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February 8, 2011

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Tuesdays with Corey: PSU All Business

by Corey McLaughlin | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

"He'll have them back on their feet in no time," Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said of his friend Jeff Tambroni, the new coach at Penn State. "In no time," he repeated for emphasis.

© Chloe Elmer

With no apologies to Mitch Albom and "Tuesdays with Morrie," welcome to Tuesdays with Corey.

Here I'll pull together my thoughts on the ever-evolving lacrosse season, into an ever-evolving lacrosse column. The format may change from week to week, as the stories do. But I promise I'll try to make it fun and worth a trip back. I want to touch on the most important or interesting topics at any point of this season -- all the way from chilly February to final four weekend in May for the college level, or even later into the summer for the high school and pro seasons.

There will be some kind of weekly analysis of the top teams and players, or surprises and other notables from a week of lacrosse. Because doesn't a Division I men's team just outside the top 20 always seem to beat the, say, sixth-ranked team, each week in April? Or doesn't some player you've never heard of score a game-winning goal? At least that's what it felt like last season as I attempted to make sense of my top 20 media poll every Sunday night. Something new always happens during the week or weekend.

When applicable, maybe there will be Tweets of the Week from various people from the lacrosse community, or an Old-School Spoken Quote(s) of the Week – you know, words spoken in a conversation with reporters from those things called newspapers, or to me. I hope to be at as many games as I can.

So there's the manifesto, a glimpse of what to expect in this space from your friendly Lacrosse Magazine staff writer by way of Long Island. I hope to provide enough reasons to stop by for a few minutes here. Please leave comments below or send feedback to cmclaughlin@uslacrosse.org, and I'll feature those here too. And please continue to check out laxmagazine.com on the Web or on your mobile devices all season long for scores, news, updates and everything you'd want to know about this growing sport.

Without further adieu...

Penn State: All Business

It's difficult to quantify how the arrival of Jeff Tambroni at Penn State will translate into wins and losses this spring for the Nittany Lions. A ground ball here or a pipe shot there could always swing the outcome of any game. It doesn't mean the coach is any better or any worse than he or she was at the start, or that he or she is having any more or less of an impact.

What's safe to say is Tambroni is having the impact some observers thought he would in Happy Valley through his first six months there. There are visual cues, like players taking a business-like approach by wearing suits to and from the locker room during scrimmages. And there are the words coming straight from the players that make it sound as if this Penn State's season will be drastically different than in 2010, when they finished 2-11 in former coach Glenn Thiel's final season.

What's different?

"The overall mindset of the team in every facet of the game: attack, midfield, defense," junior attacker and team co-captain Matt Mackrides said Saturday after Penn State scrimmaged Johns Hopkins. (The Blue Jays won, 7-4.) "There's an overall focus as one unit. In years previous, we might have had some guys stray, but this year it seems to be one unit and that's what we were trying to focus on today – becoming a team."

"As a whole, we played really competitive and I like that a lot," said senior defenseman Matt Bernier, another co-captain. "Even in the fourth quarter, we were cheering for a guy that made a hit in the last second there. That was so much fun to watch. Everybody was so engaged the entire time. Everybody has so much invested. We really played for each other, which was huge."

Tambroni was known at Cornell, where he was head coach the last 10 seasons, for getting the most out of his players and pushing the right motivational buttons. Three of his last four Big Red teams reached the the final four, and Cornell won at least a share of the Ivy League title the last eight seasons. This story from Syracuse.com last spring does an excellent job describing Tambroni's attitude and philosophy.

On the eve of his first spring at Penn State, Tambroni said he is getting more comfortable with the players he inherited, perhaps learning what buttons he can and cannot push with certain individuals and the type of group he has heading into the season.

"I felt much more comfortable coming out here today than I did this fall," Tambroni said after the scrimmage. "This fall we were just learning names and they were learning systems. I thought today we came out as a team. Our coaching staff and our unit came out much more unified and more comfortable. That's to be expected and, hopefully, it will continue to grow the more time we spend together. I think we have a better assessment of what's good, what's not working so well and what are our strengths and weaknesses."

How any increased familiarity translates into non-conference games and the CAA season remains to be seen. But Tambroni has at least one supporter who thinks success will come earlier than others are expecting: Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala. He is Tambroni's friend and hired Tambroni as an assistant at Cornell in 1997. He also recommended to Cornell that Tambroni succeed him when he left for Hopkins in 2000.

