It was the second game of Big Ten conference play, and Penn State was nearing the end of a tightly contested matchup with a second-ranked Maryland team.
Sophomore faceoff specialist Gerard Arceri was having yet another dominant day. His 19 wins at the faceoff X kept giving Penn State’s offense chances to succeed throughout the game.
Arceri trotted out on the field for a crucial faceoff as the Nittany Lions were a goal away from tying the game at 12. What he didn’t know was the moment would be his last draw of the game.
Following a battle at the faceoff X, Arceri came up hobbling as he tried to get off the field. He collapsed on the ground and would be helped off.
Arceri would not return, and Penn State fell short of completing an upset.
Without Arceri at the helm, the Nittany Lions lost two crucial faceoffs, sealing the deal for the Terrapins.
The defeat stung Penn State, but the loss of Arceri was a nightmare scenario.
Miraculously, Arceri would manage to battle through the pain for the next game on the schedule.
With the season on the line, Arceri turned in what head coach Jeff Tambroni would describe as a “once in a lifetime kind of performance” against Johns Hopkins. The faceoff man went 13-17 at the faceoff X while sporting a “fake hamstring” created by trainer Cam Patria that allowed him just enough mobility to get on and off the field safely.
The win gave Penn State hope for the final stretch of the year, but those hopes would soon be hindered as the injury got the better of Arceri.
“I tried to stay on top of it just with rehab like until the end of the season, but it never really got better,” Arceri said, reflecting on the disappointing end of the season.
The more he tried to push to finish the year strong, the worse he felt. For the final two games of the season, Arceri was nowhere near 100 percent, forcing him to spend a good amount of time watching as freshman Jake Glatz and sophomore Nick McEvoy tried to pick up the slack.
“It was definitely frustrating,” Arceri said. “But, you know, I just had to live with it.”
Shifting from being the go-to guy to a passive role provided a new challenge for Arceri.
“I think that’s tough for all these guys,” Tambroni said. “I would imagine through the majority of their lives, they’re not only used to participating in sports but used to competing and playing and not watching.”
Arceri certainly fits that mold.
He saw the field as soon as he arrived at Penn State and was a key member of a Nittany Lions squad that would go 12-4 in 2017. He also earned an Inside Lacrosse All-American Honorable Mention.
It would make sense for Arceri to be deterred after taking more of a backseat due to his injury. Instead, he looked for the positives and took the change in stride.
Assistant coach John Hogan worked closely with all the faceoff guys. He closely witnessed the process Arceri had to go through after injuring his hamstring in that fateful Sunday-night game.
“One of the more impressive things about Gerard is his mentality within the unit,” Hogan said. “He is an ultra-successful, recognized individual, but the way he’s able to treat and help the wing guys and the other faceoff guys is what I find most impressive about him.”
Hogan could see how disappointed Arceri was by the injury, but he also witnessed the faceoff specialist’s transition from star player to team leader.
“To become injured at that point in that game and at that time of the year was very tough for him,” Hogan said. “But he didn’t sulk or think about himself at all. He was just thinking about how can the team get better.”
When he wasn’t able to compete on the field, Arceri experienced a new perspective. He got to be a coach for Glatz and McEvoy.
“I think I got to know my players on the field a little bit better,” Arceri said. “Having more of a spectating view, I kinda got to see things I don’t normally see when I’m out there actually playing, so I think that was definitely a positive.”
From the sideline, Arceri was able to evaluate the opposing team’s faceoff man. When he got a chance to play, he’d return to the sideline with tips for the others on how to beat the opponent at the faceoff X.
“Even last year when he was hurt he would always either blow the whistle for us during practice or tell us stuff we were doing wrong or how to succeed,” Glatz said.
The experience was enlightening for Arceri, but he still wanted nothing more than to return to the field at full strength.
Arceri used the offseason to make his way back to full health. He also worked with Tambroni as well as Patria to develop a plan to prevent history repeating itself.
When he’s not taking draws, Arceri will be keeping his legs warm on the sideline by riding the exercise bike or lightly jogging back and forth.
Tambroni also expects to have a more confident Glatz come in at times to take some of the pressure off Arceri in high-scoring games or against tough matchups.
“We’re gonna have to continue to monitor Gerard through the course of his career, because it’s just one of those things that you never know,” Tambroni said.
All the precautions are put into place. Arceri has done his physical therapy and says he’s “basically 100 percent.” All that’s left is to perform on the field.
“I know the year didn’t end the way he wanted it to or the way we wanted to as a team, so there’s definitely a lot of hunger still with him,” Hogan said. “I don’t think he’s satisfied by any means where he or this team is viewed. So I think he’s coming back just ready to build off and improve on where he left off, and I think he’s back at the health he needs to do so.”
In Penn State’s first game of the season against Villanova, Arceri passed the eye test. He went 14-16 at the faceoff x as the Nittany Lions steamrolled the Wildcats for their first win of the season.
The quality performance didn’t come without a frightening moment though.
In the second quarter of the game, Arceri won a faceoff and decided to take the ball to the cage himself. On his way through the opposing defense, he took a big hit that sent him to the ground.
Arceri came off the field favoring his leg, giving Tambroni terrible flashbacks.
“Seeing him come limping off the field just brought back some pretty bad memories,” Tambroni said.
Arceri was in a world of pain as he sat on the bench with his helmet off. Trainers taped up the injured leg in attempt to ease the pain.
While Glatz filled in at the faceoff X, Arceri improved from sitting to walking, from walking to jogging, from jogging to running on the sideline. After taking some time to ride the bike to warm up, he was back out on the field.
Arceri finished the game strong, even notching a goal to help secure the 1-0 start for Penn State’s season.
“I think that Gerard is in a good place right now, so I was thankful he was able to get through that and move on,” Tambroni said.
Despite the scare, Arceri managed to shake out any cobwebs still lingering from his time off, a crucial first step in his plan to return to and even surpass his 2018 form.
“If I just keep the same mindset I had last year, maybe even a little bit different—just being in more of a leadership role—I think it should all work out,” Arceri said.