Much has changed in Nick Dolik’s career since he first suited up for the Penn State lacrosse team nearly four years ago.
The senior midfielder has adjusted to a new coaching staff, a new field to play on and a switch in positions. But with all these transitions going on around him, perhaps the most significant change for Dolik has occurred within.
“I think over the last couple years he’s realized the importance of his teammates, the importance of his team,” said Nittany Lions’ coach Jeff Tambroni. “I think he’s put his career in perspective…It’s more about his mentality. I think he’s really in this as a senior more for his teammates and his team than he his for himself.”
As he enters his final season at Penn State, Dolik will again be looked to for the offensive production he’s consistently provided over his career. The two-time All-CAA second team pick has scored 50 goals over the last three seasons, finishing among the top four in points for the Lions each year.
The goals and assists will be vital for a team that finished 9-6 last season in Tambroni’s second year at the helm. But Dolik — a preseason All-CAA selection — has made stepping up as an experienced veteran on a team loaded with young talent one of his top priorities.
“I think it’s important to be able to go out there and make plays, but I also think it’s important to just be a strong support guy that others can look up to,” Dolik said. “Like if I’m making a good play, I can get them going. But it also goes the other way. If you’re not making big plays, it can bring other guys down. It’s just a lot of responsibility, and I’m excited to be one of the guys in that role.”
No. 15-ranked Penn State has played a pair of exhibitions so far this year, first traveling to Army on Jan. 26, and most recently taking No. 4 Johns Hopkins in Holuba Hall on Saturday. The Nittany Lions open their 2013 schedule this week against Michigan, heading to Ann Arbor this Saturday.
With the team’s season set to begin, Dolik’s knowledge of the system and experience proved valuable through the Lions’ fall schedule.
Dolik was there as freshmen transitioned to a higher level of play, a new playbook and 6 a.m. workouts every Friday. First-year midfielder Tommy O’Neill said as he and his classmates adjusted, the veteran helped show them the way.
“First coming in, it was definitely a little difficult,” O’Neill said. “But after talking to Nick and just watching him go through practices it definitely helped me become well adjusted. I can always go him to ask questions about anything.”
“He creates a path for them of comfort,” said Tambroni. “He’s been very welcoming to that group.”
Dolik, whose soft-spoken demeanor doesn’t quite match the ferocity and explosiveness he uses to dodge defenders on his way to the goal, said he’d always considered himself a “lead by example” type of guy prior to arriving at Penn State.
During his high school career, the Bloomfield Hills, Mich. native registered 170 goals and twice earned high school All-American accolades. Dolik was the offensive focal point of a Brother Rice High School program that won four-straight state titles in his tenure.
“[Nick]’s been gifted,” said Brother Rice coach Rob Ambrose. “I think the one thing that sets him apart since he got to college is his work ethic and his commitment to continually push the envelope and get better. He’s always working at it, working in the offseason. He’s always committed and dedicated himself to the game and it shows.”
Naturally, Dolik didn’t have to say much. His production and work ethic spoke for themselves.
“He was a high-caliber player, and he definitely has leadership abilities just because of the type of person he is,” Ambrose added. “He’s an unselfish, hardworking kid and everybody knows that.”
Dolik said that over the past couple of seasons, he’s slowly learned to let his voice be heard as well.
“I think that in order to be a good leader, you can’t just lead by example,” Dolik said. “You have to step out of your comfort zone and try to be a bit more vocal.”
O’Neill said Dolik can often be heard in the team’s huddle, offering encouragement and direction, and is usually there to make a play when the team needs a boost.
Dolik is quick to credit Tambroni’s guidance as one of the main factors in his development. But Tambroni said that by the end of last spring, he noticed an intrinsic motivation within the senior to make sure the team was heading in the right direction.
The midfielder began to shoulder more responsibility and leadership both on and off the field.
“He recognized the graduation of a small but significant senior class in front of him, knowing that he was going to be one of the lone returning contributors, certainly on the offensive end,” Tambroni said.
When asked about the promise of the upcoming season, Dolik can barely contain his excitement.
The Lions trudged through a 2-11 record in 2010, during which Dolik finished third on the team with 21 goals as a freshman, primarily playing attack. But since Tambroni has taken over, the program has begun to turn around.
The Lions finished a game shy of the CAA championship last season and were left out on the fringe of the NCAA tournament. Dolik feels the pieces are in place this season for he and his teammates to improve upon last year’s finish.
And as he has his entire career, the senior will gladly set the pace.
“As a team, we aren’t the biggest guys but we’re pretty strong and pretty fast,” said Dolik. “We just try to outwork the other team. It might not be the prettiest play, but if you’re outworking the other team more often than not you’re gonna come out with the W.”