MLAX: Penn State Finishes Non-Conference Undefeated
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Entering their game against Cleveland State, third-ranked Penn State were already off to an incredible start, going 8-0. The Nittany Lions improved upon their record by defeating the Vikings 15-8, improving their program record start to 9-0.
While the 15 goals look like Penn State were dominating the attack, the offense struggled at first due to the tremendous play of Cleveland State goalie Caleb Espinoza. He saved 17 shots and his play kept the Vikings in the game.
The Nittany Lions were able to find their offense as the trio of Nick Aponte, Grant Ament, and Mac O’Keefe recorded 11 of the team’s 15 goals. Aponte explained why the trio work so well together.
“We rely on each other,” Aponte said. “I know if Mac has the ball, it’s just as good an opportunity if Grant has the ball or I have the ball.”
The three goal and two assist performance stretched out his point streak to 41 games. Aponte’s play helped jumpstart the Penn State attack, which took a little bit to get going.
O’Keefe opened the scoring for the Nittany Lions at 13:19 remaining in the first quarter. The freshman was almost unstoppable at times as his ability to find shooting spaces caused havoc on the Vikings’ defense.
O’Keefe’s four goals extended his goal streak to nine and gave him his fifth game of four goals or more in his freshman season. His 34 goals so far are the best in Division I and entered the game second in goals per game at 3.75.
Ament tied O’Keefe for the game-high in goals with four and also added two assists. His constant attack from the X position caused the Vikings chaos as he was able to set up himself or his teammates in front of the net.
The offense was not the only major factor in the Penn State victory as Colby Kneese had 10 saves and only let in seven. His play in net helped keep the Nittany Lions ahead as his shot-stopping ability stalled any chance of Cleveland State coming back.
Penn State’s faceoff specialists kept the Vikings from having any real shot as the Nittany Lions went 20-26 at the faceoff spot. Most of the faceoffs were won by freshman Gerard Arceri, who entered the game second in faceoff percentage at .680.
Penn State head coach Jeff Tambroni talked about how much of a luxury it is to have a player like him.
“He does such a great job each week of preparing from what we need him to do and what he’s so good at,” Tambroni said. “And it was a luxury in the first half.”
Arceri and Aponte are on the Tewaarton Watch list and the two played like the best in the nation against Cleveland State. Their play in the nonconference has been vital as the Nittany Lions enter conference play undefeated.
Penn State opens Big Ten play at home against fourth ranked Ohio State, setting up a top-five matchup that should be a thriller.
Joseph Esquivel-Murphy is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism and Spanish. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.