Sometimes it only takes 60 minutes to show how far a program has come in the space of one off-season.
A year ago Penn State beat Johns Hopkins in lacrosse for the first time ever. It was a milestone for the program. While many don't think of Hopkins (6-6, 2-2 Big Ten) as an athletics power, in lacrosse it is among the bluest of blue bloods.
Just 12 months later on a nice Easter Sunday in Happy Valley, the top-ranked Nittany Lions absolutely dominated the 19th ranked Blue Jays in a 20-9 win to clinch the top-seed in the Big Ten Tournament. It wasn’t a completely shocking result either.
While the scoreline was more lopsided than really anyone predicted, most were certainly expecting Penn State (11-1, 4-0 Big Ten) to win, and many thought it’d do so comfortably. While it's getting difficult to find new positives to take away with this team, there were some for coach Jeff Tambroni.
One is offensive depth. The Nittany Lions got a lot of production out of players that are typically in supporting roles, such as Jack Kelly and Dylan Foulds. Another is that Grant Ament showed that he can be a goal scorer if that’s what defenses give him. For much of the day the Blue Jays’ defense didn’t slide to Ament, trying to force him to make plays with the ball in his stick instead of dishing it for an assist. He responded by putting up a four goal, three assist day.
Welcome back Jack Kelly
Penn State had been without middie Jack Kelly for much of the past month. He made his presence felt immediately upon returning to the Penn State midfield.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” Tambroni told reporters after the game. “Not only did he come back and play, he was one of the kingpins on the offensive end.”
The attacking middie finished the day with four goals and an assist -- including finishing off this pretty sequence that shows why this is the best offense in the country.
This play from @PennStateMLAX
— Inside Lacrosse (@Inside_Lacrosse) April 21, 2019
If Penn State can keep attacking middies like Kelly and Nick Spillane involved and productive in the offensive end it is going to become that a lot harder for anyone to stop this team in May.
With the unquestioned best offense in the country at the other end this group continues to fly a little bit under the radar, but they’re making life difficult for opposing offenses. The close defenseman Chris Sabia, Brayden Peck, and Nick Cardile have been an improving group all season long and have eliminated some of the weaknesses that plagued this team the last three years.
A group of defensive middies that makes life difficult for opponent’s secondary options has also been a welcome addition to the Nittany Lions’ game. So, even if face-off specialist Gerard Arceri struggles this group has proven more than capable of keeping the Nittany Lions in games.
Penn State will host Rutgers for senior day at Panzer Stadium at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. The game will be shown on Big Ten Network. Following that the Nittany Lions will be in action on Thursday, May 2 against a to be determined opponent in the Big Ten Semifinals.
The four-team tournament will be hosted in Piscataway this year. If the Nittany Lions win their first-round matchup, they would advance to the Big Ten Championship game on Saturday, May 4.