February 19, 2016
Coach Jeff Tambroni will return to Cornell for the first time since taking the Penn State job after the 2012 season. (John Strohsacker)
Coach Jeff Tambroni will return to Cornell for the first time since taking the Penn State job after the 2012 season. (John Strohsacker)

NCAA Notes: Tambroni's Return to Cornell a Bittersweet Reunion

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Weekend Watch

When Penn State pays its first visit to Cornell on Saturday under coach Jeff Tambroni, it will mark a bittersweet reunion for him.

Before taking the Penn State job, Tambroni won 109 games over 10 seasons as head coach at Cornell. He took the Big Red to three final fours and came painfully close to winning it all in 2009.

Tragedy also has touched Tambroni's program in State College, the same way it did in Ithaca.

On March 17, 2004, Cornell defenseman George Boiardi died after being struck in the chest by a lacrosse ball the day before in a game. Last year on June 12, Tambroni learned that Penn State starting goalie Connor Darcey had been killed in a single-vehicle rollover crash in Boston.

"I couldn't believe it was happening again," said Tambroni, who has three daughters. "I'll never forget getting the call from the hospital and hearing that George had passed away. I'll never forget getting the same call from Mr. [Bill] Darcey [Connor's father]. I can't even fathom being on the other end of that call."

Tambroni said the Lions, who are honoring Darcey in part by wearing decals with his No. 16 and his initials, are still processing the emotions surrounding the loss of Darcey, who would have played his redshirt junior season in 2016.

"There are a lot of different layers of emotion going on. It's a challenging situation. We're getting better as we move on," he said. "It certainly was an unenviable position for our other three goalies."

Sophomore goalie Will Schreiner has taken over in the cage. Schreiner has made 14 saves and allowed 9.56 goals per game to help Penn State get out to a 2-0 start.

With senior attackman T.J. Sanders (team-high seven goals) and freshman attackman Grant Ament (team-high 12 points) leading the way, Penn State is averaging 18.5 goals on 43 shots per game. Those are not the type of numbers normally associated with the Lions, who have traditionally played a deliberate style while leaning on their defense to close out lower-scoring games.

That formula did not work out in 2015, when Penn State finished 5-9 — Tambroni's only losing season in 15 years as a head coach — and went 1-7 when scoring under 10 goals.

The Nittany Lions have opened the 2016 campaign with a more up-tempo, transition-minded approach. It has translated well early, as Penn State has scored 20 goals against Robert Morris and 17 against Hobart. And the testing level will go up markedly against the Big Red.

Loyola's Pat Spencer works against Virginia's Tanner Scales. Spencer had two goals and two assists in the Greyhounds' 11-4 win Saturday. (Kelsey Grant)

Loyola's Pat Spencer Shows Justin Ward-Like Potential

With eight returning starters from last year's squad that finished 7-8, the Loyola men's lacrosse team had little conceivable room for a newcomer to crack the starting lineup.

Yet in the fall, it wasn't long before 6-foot-2 freshman attackman Pat Spencer emerged as a clear candidate.

"Pat is a sports junkie with a high lacrosse IQ," Greyhounds coach Charley Toomey said after Spencer, a product of Boys' Latin in Baltimore, produced two goals and two assists in his collegiate debut at Virginia. Loyola humbled the Cavaliers, 11-4.

"[Spencer] sees the basketball court as well as he sees the lacrosse field. Great vision," Toomey added. "He can make plays with the ball in his stick. He can look inside and find the open guy. He can beat you off the dribble and score with either hand. The thing that jumped out at us quickly was how he makes other people better."

If the 11th-ranked Greyhounds extend their winning streak to three over sixth-ranked Johns Hopkins at Ridley Athletic Complex on Saturday, Spencer figures to be a significant factor operating behind the net.

The Charles Street rivals meet for the 53rd time, following a series interruption last year. Johns Hopkins leads 47-5. The Blue Jays, who also dropped back-to-back decisions to Loyola when Dave Cottle was the Greyhounds coach in 1997-98, have never lost three in a row in the series.

"[Spencer] is a kid who plays with an awful lot of confidence and poise," Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. "He's good at a lot of things. He's adept with both hands, and he's got a good understanding of the game."

An Under Armour All-American at Boys' Latin, where he helped the Lakers earn a No. 1 national ranking in 2014, Spencer scored 100 points (49g, 51a) as a senior. He also helped Boys' Latin win its first MIAA 'B' conference basketball crown in 25 years as a senior and an All-Metro second-team performer.

Toomey compared Spencer to former Greyhound Justin Ward, one of the finer Loyola players ever to man the X position. Ward blossomed as a sophomore in 2012, when his steady quarterbacking played a major role in the Greyhounds' national title run.

"[Spencer] might be Justin Ward, one year earlier," Toomey said.

Bryant's Indoor Facility Nears Completion

Bryant (1-1) is aiming for its fifth straight Northeast Conference title and its fourth NCAA tournament berth under 10th-year coach Mike Pressler.

There is also great anticipation on Bryant's Smithfield, R.I., campus for April 1. That day, Pressler said the school's new indoor practice facility is set to open, seven months after the building collapsed as workers were installing steel beams.

The 78,000-square-foot facility includes a 100-yard covered turf field. Ground was broken on the project in May, and a January opening originally was planned.

"It's an epic game-changer for recruiting. It puts us on a level with the best lacrosse programs in the country," Pressler said. "We can play a game in there if we need to. It can't be ready fast enough."

The Bulldogs have endured some nasty winters that have cut well into their outside practice time. Although the current winter has been relatively tame by New England standards, a recent cold snap — wind chill temperatures reached 40 below zero — forced Bryant to move its game against Bucknell indoors to the ForeKicks Complex in Taunton, Mass.

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