Fall Snapshot: Penn State Nittany Lions

(Photo Courtesy of Penn State Athletics)

Welcome to the Fall Snapshot series. Throughout the fall I will be taking an early look at all 75 DI men’s college lacrosse teams and giving a snapshot of where each is heading into the 2023 season.

Head Coach: Jeff Tambroni (13th Season, 2011-Current)

Penn State 2022 Record: 3-11 (1-4 Big Ten)

Key Departures: Dan Reaume (A), Brayden Peck (D), Brian Townsend (D/LSM)

Key Returners: Will Peden (A), Jack Traynor (A/M), Mac Costin (M), Hudson Bohn (FO), Aleric Fyock (G), Jack Fracyon (G)

Transfer Additions: Kevin Winkoff (A, Binghamton), Chris Jordan (A, St. Lawrence), Chase Mullins (FO, North Carolina), Richie Hughson (FO, Providence), Brent McVicker (SSDM, Drexel)

One one hand, Penn State beat Yale and suffered one-goal losses to Villanova, Penn, Cornell, Bucknell, and Rutgers last season. On the other hand, the Nittany Lions went 3-11 overall and 1-4 in Big Ten play to mark its second consecutive losing season. It is the first such instance since the 1980s and first time it has happened under Jeff Tambroni. And this is a program that made Championship Weekend in 2019.

Penn State has had one heck of a ride the last few seasons. Injuries have plagued the roster and forced lineup changes nearly every week. Couple that with the fact that, in spite of those injuries, the Nittany Lions almost knocked off some of the best teams in college lacrosse last season and things start to sting a little more. But also, optimism starts to creep in. Were the Nittany Lions that far off in 2022? If not for its youth and inexperience in most weeks could they have been much better?

No matter what happened last season, or in 2021 for that matter, one fact remains: things haven’t been to happy in Happy Valley as of recent. Heading into 2023, Jeff Tambroni and his staff will be looking to shake off the past two years and get this program back on track. And part of that plan includes a multitude of transfers to bring in much needed experience to what is still a younger roster.

Burning Questions

What to Expect From The Defense?

Anchored by a freshman Colby Kneese in cage and led out in front by star pole Chris Sabia, the 2018 Penn State defense allowed 9.57 goals per game as the 24th best scoring defense in college lacrosse. Since then, however, things have only gone down hill on that end of the field for the Nittany Lions. Penn State allowed 11 goals per game in both 2019 and the shortened 2020 season, and allowed 13.4 goals per game in 2021. Last spring, under the tutelage of new defensive coordinator Mike Murphy, the Nittany Lions allowed 13.64 goals per game as the 58th ranked scoring defense in DI. Big Ten opponents put up an average of 14.6 goals on Penn State in 2022.

From that defense last season, close defenseman Brayden Peck and LSM Brian Townsend are gone after five years in Happy Valley. Returners include Kevin Parnham (38GB/12CT), who started all 14 games at close as a freshman, and Pup Buono (19GB/10CT), who was also a freshman last season and saw a lot of action at LSM. Senior Jack Posey (13GB/9CT) and graduate student Brett Funk (11GB/6CT) are key veterans returning. Posey played in 12 games with nine starts at close. Funk came into 2022 as a two-year starter at close and missed most of the year due to injury. Goalies Aleric Fyock and Jack Fracyon both return (we’ll talk about that more below).

Different from last year will be the voice on the sideline as Joe Bucci took over as the Nittany Lions’ defensive coordinator over the summer after two years in the same position at UMBC. He led a Retrievers defense in 2021 and 2022 that was a top 10 unit. Now he is tasked with guiding this Penn State defense to greener pastures.

How Impactful Will The Transfers Be?

Penn State was quite active in the transfer portal over the summer as Jeff Tambroni snatched up four transfers to help bolster this roster in 2023. Penn State added a pair of grad transfer attackmen in Kevin Winkoff (Binghamton) and Chris Jordan (St. Lawrence), as well as a pair of faceoff men in Richie Hughson (Providence) and Chase Mullins (North Carolina). An impact is expected to be see from this group, but just how big will that impact be and can it help right the ship in Happy Valley?

Winkoff and Jordan look to be immediate impact players and starters on an offense that saw freshman combine for 30 starts last season. Winkoff is coming off a senior season with the Bearcats where he led the team with 37 goals and 18 assists for 55 points. Jordan was the leading scorer for his St. Lawrence team last spring as he tallied 89 points off 40 goals and 49 assists. Those two join and offense that returns the likes Will Peden (11G/22A) and Mac Costin (20G/4A), and will also get a healthy Jack Traynor back. The pair could provide both steady production and leadership on that end.

At the faceoff dot, Chase Mullins is the headlining addition. A 2021 Under Armour All-American, Mullins left North Carolina halfway through the season and has a ton of upside at the college level. Richie Hughson spent his freshman season at Providence where he went 49-for-112 as the backup. The pair join a faceoff room that returns its top option from a year ago in Hudson Bohn (132-for-284, 46.5%).

What is The Goalie Situation?

Aleric Fyock took over as the full time starter for the regular season of 2022. The Bowie, Md., native made 139 saves on the year with a 50% save percentage. That included a 21-save day in the Nittany Lions’ upset victory over Yale.

Down 9-4 at halftime at Johns Hopkins in the second to last game of the regular season, Fyock was pulled for highly-touted freshman Jack Fracyon. Playing the entire second half, Fracyon made 11 saves with a 73% save percentage in the 13-10 loss. After taking over during that second half against the Blue Jays, Fracyon never left the net agains during the 2022 season as he started as he played the entirety of Penn State’s narrow 15-14 loss against Rutgers in the regular season finale and its Big Ten Quarterfinal game against Johns Hopkins. Earlier in the spring, Fraycon had played the second half against Lafayette, Bucknell, and Maryland. He ended his freshman season with a total of 64 saves with a 53.8% save percentage.

The goalie position is one of the most interesting, and important, spots to watch on this Penn State roster. Does Fracyon take over the full-time starter or does Fyock still have a chance to assume that. However it plays out, it’s a situation worth watching.

Potential Breakout Player

Ethan Long, Midfield, Sophomore

Long played in 10 games and saw four starts as a freshman last season. He netted six goals and 12 assists for 18 points last spring. Long could very well take a step forward in 2023 as a part of the Nittany Lions’ midfield rotation.

Freshman Class

For the second consecutive cycle, Penn State brings in an unbelievable recruiting class. The 12-man class is headlined by Under Armour All-American attack Matt Lazzaro (Deerfield, Mass.). He is rated as a five-star and ranked as the No. 18 player in the class by Inside Lacrosse. In an offensive-heavy class, LSM Ryan O’Connor (Springfield, Pa.), Will Costin (Malvern Prep, Pa.), and Alex Ross (Archbishop Spalding, Md.) are the lone three freshman on that defensive end.

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