No. 15 Penn State will try to fill a void at attack when it takes on Michigan on Saturday afternoon at Oosterbaan Field House in the men’s lacrosse season opener.
With the graduation of attackman Matthew Mackrides, the team's leading scorer the past three seasons, the Lions will look to sixth-year senior Jack Forster, junior Shane Sturgis and junior Gavin Ahern, among others, to fill the void left by Mackrides’ departure.
“Matt Mackrides for Penn State has meant so much over the past four years, not just on the field in terms of ability to score or be a threat offensively but his leadership is also going to be extremely difficult to replace,” coach Jeff Tambroni said. “You certainly don't replace that with any one player.”
While Mackrides scored 30 goals last season, his ball control made him a standout on attack.
“It's definitely different because he was the main ball carrier for us last year so he did most of the carrying, feeding, and dodging for us at the attack,” Forster said of the team's offensive game plan.
Although the team has upperclassmen in the attack, Tambroni recruited Matt Sexton and TJ Sanders who both have shown promise in preseason scrimmages.
To prepare the younger guys for an early road trip, Tambroni made sure that his team traveled in one of its scrimmages so that the younger guys could learn how to travel. The team ventured to West Point to face off against Army before hosting No. 4 Johns Hopkins last week.
The team has also looked to its upperclassmen to replace the leadership lost by Mackrides as it hits the road early in the season.
“We talk to our guys about traveling like pros, just approaching this more like a business trip,” Tambroni said. “We rely on our upperclassmen to get our guys through this, we room our guys with upperclassmen to make sure that they can see the focus necessary throughout the course of the weekend.”
Last season, Penn State opened up its new Penn State Lacrosse Field with a 16-9 win over Michigan. In that game, the team scored nine third quarter goals to build on a 4-2 halftime lead. Forster led the team with five goals to start the scoring of his 27-goal campaign.
Penn State finished at 9-6 in the 2012 season, losing 13-11 to Drexel in the CAA semifinals. The team then missed out on an at large bid into the NCAA tournament.
With six games against Michigan, No. 9 Denver, No. 3 Notre Dame, No. 19 Ohio State, No. 11 Lehigh and No. 12 Massachusetts to start the season, Tambroni hopes that the three weeks spent building offensive camaraderie since the New Year will help the team adjust without Mackrides.
“We also understand everything that needs to still be tightened up, buttoned up before we head into the first game of this season against Michigan,” Tambroni said. “I'm confident that they're committed to the long haul of this progress and they continue to get better week in and week out.”