For a team that eclipsed the 10-goal mark in only five out of 15 games last season and lost its leading scorer to graduation, it figured to be a struggle on the offensive end early on for Penn State.
That is not the case though. Led by freshman TJ Sanders and junior Shane Sturgis, the team has scored 26 goals in its first two games.
Sanders and Sturgis will look to continue their hot starts to the season when No. 3 Notre Dame visits No. 9 Penn State Sunday at noon for the Lions’ home opener at Penn State Lacrosse Field.
Sanders credits the fast pace of the game for his early season success.
“College lacrosse, there’s a lot better players than in high school so the pace is faster,” he said. “Coming from Canada we’re used to playing pretty up tempo so it hasn’t been too big of a change for me.”
Sanders, who played club lacrosse on Team Ontario, has hit the ground running in his first season at the collegiate level. Through the first two games, the freshman is second on the team with seven goals. He is also one of three Lions who have taken at least 10 shots this season.
Sturgis said positioning has been the key for Sanders, who has scored on seven of his 13 shots.
“He’s a good off ball player, he gets open and he’s able to finish in tight spaces and make some good moves,” Sturgis said.
Sturgis has been one of the Lions' top scoring threats as he leads the team with eight goals. He also has taken 20 shots, second on the team to Jack Forster's 23.
Sturgis said the transition opportunities caused by the lack of a shot clock have been a focus to the team’s offensive game plan.
“There’s more transition from defense to offense and vice-versa, so you got to be good in transition and polish things up,” Sturgis said.
After having faced the fast paced offenses of Michigan and Denver to start the season, the team will have to adjust to the Irish's more defensive style of play. Notre Dame went to No. 4 Duke in its season opener and held the Blue Devils to just five goals on 29 shots.
Last season, Notre Dame led the country in defense, keeping opponents to just 6.31 goals per game. When Penn State played Notre Dame last February, it was a low scoring affair. A Matthew Mackrides goal with two seconds left in overtime gave the Lions a 4-3 win at then-No. 2 Notre Dame.
Penn State coach Jeff Tambroni said the team has to execute its chances because Notre Dame’s goalie John Kemp is one of the best in the country.
“Against Notre Dame if you’re not taking great shots, not just good shots, you’re just not going to give yourself a chance to score many goals,” Tambroni said. “He is the returning [first team] All-American in college lacrosse and he is clearly, one of the, if not the best goalie in the country.”