NCAA Lacrosse Preview 2011: Can Jeff Tambroni Get Penn State Back on the Map?

Bryan SakakeenyCorrespondent IJanuary 14, 2011

Jeff Tambroni
Jeff Tambroni

The Pennsylvania State men's lacrosse team has been active for 98 years, but you obviously didn't know that.

It seems that trumpets herald the mentioning of immortal lacrosse superpowers like Virginia, Syracuse, Princeton and Johns Hopkins, yet Penn State, even in its long existence, has waded through the murky waters of lacrosse mediocrity. Which as we all know, gets you no love on the national stage given lacrosse's fledgling state.

However, the program seems to be heading in a new direction thanks largely in part to the addition of new head coach Jeff Tambroni this offseason. 

Tambroni enjoyed massive success during his previous job at Cornell, navigating the Big Red to three out of the past four championship weekends, coming within one circus play of a national championship in 2009. 

Tambroni replaces well tenured Glenn Thiel at the helm of Penn State lacrosse.  Thiel apparently took his contract cues from Joe Paterno, coaching the team for 33 years but only having two first round appearances to show for it.  In 2010, The Nittany Lions posted an abysmal 2-11 record. 

Now with a full season of fall ball under his belt, Tambroni is already beginning to make an impact at State College.

"We need to change the way we were viewed as a program and the way people thought about us as a program, and that all comes with hard work and dedication and pure investment into the team," Tambroni stressed in his early team meetings.

Not only is Tambroni tasked with changing the culture and attitude of the team, but the roster is in need of revamping as well.  The squad has a few veteran leaders but in the spirit of change, Penn State will be looking for young, fresh faces to take charge in 2011.

"We've got a lot of young guys who are going to play key roles for us this year, and I think that's exciting," assistant coach Pete Toner says. "We'll take our lumps, and those guys will grow by a little trial by fire."

Toner and Tambroni share equal excitement over the players that are coming out of the fold and establishing themselves as the team's stars.  Notably, slippery Matt Mackrides at attack, athletic two-way midfielder Nick Dolik, freshman blue chip recruit Austin Kaut between the pipes and defensive anchor Matt Bernier.

Tambroni's quest to forge a new tradition at Penn State will rely heavily on Bernier and the defense.  Getting back to basics and establishing a solid foundation at the back will be the key to Penn State's other weapons falling into place.

While things appear to be swell in Happy Valley, the question still remains if Penn State and Tambroni can make the jump to an elite level in 2011. The energy at Penn State is positive, but the task may be just a bit too tall.

However, the Nittany Lions will take solace in the fact that the playing field of Division I lacrosse is leveling.  2010 saw a new champion crowned for the first time since 1992. Additionally, an increasing number of teams thought to be obscure are coming out of the woodwork and making waves, more often than not in one year's time.

Inside Lacrosse magazine has pegged Penn State at number 31 in it's preseason rankings. However, don't be surprised if Jeff Tambroni can get the Nittany Lions back on track in 2011 with new talent and a new system, and begin to rebuild a program preceded by 98 years of tradition.