Blogs and Commentary

posted 02.27.2012 at 10.30 a.m. by Corey McLaughlin

Working Off The Weekend: Five Things to Know

1. Penn State's a Contender

It's easy to say this after your alma mater upsets the then-No. 2-ranked team in the country. But it's true.

When? That was the question that followed Jeff Tambroni's hire at Penn State in the summer of 2010. As in, when or how quickly would the Nittany Lions become a bonafide national contender under the former Cornell coach? He had, after all, the reputation as one of the nation's best coaches, and brought the Big Red to three final fours.

Tambroni downplayed the expecations question in the infancy of his Penn State, saying in the fall of 2010, "Our timeline is not a year from now or three years from now that we're going to be bringing a national championship back to Penn State. ... We can realize our goal on a daily basis. If we do the best job that we can for Penn State lacrosse, the community and each other, that goal will be realized on that day."

In the one-step-at-a-time approach, Penn State took a great leap forward on Sunday, beating Notre Dame in a low-scoring, 4-3 battle on a goal by Glenn Thiel era holdover, senior attackman Matt Mackrides, with two seconds left in overtime. (Mackrides looked at transfer options after Thiel retired, but returned after hearing Tambroni's pitch.)

Austin Kaut, a Thiel recruit, made 18 saves in the game Sunday. The Lions will have a chance in every game as long as he's in goal. He's only a sophomore. Penn State is playing a lot of underclassmen, but in year two of the Tambroni era, it seems the Nittany Lions have already arrived on the national stage. UMass still should be the favorite in the CAA, but Penn State is right there with Drexel, Delaware and Hofstra, perhaps with an edge over them after winning in South Bend and snapping Notre Dame's 15-game February winning streak. At the end of 2011, the Lions weren't that far off the NCAA tournament bubble. It's hard to imagine they won't be in consideration again.

2. Carolina Showed Its Fight

A lot has been made of North Carolina's talent, in the form of highly regarded recruits now a few years older and notable transfers. But the Tar Heels showed their character Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. Down 8-5 at the start of the fourth quarter, Carolina rallied to win 9-8 and avoid what would have been a bad upset loss to a Navy team that lost to previous week to Jacksonville.

"Overall, it speaks to the character of this team," junior attackman Marcus Holman -- who had two goals and four assists and assisted on Thomas Wood's winner with 1:16 left -- told the team's website after the game. "This is unlike anything I've ever been a part of. Every single guy was involved on the sideline.

"This team has heart. We refuse to believe that we're out of any game."

A question among rival coaches entering the season was generally "How can Carolina share the ball?" with all of the offensive talent on the roster: Wood, Holman, Nicky Galasso, Jack McBride, Davey Emala, Pat Foster, Jimmy Dunster, and impact freshmen Jimmy Bitter and Joey Sankey.

Interesitingly, Holman alluded to that theme in answering a question about what changed in the fourth quarter for the Tar Heels.

"We started sharing the ball more," he said. "We started getting it hot versus trying to dodge and look for that easy shot."

3. Princeton's Comeback Tour Begins

Beyond Tewaaraton Award front-runners Steele Stanwick, Rob Pannell and Mark Matthews, watch Princeton sophomore midfielder Tom Schreiber this season. Will a sophomore win the honor? No one has since Mikey Powell in 2002, but Schreiber (three goals, four assists against Hofstra on Saturday) will at the very least be a primary player in a potentially great Tigers' comeback story.

Injuries derailed Princeton's season last year, and the team took last season's 4-8 record hard. Incoming freshman recruit Brendan McGrath said over the summer that rebounding from the down year was the subject of email chains among players. They're trying for better subject lines after this season.

4. ACC Women's Division Up For Grabs?

Perhaps the question is premature, given Maryland's recent run of success and the fact that they've won three straight ACC women's tournament championships. But then again, this question has to be on the minds of other teams in the conference after Duke upset the then-second-ranked Terps on Saturday in Durham.

Aside from Duke, North Carolina looked awfully strong in two games that theoretically should have tested the Tar Heels just a little bit more. UNC beat No. 16 Albany, 16-7, on Friday and clobbered 10th-ranked Vanderbilt, 18-9, on Sunday to improve to 5-0.

Virginia is off to its best start since 2009, and managed on Sunday to slow down a Syracuse offense that put up 23 goals on Boston College earlier in the week. Keep an eye on this race.

5. Cornell One of Two MD1 Teams Yet to Play

Outdoor February lacrosse in upstate New York... What could possibly go wrong?

On Saturday morning, two to three inches of snow fell on Geneva, N.Y., where that afternoon Hobart was supposed to play host to Cornell. At game time, there were sustained winds of 30 miles per hour and a wind chill of 15 degrees Fahrenheit. The field wasn't playable as snow covered cleaned off areas too quickly. The game was originally postponed until Sunday, to be played on the same outdoor field, but Cornell and Hobart were later said to be unable to agree on a game field. And so the tilt is postponed until they can settle on a new date later in the season.

In the meantime? Cornell will play its opener later than intended, on Tuesday at home against Binghamton, but they still won't be the last Division I men's team to play its first game. That would be Canisius, who, in a twist of fate, will play the Big Red in its opener March 6.