Practice pennies, neon green laces, new faces and the promise of a new season not far off -- all signs point to fall ball, college lacrosse's annual rite of initiation.
With 2010 in the books and 2011 in mind, LMO's "Fall Ball Blitz" series checks in with coaches and players around the country for the latest developments.
RECENT "FALL BALL
BLITZ" STORIES | ARCHIVE
Tambroni Sets New Tone in Happy Valley
by Corey McLaughlin | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff
Penn State attackman Matt Mackrides was granted a temporary release from the university and explored transfer options before deciding to return to the Nittany Lions under new coach Jeff Tambroni.
© Mark Selders
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- A full-field transition
drill just ended and the Nittany Lions were about to settle into a
half field offense-defense scrimmage when new Penn State men's
lacrosse coach Jeff Tambroni sounded the latest of his hoarse
yells, about two hours into a night practice last week at Penn
State’s Bigler Field.
“We have a lot to learn!” Tambroni screamed from a catcher’s stance on the sideline, to a few players flipping reversible white and navy blue Nike pennies after a drill. “Don’t waste time changing!”
“They’ve been extremely receptive,” Tambroni would say of the team later.
This is the first fall ball season and the practice was the start of the second week on the field under Tambroni. His decision this summer to leave Cornell -- and three final four appearances in the last four seasons behind -- for Happy Valley was arguably the biggest news of the offseason.
Penn State’s players realize it.
“We didn’t choose him. He chose us,” sophomore attackman Billy Gribbin said after that practice, which ended around 10:30 p.m. “We have one of the best opportunities in front of us. We feel really special as a team to play under him, take his lead and go with it.”
Why did he choose them? For those who say money, Tambroni said no, and that he’s being paid fair relative to the sport of lacrosse as part of his five-year contract. It’s not $1 million, though, as per one rumor he heard.
“We have to do our job here to earn anything, but they’ve been very good to us at this point,” he said.
More than anything, the 40-year-old said he was swooned to State College by the challenge. Not necessarily on the field, though there is something to overcome there. The Lions went 2-11 in former coach Glenn Thiel’s final season.
Tambroni was more tempted by what the opportunity meant in the larger scope of the sport.
Penn State has long been called a sleeping giant of the Division I men’s ranks, seemingly with all the resources -- facilities, central location to recruiting hotbeds, good academic, athletic and social reputations to attract players -- at its fingertips to be a national title contender.
“My goal coming down here was to develop and be part of a program that I thought could establish itself in the mainstream of college lacrosse,” Tambroni said. “I do believe that there is no ceiling.”
If Penn State winning a national championship under Tambroni changes its reputation, so be it. But he isn’t ready to put a timetable on that and said, most importantly, he wants to enjoy the building process along the way with players, parents and alumni, much like he did at Cornell.
As for this season, Tambroni talks about giving the senior class the chance to win.
“We have to make sure as a current staff that we’re not looking ahead to one year, three years or five years from now, which would be completely unfair to the guys that are competing and playing for this program right now,” he said. “This group right here, if we can highlight the strengths of this program, it can provide a wonderful tradition and foundation for the rest of the players that decide to come here and compete and play. It’s our job to provide that opportunity for this group right here. Not in the future when they’re sitting in the stands.”
Tambroni's wife, Michelle, is a Penn State graduate and former Lions’ field hockey star. Tambroni said she will be involved in the field hockey booster club, and maybe eventually coach.
“I never realized it would create that much commotion in the sport of lacrosse,” he said. “That wasn’t the end-all of why we came down here. That’s a bonus. It was a portion of the decision. She loved Ithaca and loved Cornell. Either way we would have gone she would have been happy and it would have been a good decision.”
FALL BALL BLITZ
Team: Penn State
2010 Record: 2-11 (1-4 CAA)
2010 In Review: Penn State had a dismal season, starting off 0-6 and only winning against Hofstra and St. John’s. Longtime coach Glenn Thiel retired after the season. He was Penn State’s head coach for 33 years.
Goodbye... Chris Hogan. The midfielder, the Lions’ fourth leading scorer in 2010, is using a fifth year of eligibility to play football at Monmouth University, where he is now a wideout. Hogan left Ramapo High School (N.J.) as the school’s all-time leader in receptions. He got the itch to return to the gridiron.
Hello… Matt Mackrides. Technically he never really left, but Penn State’s leading scorer in 2010 (36g, 8a) was granted a temporary release from the university after the 2010 season and explored transfer opportunities. When Tambroni was hired, Mackrides decided to return. Cornell, then coached by Tambroni, had been among the schools Mackrides considered attending coming out of Malvern Prep (Pa.). “I had spoken to him on the phone after he had gotten hired,” Mackrides, a junior attackman, said. “I was still in the process of figuring out what I wanted to do with school. Penn State was always there, and I wanted to come back for the team. I love these guys. When Coach talked to me, he assured me that this would be the right move for me. I believed him, and now I can see that it was the right move.”
Offseason Developments: Tambroni’s hiring aside, Penn State has injury issues to overcome. Attackman Jack Forster, who Tambroni said could be the Lions' best offensive player along with Mackrides, has battled various knee injuries during his college career. Forster is still recovering from a torn meniscus injured last May. He is being held out of fall ball practice. “I can start running in two months, and go from there,” he said... Also out for the fall is team leader and senior defenseman Matt Bernier, who tore his ACL in the second to last game of the 2010 season. “I’m pretty much on the same timetable as Jack,” Bernier said. “Two months until I start running, another month after that I start full contact, and I’ll be good for the spring... Tyler Travis, a projected starting defenseman as a freshman last year who redshirted after suffering a season-ending knee injury, also remains sidelined. “We’re banged up,” Tambroni said. “I’ve never seen a team so injured on the first day we come in...” Tambroni rounded out his coaching staff this offseason, too. He brought in Chris Doctor, who served as offensive coordinator at Lafayette from 2007 to 2010. The Leopards were ranked top-10 in the nation in goals per game last season. Peter Toner was also hired. He served as associate head coach at Bryant, where in 2010 he completed his third season on the staff as the program's defensive and recruiting coordinator.
Big Question: What impact does Tambroni have in year one? Immediately after his hire, fans of the Penn State program began speculating how long until the Lions reach a final four under Tambroni. Tambroni’s larger goal, however, is to create long-term, consistent success for Penn State. But with 21 players from last year’s team returning, how will they look this season? The top three scorers from 2010 -- Mackrides, Gribbin and Nick Dolik -- are back, as should be Bernier and defenseman Billy Davis and Ryan McGarvey, who started seven and six games, respectively, last season. Dave Baker, the starting goalie as a sophomore, also returns. “We’ll see,” Tambroni said. “I enjoy working with this group. They’ve been extremely receptive to what we’ve asked out there. We’ve asked them to change their culture and change their routine. I’ve been most impressed with the seniors. They’ve been asked to change what they’ve done for the last three years.” Said Mackrides: “We’re excited. That’s about it. We’re ready to go.”
Fall Schedule: Penn State scrimmages UMBC at Sunday at 2 p.m. in State College.