Editor’s Note: Speculation State is a weekly fictional series by our staff that looks at what could’ve occured if Penn State’s athletic teams were able to finish their seasons.
Penn State fielded one of its best teams ever in 2020, but there will never be any hardware to show for it.
Coach Jeff Tambroni and company were primed to make a deep postseason run before the season was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With program figureheads like Grant Ament and Mac O’Keefe, the Nittany Lions bolted out to a 5-2 record with their two losses coming against top-10 competition.
The season was ended before conference play even began, but could Penn State have cemented itself as a perennial contender in 2020?
There’s a lot of parity in college lacrosse, but below are hypothetical results from the rest of the Nittany Lions’ season.
Just one conference loss
The Big Ten was facing a down year, and Penn State definitely took advantage of it.
With a ranked matchup against No. 5 Maryland being their first game in conference play, the Nittany Lions utilized their home field advantage as TJ Malone led the team in scoring with four goals in the eventual 15-13 win.
Fresh off its big win over Maryland, Penn State was caught overlooking Ohio State in its next affair and was routed in Columbus by a score of 14-8.
No Nittany Lion could frequently find the net, with Ament leading the way with four total points on two assists and two goals.
With the traditional powerhouse of Johns Hopkins having a very difficult season, the Nittany Lions found themselves easily defeating the Blue Jays on the road 19-10 with a seven-goal day from O’Keefe to get back on track.
Colby Kneese shined in net for Penn State in its final two games of the regular season, outscoring bottom-feeder programs Michigan and Rutgers 30-14 to end the season with a 9-3 record entering the Big Ten conference tournament.
Easily wins Big Ten Tournament
Hosting its conference tournament, Penn State came out of its two games unchallenged en route to its second straight Big Ten postseason crown.
The Nittany Lions first faced Rutgers in the semifinals and defeated the Scarlet Knights handily.
Ament and O’Keefe each finished with nine points as the team had no trouble in an 18-10 victory to get to the conference final.
On their way out of the locker room prior to the championship game against Maryland, Tambroni and company noticed something in the scenery — dark clouds floating directly above Panzer Stadium.
As the rain started to come down, one thing was made clear. If Penn State wanted to win, every player would have to get his hands dirty in an old-fashioned battle against one of the most storied programs in lacrosse.
And that’s exactly what Penn State did.
It was a defensive match, with neither team able to gain momentum on offense until the fourth quarter. With the two teams tied up at 7-7 heading into the final period of play, Ament faced the Panzer Stadium crowd and simply lifted his arms to provoke some cheers.
The Nittany Lions held the Terrapins to just one fourth-quarter point as they rewarded their faithful fans with an 11-8 victory and a Big Ten championship trophy.
Challenged in first round of NCAA Tournament
Impressing the committee with its grit-and-grind style of play and just three losses, Penn State earned the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and faced unseeded Georgetown in the first round.
The Hoyas, who accomplished a 13-3 season in an underpowered Big East conference, came out firing against the hosts at Panzer Stadium.
The Nittany Lions faced an early 5-1 deficit before Tambroni let his players catch their breaths in a first-quarter timeout in an effort to end the run.
Penn State went on a short run to end the first half and tie things up at 10. The second half was a different story for the Nittany Lions, though, as they went on to defeat Georgetown 19-15 to make it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Coasts by ACC opponent in second round
In its first postseason game away from Panzer Stadium, Penn State didn’t take its foot off the gas against ACC powerhouse Duke.
Directly off the opening faceoff in Hempstead, New York, Gerard Arceri took the ball himself and sprinted downfield to score his third goal of the season.
The Nittany Lions never looked back, and their goal in the opening seconds proved to be game-defining.
Penn State, decked out in its white uniforms, didn’t give up its lead and finished the affair with a 14-9 win over the Blue Devils. Ament tallied 10 points with a season-high eight assists as his quest for his first NCAA championship trophy continued.
Rematch from regular season in Final Four
For its Final Four matchup in Philadelphia, Penn State faced an Ivy League team that it had previously lost to in the regular season.
Sounds familiar, right?
The Nittany Lions were ready for No. 4 seed Cornell the second time around, having previously lost to the Big Red in early March by just one point.
With everything knotted up at 6-6 at halftime, Tambroni called on his seniors to step up and lead the team in the second half to keep the season alive.
With that motivation, an unlikely hero emerged — senior defender Nick Cardile.
Top point-scorers usually get most of the attention, but Cardile’s contribution in the second half was one for the record books.
Cardile forced four turnovers in the second half, two of which being parlayed into quick Nittany Lion goals.
With Cardile’s efforts on the defensive side of the ball, Penn State closed the game on a 7-2 run to win 13-8 as Cornell’s Jeff Teat scored seven of the team’s eight goals.
The rematch with Yale
Yale has been Penn State’s kryptonite over the past couple of seasons, and the Nittany Lions encountered the Bulldogs with a chance to win the coveted NCAA championship.
Penn State hadn’t defeated Yale since 1997 and was 0-3 against the Ivy League program since 2019, most recently losing to the Bulldogs 12-10 at Panzer Stadium in late February.
Just like in their last game, the two teams clashed in a chippy, defensive game that put goal-scoring at a premium. Neither team scored in the first 15 minutes, entering the second quarter in a scoreless tie.
The Bulldogs scored the first goal of the game two minutes into the second quarter, and then the floodgates opened for both teams.
Penn State scored five times on the back of three O’Keefe goals before halftime while Yale scored four times with the Nittany Lions entering the break with a one-point lead.
Yale controlled the ball for most of the game, with faceoff specialist TD Ierlan losing only one faceoff on 29 attempts. Kneese stepped up and stopped the bleeding, eventually tallying 21 saves in one of the best performances of his career.
Unable to get past Kneese often, Yale scored five second-half goals while Penn State took advantage of its one-two punch in Ament and O’Keefe. The duo combined for 10 points in the second half and led the Nittany Lions to a 12-9 victory in the championship.
Tambroni returned to State College with the championship hardware he had been searching for since his arrival prior to the 2011 season and Penn State’s players carved their names in college lacrosse history.
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