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2019 Men’s College Lacrosse Year In Review: #3 Penn State Nittany Lions

It was a year of firsts for the Nittany Lions, including their first time going to Championship Weekend.

Matt Dewkett

With the 2019 college lacrosse season complete, it’s time to look back at how all 73 teams did during the season, along with an early look at each squad for 2020.

Note: These are not end of season rankings.

Here’s our last five Year In Review posts we’ve done:

To see all of our posts, check out the 2019 Year In Review section on the site.

Let’s continue our 2019 Year In Review with the teams that advanced to Championship Weekend!

#3 Penn State Nittany Lions

Conference: Big Ten
2019 Record: 16-2 (5-0 in Big Ten)
Postseason: Defeated Johns Hopkins for Big Ten Championship, defeated UMBC and Loyola in NCAA Tournament, lost to Yale in NCAA Semifinals
Head coach: Jeff Tambroni (9th Season)

Statistical Leaders

Goals: Mac O’Keefe (78)
Assists: Grant Ament (96)
Points: Grant Ament (126)
Faceoffs: Gerard Arceri (278-of-456; 61%)
Ground balls: Gerard Arceri (187)
Caused turnovers: Nick Cardile (22)
Goals against average: Colby Kneese (10.94)
Save percentage: Colby Kneese (50.5%)

Personnel Losses

Key seniors departing: M Nick Spillane (27 Gs, 26 As, 24 GBs, 5 CTs), D Chris Sabia (19 CTs, 39 GBs, 2 Gs, 1 A), LSM Kevin Fox (12 CTs, 19 GBs, 3 Gs), SSDM Robby Black (5 CTs, 7 GBs, 1 G), D Mike Aronow (5 CTs, 8 GBs)
Senior scoring departing: 64 of 518 points (12.4%)
Senior starts lost: 37 of 180 (20.6%)

Season Summary

Penn State is officially a lacrosse school. Finally. Two years after reaching No. 1 for the first time across the college lacrosse polls, they faltered late in 2018 without one of their primary stars and missed out on the NCAA Tournament.

But 2019 was a much different story, one that went further than in 2017. The big factor in the team’s success early on as well as throughout the entire season was their offense. In wins over Villanova, Robert Morris, and Stony Brook, the Nittany Lions scored at least 17 goals in all three contests, highlighted by a 27-goal barrage against the Colonials. It also saw Mac O’Keefe reunite with Grant Ament, who was injured for the entire 2018 season. In his first game back, Ament put up 10 points, seven of those assists, to help spearhead Penn State’s explosive offense.

Penn State had their first big test of the season on the road against Yale in late February. Ament had seven assists and nine points while O’Keefe scored five goals. Their offense was hot, but so was Yale’s thanks in part to Jackson Morrill’s seven points and a pair of hat-tricks from Matt Gaudet and Brendan Rooney. But a huge part of the win was new Yale FOGO TD Ierlan, who won all but six faceoffs with 22 ground balls and a goal to help the Bulldogs edge past the Nittany Lions by a goal.

That was the start of three straight games against Ivy League opponents. The second came against in-state rival Penn back at the new Panzer Stadium. Facing their second loss in a number of weeks, Nick Spillane scored two goals in a span of 38 seconds to help the Nittany Lions beat the Quakers by a goal. Their final game of the Ivy stretch came in North Carolina as part of The Crown Lacrosse Classic where they took care of Cornell early. Two days later, they defeated Jacksonville before going on a bye week. Penn State went to Ohio and defeated Cleveland State without Ament, who was dealing with an injury. He would return for the team’s Big Ten opener on the road against Maryland.

The Nittany Lions went up 8-1 after the first quarter but gave up the next six goals to see their lead dwindle to a goal. A 3-0 run helped Penn State get some breathing room en route to their first varsity win over the Terrapins. While the offense was scoring in bunches, the only small weakness for the Nittany Lions was their defense. Starting with the Yale game until the win over Maryland, Penn State gave up 10 or more goals in all six of those games. The defense did hunker down in their next three wins over Ohio State, Michigan, and Johns Hopkins and allowed nine or fewer goals. The team did have a small Senior Day scare against Rutgers in the regular season finale, but crushed the Scarlet Knights a few days later in the Big Ten semifinals before edging Johns Hopkins in a thrilling Big Ten title game in overtime for the team’s first Big Ten Championship.

Without a doubt, Penn State deservedly received the top seed in the NCAA Tournament and took care of UMBC in a 25-10 rout on Mother’s Day for their first ever NCAA Tournament win. Then came Pat Spencer and Loyola in what was an insane shootout. Despite trailing 6-5 after the first quarter, Penn State scored nine of the quarter’s 10 goals to take a 14-7 lead. But the Greyhounds responded with a run of their own to cut the lead to two before the Nittany Lions scored the final five goals for the win. Ament had nine points (eight assists), and O’Keefe had nine goals in the win, while the defense gave up 11 points to Spencer. The team was in an even bigger shootout with Yale in the national semifinals, but Penn State was on the wrong end of a 21-17 outcome. The Bulldogs scored 10 times in the opening quarter and held on despite Penn State trimming their lead to three at halftime. Matt Brandau scored seven goals in the win for Yale.

Along with Ament and O’Keefe, Dylan Foulds was the third starting attackman and finished with 43 goals and 56 points. Freshman TJ Malone also saw some time early in the season at attack before shifting to midfield and becoming a starter up top. Nick Spillane and Jack Kelly were also the primary starters up top along with Malone and both of them registered over 50 points, with Kelly scoring 42 goals. Dan Reaume started nine games at midfield but later joined Jack Traynor, and Cole Willard as the second midfield line.

Senior Chris Sabia was the senior anchor of the close defense unit and was accompanied by Nick Cardile and Brayden Peck. Mike Aronow was a quality senior reserve defenseman for the Nittany Lions. Tommy Wright, Kevin Fox, and TJ Connellan were the long stick midfielders while Robby Black, Bobby Burns, Brian Townsend, and Nick McEvoy were the short stick defensive midfielders who were protecting Colby Kneese in goal. Gerard Arceri won 61% of his faceoffs and was dominant for most of the season. Jake Glatz took 95 draws and won 56.8% of those on the year.

Looking Ahead

If you thought Penn State was going away, they’re not just yet. They lose a little over 12% of their scoring and just two starters from a year ago. The majority of the core of their team is back for another run at winning the program’s first ever national championship.

With the attack unit solid as it is, so is the midfield with the exception of Spillane who graduated. But Kevin Hill returns after missing all but the season opener due to an injury. He had 25 goals and 32 points in his last full season in 2018. Others such as John Nostrant and Seamus Glynn could also have larger roles.

The defense needs to replace Chris Sabia which could be answered with Connellan moving down to close. Malcolm Glendinning is a quality option to see an increased role at LSM or defense. As a freshman with Boston University in 2017, Glendinning started all 17 games and recorded nine caused turnovers with 34 ground balls.

Expect Penn State to be one of the top two teams in the country when preseason polls start to come out, barring anything major happening. They should also be back in Philadelphia for their second straight Championship Weekend, if all goes well.


How many wins will Penn State get in 2020?

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