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posted 04.26.2012 at 11.59 a.m. by Jac Coyne

Pittsburgh's Motto is Working So Far

As far as team mottos go, Pittsburgh's is hardly unusual.

"Our motto all season has been one game at a time," said Panthers head coach Alex Perry. "It's actually what our captains came up with and that's how we approach every game."

The funny thing about mottos is, even if you adopt an immensely boring option – "One game at a time" has to be the most hackneyed phrase in sports history – it sounds pretty good when it works.

And whatever is driving Pitt this year, it's working. The Panthers are 11-1 heading into the CCLA tournament that starts next weekend and they appear to have an equally good shot of winning either the conference automatic qualifier (likely over Michigan State) or gaining an at-large bid if they fall short.

"We only control the next game ahead of us," said Perry, hammering home the theme. "If we get the AQ, awesome. But if we get the at-large, even better."

Pittsburgh's push toward its first MCLA tournament berth in program history is somewhat surprising. The Panthers were destroyed by the three ranked teams they played last year – Michigan (20-1), Michigan State (19-3) and Central Florida (22-9) – but Perry said there was inkling early on that the 2012 campaign might be different.

"Last fall, we as coaches started looking around at the guys we had and saw them buy into our systems and work to get each other better," Perry said. "We knew we were going to have a scary-good team, we just needed to time until we got to prove it on the field."

Much of the confidence came from the presence of junior Tyler Novotny, a St. John's (N.Y.) transfer who scored 36 goals and dished out 10 assists last year. The Collegeville, Pa., native has put together an even more impressive campaign this spring (56 goals, 15 assists in 12 games), and has embraced his leadership role.

"He came in swinging straight out of the gates and took a real leadership role on the team whether he wanted to or not, because a lot of the guys looked up to him for being a D-I transfer," Perry said. "After last season, he was elected captain and he is our treasurer."

Novotny didn't act like the D-I big-timer, which helped him instantly impact his teammates.

"He embraced the MCLA," Perry said. "You can enjoy your college experience as well as play good lacrosse and it's as competitive as you want. Recognizing that early on, he said, 'Guys, we've got something great here and let's work to get better.' He brought a seriousness and focus to the team that a lot of guys hadn't seen before. He led by example and everyone else tries to be like him."

Novotny is not a one-man show. He has two solid running mates on attack in junior Joe Grmuss (18g, 18a) and sophomore Alex Powell (19g, 13a). On defense, the Panthers have one of the premier take-away defenders in sophomore Max Carlson (4g, 4a, 74 GBs) and an experienced goalie in Chris Gorham (68.1 sv%).

While a tilt against Michigan State in the CCLA championship game is the one that will precisely determine where Pitt is headed, the Panthers are contractually obligated not look past Ohio University, which will be the likely opponent in the conference semifinals.

That's what life's like playing one game at a time.