With Penn State’s early 15-7 loss in the Big Ten Tournament to Johns Hopkins, the 2021 season came to a close for the Nittany Lions.
The 2021 campaign’s ending means the blue and white will have to say its goodbyes to the senior class of players.
The goodbye would have been easier with a Big Ten Championship to hold, but not this season.
Penn State will say its farewell to a multitude of notable players as they look to the future.
Even with the early exit from the playoffs, coach Jeff Tambroni wanted to take the time to appreciate his senior class.
“That was obviously not how we wanted to play in the playoff,” Tambroni said. “But, I want to just focus on the senior class and what a remarkable job these guys have done in their time in Happy Valley.”
The 2021 senior class has seen it all when it comes to ups and downs.
In 2020, they had their season cut short, not knowing if they would even get the chance to take the field once more.
Overcoming adversity every day is what Tambroni thinks makes the 2021 graduating class special in his eyes.
“I think they have been through so much,” Tambroni said. “I think this year, they have been through a ton and last year with the season being halted by COVID, going through unprecedented times in the last 18 months.”
After the defeat, emotions were on full display with players hugging each other, soaking in their final moments together as a team.
When the final buzzer sounded, Tambroni told his guys to not focus on the loss and to just enjoy their final moments with each other.
“I told them to stick around Panzer Field with their families and teammates as long as they want,” Tambroni said.
One of the players that will be saying goodbye is graduate attackman Mac O’Keefe, who is the all-time leading goal scorer in all of Division I lacrosse. But more importantly, O’Keefe has served as Penn State’s captain for the last two seasons.
After the game, he was overcome with emotions, knowing he will never play with the same group of guys again.
“I am obviously upset,” O’Keefe said. “I’m just looking at all the seniors not coming back. All the times that we have had together and knowing that it is all over now, it's really emotional.”
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With the emotions crashing down, O’Keefe was reflecting on all the memories he has had with his teammates over the five years sporting the blue and white.
He is not going to necessarily miss the things that happen on the field, but O’Keefe will miss the memories off the field that he will not be able to recreate.
“I am going to miss the brotherhood,” O’Keefe said. “We may forget the things that happened on the field, but the memories that we have formed off the field and the relationships will last forever.”
O’Keefe and his teammate have left their mark as a major part of the men’s lacrosse program, as they were able to give Penn State its first Big Ten title in 2019.
One of the overarching themes that Tambroni said that his seniors would leave behind is their legacy.
“I have seen them win some remarkable games and do some historic things here at Panzer Stadium,” Tambroni said. “They will leave a legacy.”
Tambroni knows the senior class will have left its mark on the program and cemented itself in Penn State history.
All Tambroni could ask for is that when they got to Happy Valley that they changed it in some way, and he believes they have certainly accomplished that.
“They definitely left Penn State lacrosse better than when they found it four or five years ago when they walked on campus,” Tambroni said. “I am just proud of how these guys have acted in all ways.”
Some of the departing players will continue on to play lacrosse like O’Keefe, but for the others it is the end of their lacrosse career.
No matter where they go, O’Keefe and the rest of the team will carry the special moments they had together everywhere.
“I am just super appreciative of everything I have gained from Penn State and all the relationships that I have formed,” O’Keefe said. “I am going to carry that with me forever.”
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