February 14, 2014

NCAA Notes: Penn State's Explosive Start

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Lambrecht Archive

Attackman Shane Sturgis has high expectations along with the rest of the Nittany Lions in 2014. (Kevin P. Tucker)

Penn State men's lacrosse coach Jeff Tambroni doesn't expect his eighth-ranked Nittany Lions to scorch their remaining opponents the way they destroyed Michigan in Saturday's season opener. The Wolverines are still in their program's infancy, which largely explains the 22-7 shellacking Michigan absorbed at the hands of a Penn State squad that has designs on making serious noise in the NCAA tournament.

Yet there is no denying that Penn State showed the kind of explosiveness on offense that Tambroni thinks it needs in 2014. Everyone knows the Lions, led by senior first-team All-American goalie Austin Kaut, can play defense with the best. But can they give that superb "D" some hefty breathing room a little more often?

If attackmen Shane Sturgis and T.J. Sanders meet the high expectations they have earned, the Penn State offense should be in a good place this spring. They combined for 11 goals on just 17 shots, as Penn State dominated possession time against Michigan. Sturgis, the senior from Downington, Pa., led the Lions with six goals and an assist. Sanders, the sophomore Canadian from Orilla, Ontario, finished with five goals.

"The chemistry between the two of them is what stands out the most," said Tambroni, who is in his fourth year at Penn State. "They do a great job of playing off of each other with their spacing and verbal commands. They complement each other's moves. They're both two-handed. If there's a dead end [play], they just move on to another set."

Sturgis has been a productive shooter and feeder for much of his time in University Park. Sanders showed his outstanding finishing skills with 44 goals in 2013. After making his mark as a great box lacrosse player back home, Sanders has found comfort and consistency in the field game with remarkable speed.

Tambroni hopes that Penn State's dynamic duo can stretch opposing defenses enough to get lots of other scorers involved and ignite the depth of the roster. Having a 1-2 punch is a huge key.

"You look at the history of sports. Any great quarterback is usually throwing to a great receiver," Tambroni said. "Look at Stockton-Malone (longtime guard-forward combo with the NBA's Utah Jazz). I'm not sure one would be great without the other."

The schedule ramps up at Penn State significantly on Saturday, when No. 13 Loyola (0-1) visits Happy Valley.

Little things still Lehigh's trademark

North Carolina, one of several schools that had to move lacrosse game times and locations with the winter conditions along the East Coast, tweeted this photo of Fetzer Field on Thursday. 

No. 16 Lehigh is learning to live without attackmen David DiMaria and Dante Fantoni, who lit the fuses for the Mountain Hawks' offense for several seasons in Bethlehem, Pa.

And while attackmen Patrick Corbett and Dan Taylor are the offensive leaders for Lehigh – which is out to a 2-0 start by virtue of 13-6 victories against overmatched Furman and Marquette – head coach Kevin Cassese is most pleased with how the Hawks have carried on the identity they have carved out in recent seasons.

Through its first two games, Lehigh has won the ground ball battle by a whopping 67-37 margin.

"We're a very young team in the middle of the field. Our stars, DiMaria, Fantoni and [defenseman] Mike Noone are gone. But that [statistic] is the sign of a hungry team," Cassese said. "We need to roll up our sleeves and outwork our opponent or we're not going to win. We need to be super-organized and efficient on offense. We might not be the most talented team, but we can always control who is the toughest."

Lingering winter not a wonderland for coaches

A colleague of the great Mark Twain – this humble scribe's all-time favorite writer – once quipped, "Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it."

Lacrosse coaches continue to talk about the weather during this winter of bitter cold and snow events and how they are affecting the "spring" sport that now straddles winter and spring.

John Tillman, the coach at No. 7 Maryland, lamented the way winter has messed with practice plans and pace. The Terps (1-0) whipped Mount St. Mary's in their earliest-ever season opener last Saturday.

"You've really got to be strategic and manage what you're doing during the week. We pride ourselves on being a physical team, but we can't beat our guys up too much this early," Tillman said. "They should force lacrosse coaches to take a college class in climate [science] and meteorology."

Cassese sat in his vehicle by the team's practice field Thursday as about 15 fresh inches of snow laid on it.

"I'm trying to track down the plow guy, but I think he's gone to get another job. We've been working him pretty hard for the past month," Cassese said.

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