January 15, 2013

#LMranks: No. 14 Penn State Nittany Lions (Men)


Jack Forster, who returns to Penn State for a fifth year, was named co-captain with defender Travis Crane.
© Kevin P. Tucker

by Matthew DeFranks | LaxMagazine.com | Team Page/Schedule

Lacrosse Magazine is counting down its preseason rankings throughout the month of January exclusively on LaxMagazine.com.

Today continues a look at our NCAA Division I Top 20 rankings. For more, visit LaxMagazine.com/LMranks. Follow @LacrosseMag on Twitter and Tweet using the hashtag #LMranks. The countdown will resume Wednesday with profiles of the 13th-ranked teams in NCAA Division I men and women.

Power Ratings

Offense: 2
Defense: 3
Goalkeeping: 5
Faceoff: 2
* Out of 5

Top Returner

G Austin Kaut (Jr.)
The third-team All-American has been a mainstay in the crease for the Nittany Lions, starting all 29 games since he arrived on campus two years ago. He should challenge Notre Dame's John Kemp as the best goalie in the country. "He still has a little ways to go but the experience from the last couple of years has certainly provided our defense with a little bit more stability," Penn State coach Jeff Tambroni said.

X-Factor

A Jack Forster (R-Sr.)
After winning an appeal for a fifth year at Penn State, Forster will have to replace Matthew Mackrides (30 goals) as the top option for the Nittany Lions. Forster, who has had two major knee surgeries, was named a team captain along with defender Travis Crane. "He is going to be the offensive leader on our team," Tambroni said. "If need a big play, if we need a goal, if we need something communicated to our offense at a specific time, he's going to be that leader."

What's New?

Freshman midfielder Sammy Davis comes into Happy Valley with an immediate chance to contribute offensively. Davis, an Under Armour All-American from Pittsfield, Mass., gives the Nittany Lions an athletic option to build around. "He has a tremendous shot on the run, both hands, got great breakaway speed," Tambroni said.

What's Not?

Last season, Penn State played five games against NCAA tournament teams, including four out of conference and will again play a tough slate outside of the CAA. The schedule is front-loaded again with games against Notre Dame and Denver. "If you win a couple of those games, that could go a long way towards the end of the year," Tambroni said.

2012 Recap

Record: 9-6 (5-1 CAA)

In a Nutshell: A stout defense that allowed just over eight goals per game could not carry an anemic Penn State offense as the Lions finished a mediocre 9-6. "At 9-6 going into the selection committee, that probably left too much to chance to move on into the field of 16," Tambroni said. "The lesson learned has been details, everything is going to make a difference going into this year's season." Penn State finished the regular season on a five-game winning streak before losing to Drexel in the CAA semifinals. The Nittany Lions came into Selection Sunday on the bubble and found themselves on the outside looking in as the last team out of the NCAA tournament.

#LMranks MD1 Preseason Countdown

No. 20 Bryant
No. 19 Hofstra
No. 18 Fairfield
No. 17 Villanova
No. 16 Yale
Monday: No. 15 Princeton
Tuesday:
No. 14 Penn State
Wednesday:
No. 13
Thursday:
No. 12
Friday: No. 11

More: Countdown schedule | WD1 | MD2 | WD2 | MD3 | WD3 | JuCo | MCLA | WCLA

High Point: A low-scoring game with Notre Dame should come as no surprise to anyone after the Irish beat Penn State 6-2 in 2011. But the Nittany Lions got their revenge last season over the then-No. 2 Irish with a 4-3 overtime win in South Bend on Feb. 26. The loss was Notre Dame's only of the regular season and Penn State's lone win against a top-five team.

Low Point: Penn State went into a tailspin with a three-game losing streak in March against Denver, UMass and Lehigh. The Nittany Lions gave up a season-high 14 goals in a loss to the Pioneers before dropping close contests against CAA champion UMass and national-seed Lehigh. The stretch could have secured a tournament spot for Penn State but, instead, locked them out.

2013 Preview

Best Case: Penn State navigates a tough schedule and replaces Matthew Mackrides on its way to its first NCAA tournament appearance under Tambroni. Austin Kaut has another great season and emerges as the best goalkeeper in the country.

Worst Case: The Nittany Lions' defense falters and their subpar offense is unable to pick up the slack. Penn State finishes in the middle of the CAA and misses the dance again, but this time, not so narrowly.

Inside Scoop

Coach Jeff Tambroni's comments on...

A Shane Sturgis (Jr.)
"He is an attackman that can play midfield, he can play behind the goal but is very effective above the goal-line, one of our best all-around players. I don't know if I'd say he does anything great but I would say he does just about everything well. He plays with a tremendous amount of confidence, fearless with the ball in his stick. He's was consistent for us and a leader for us in the second half of last year."

M Nick Dolik (Sr.)
"This was by far Nick's best fall since we've been here. Nick has grown up more than any other players we have on our team, from the day he walked on campus to right now. He's not a captain but I would say if there's a guy on our team outside the two captains that provides by far the most leadership, [it's him]. He's a guy that has played midfield and we used him at attack this fall and he did a wonderful job. He has become an extremely selfless contributor. It's the first time we've been here in the first five semesters, we've seen two and a half years with him, it's the first time I've seen him feeling comfortable within the offense, within the direction of our coaching staff, his role and where he can be successful. We're really hoping for a breakout type season for Nick Dolik."

D Kessler Brown (Jr.)
"Kessler was hampered by an injury this fall so we did not see him at all unfortunately until the last week of winter. Absolutely tremendous athletically, by far, one of our best, he is a premier athlete in the weight room, in conditioning, as a cover guy, he's one of the best I've been around. He's fantastic in one-on-one situations... We're expecting that he's not only going to be ready but that he's going to pick up with the level of success he left off with last year."

Rival Coaches Say

"Year Three of the Tambroni era could see a huge breakout season. They are great in the goal and are getting better through recruiting. They could be in the top ten by the end of February... Very solid defensive unit took some hits to graduation but still return one of the country's better goalies, offensive production needs to improve if this team wants to get to the next level and off the NCCA tourney bubble, faceoffs must be better as well."


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