredibly talented coach who was over the hill but graciously being shown respect in the twilight of his career; quite the contrary, actually. Over the course of his 33 seasons during which Thiel was in charge, PSU made it to the national tournament twice.

Thiel finally left on his own accord when he retired in the spring of 2010, a long overdue move which paved the way for Jeff Tambroni and with it, finally, a top-notch head coach to lead what should be a top-notch program. width=

Sound a bit harsh or overly-critical? Get over it.

This is a sport which Penn State should dominate. Penn State Lacrosse should be – but is far from – in the same category with the likes of Syracuse, Virginia, Johns Hopkins, Maryland, North Carolina and Princeton as one of the top lacrosse programs in the country. For starters, the plethora of talent within southeastern Pennsylvania high school lacrosse teams is among the best in America. That’s a fact. By itself, The Central League, which consists of a dozen high schools in and around the affluent western suburbs of Philadelphia, is an annual factory of Division I collegiate players.

Even more, the two other regions in the United States that rival the Philadelphia metropolitan area in terms of producing the best high school lacrosse talent are both geographically placed perfectly from which Penn State should simply choose and pluck. The birthplace of lacrosse in this country is the Baltimore/Washington D.C./Virginia tri-state area. That region along with Long Island (New York) are hotbeds for high school lacrosse and both, coincidentally, comprise the two areas from which the largest majority of out-of-state Penn State students come. Put it all together and any competent recruiter should be able to attract a stronger talent pool than the one Thiel produced over the years.

Look, if what Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics wants for its men’s lax program is mediocrity, then great – no problem. It should have waited to make a move on Thiel as long as it did(n’t). But now that progress has been made, new excitement is brewing and for good reason.

 width=Lacrosse is considered a “cool” sport. It just is. There’s no physical proof to quantify that nor put it into any tangible form, but if you’re even somewhat knowledgeable of what today’s youth considers to be “cool”, and popular culture among teens in general, then you’re quite aware that lacrosse certainly lives there. Upon last check, Penn State is a pretty darn “cool” school. Take a peek at the public university east of the Mississippi River with the most incoming applications on an annual basis and you’ll find Penn State. There are years in which a bit of movement bumps PSU down to second or third, but generally speaking over the last three decades, if the measure of a college’s “coolness” is the number of kids that want to attend it, then Penn State is the most popular public school east of the subject Continental Divide and the second-most popular in the nation behind UCLA.

Shouldn’t one of the “coolest” schools in the country sport an elite team for one of the “coolest” collegiate sports? One would think so.

This 2012 season will be the second under Tambroni, who came to State College after a very successful stint as Cornell’s head coach. State entered the campaign with a No. 17 preseason ranking, and although the squad lost its opener to sixth-ranked UNC by four goals, progress is definitely being made.

“These young men are creating the foundation for which we hope will last a lifetime,” said Tambroni at Monday’s Media Day. “We talk about a gold standard. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t want to win conference championships or national championships.”

Optimistic ethos of that sort was never apparent under Thiel, or if it was, it was certainly never verbalized. There’s no reason that Penn State’s teams in this sport – for both genders – cannot be perennial national title contenders.

Leading the way toward changing the culture under Tambroni this season will be senior co-captain Matt Mackrides, who has twice been named all-conference (Colonial Athletic Association) first team. Shane Sturgis, who along with  width=Mackrides hails from the aforementioned high school breeding ground of suburban Philly, will help pace the offense once again after a freshman campaign in which he led the Nits with 18 goals and 34 points. Sophomore netminder Austin Kaut, who captured the CAA’s top rookie honors last year, is back between the pipes and will aim to build on his excellent numbers. In 2011, Kaut led the nation in both save percentage and saves per game.

The schedule includes eight games (now seven following the season-opening 14-10 loss to the Tar Heels) against teams that, like Penn State, garnered a spot in the national preseason Top 20 rankings.

“Our staff attempted to prepare this year’s schedule because we believe in our team and we believe in the preparation it will provide,” said Tambroni. “When you play against , you can set a barometer about the standard that needs to be set.”

It doesn’t take a cross (for the lax layman, that means stick) expert to understand that Tambroni has his sights set very high, which is exactly where this program should be looking. It’s ridiculous that it took the athletic department such a long time to get serious about this game, but that’s just what it did when it lured this coach to Centre County. With Tambroni on board combined with Pat Chambers, Cael Sanderson and of course all-time all-timer Russ Rose, this might be the most talented coaching group among non-football sports that’s ever been assembled at Penn State.