"He'll have them (Penn State) back on their feet in no time," Pietramala said Saturday. "In no time," he repeated for emphasis. "Some people are saying, 'Well, It's going to take time.' Everything takes time. He's good at what he does."

Maybe hold off on that final four talk this season, but Tambroni has Penn State headed in the right direction already. Just wait until he gets one or two recruiting classes in.

Pietramala said about Tambroni on the recruiting circuit, "I'm hearing him. That's a change already. He'll do a great job. He's the right guy for the job."

For more, check out this extensive Q&A with Tambroni from my visit to State College this fall.

The High Five

Adelphi is the best team in college lacrosse, regardless of gender or division, according to Corey McLaughlin's "High Five" rankings.

Each week, I'll rank the top five NCAA teams in the nation, regardless of gender or division affiliation, in one all-inclusive top-five list. Here is the preseason version.

1. Adelphi women (Division II)
"The only thing D-II about is is that we're in D-II," Adelphi coach Joe Spallina told LMO this fall after the two-time defending D-II champs from Long Island beat Georgetown and Johns Hopkins by one goal each during fall-ball scrimmages. The Panthers are the most dominant team at any level. Adelphi returns the top seven scorers from a team that finished 19-1 last season and beat West Chester, 17-7, in the title game. Spallina has compiled a 53-2 record in three seasons.

2. C.W. Post men (Division II)
The two-time defending champs need to replace faceoff stud Mike Cama, but they have other pieces in place. Mike Messina and Keith Rodriguez lead the midfield, Nick Coric is a terrific quarterback on offense, Eddie Plompen is a finisher and long-stick middie Dan DaCosta is a force. The favorite to three-peat.

3. Maryland women (Division I)
A 16-4 loss to the U.S. national team at Champion Challenge was an exhibition, and that type of result was to be expected. But this team is loaded, returning 60 percent of its scoring from the 2010 team that went 22-1 and ended the Northwestern dynasty. Maryland's Karri Ellen Johnson (69 goals) is Lacrosse Magazine's preseason women's D-I player of the year.

4. Northwestern women (Division I)
I still can't put out of my mind that this team won five championships in a row, and I don't think they can either. The Wildcats know what success looks and feels like, and they have to be hungry after hearing plenty about how their dynasty is over. Junior Shannon Smith will be expected to lead a young attack.

5. Hamilton women (Division III)
Not the defending champs, but the Continentals won their first 21 games before falling to Salisbury, 7-6, in the title game. Senior middie Sarah Bray leads them (29g, 47a, 70 GBs in 2010). Lauren Sokol is a returning first-team All-American defender as a junior.

On the bubble: Syracuse men, Virginia men, Tufts men, Salisbury women, Cortland men, Salisbury men, North Carolina men and women, Stony Brook men, Le Moyne men.

Quote of the Week

Thanks to Lacrosse Magazine scribe Clare Lochary for passing along this link from Foreign Policy Magazine's online blog. As she said, not to trivialize the situation in Egypt, but ...

"On Friday, police forces mysteriously disappeared and thousands of prisoners suddenly escaped from several facilities. Reports of chaos and looting in the streets dominated state television, while the army did little to provide security beyond protecting government buildings. Neighborhoods have set up local watch groups, grabbing makeshift weapons like kitchen knives, baseball bats, and even, I saw in one report, lacrosse sticks."

We'd like to know the story of those lacrosse sticks.

Super Bowl-related Tweet of the Week

I'm not sure if this was tweeted before, after or during Christina Aguilera's botched national anthem, but it was sent from the same building in which she sang.

"Pepsi execs are taking our phones from us to stay focused on the game. Well, hope ELEVATOR GIRL airs. Thanks guys." -- @MichaelDoneger.

It came from former Johns Hopkins attackman Michael Doneger, whose self-created 30-second commercial was one of 10 finalists chosen from about 5,600 submissions to the Doritos/Pepsi Max Crash the Super Bowl Contest. Doneger watched the Super Bowl from a private suite at Cowboys Stadium with the other finalists. His commercial was not one of the six from the contest that aired. "Worse things in life for sure," he tweeted.


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