On March 8, four NCAA lacrosse teams descended on Charlotte, North Carolina for the Crown Lacrosse Classic. The Towson Tigers, the Penn State Nittany Lions, the Cornell Big Red, and the Jacksonville Dolphins came together to put on a show at the Sportsplex at Matthews. Chris Schiller, former professional lacrosse player with the Rochester Knighthawks of the National Lacrosse League and the Rochester Rattlers of Major League Lacrosse, and current assistant head coach for the United States Indoor lacrosse team, leaned on his connections to assemble the impressive collection of talent.
Penn State head coach Jeff Tambroni brought his Nittany Lions south and came away with two decisive victories, 19-13 over the Cornell Big Red Friday night and 24-11 over the Jacksonville Dolphins Sunday afternoon. Tambroni was the first coach Schiller contacted, and for him, it was a no-brainer.
“We were all-in right from the get-go,” said Tambroni after Sunday’s game. “I just thought it was a great opportunity to just get away, number one, on Spring Break, just to get away and hopefully get some decent weather. It was nicer here than it was in State College, that’s for sure.”
Jacksonville head coach John Galloway saw the Crown Lacrosse Classic as an opportunity for his young team to get more quality games in.
“For us, especially being in the South, it’s always important to get games in within our driving distance,” said Galloway. “To have a game like this, against this caliber of teams within five and a half hours of Jacksonville, I think it’s great for the sport, it’s great for the region, the Southeast, to just grow the game and have a chance to come out and watch some of the best teams in the country compete in a three-day series. It’s really very synonymous with the Final Four.”
Towson head coach Shawn Nadelen echoed everyone’s feelings about being approached for an opportunity like the Crown Lacrosse Classic.
“I was excited,” Nadelen said. “An opportunity to play in a Final Four setting where you’ve got two games in three days. Give your guys some experience on how to handle that. . . The teams that he was talking about coming down. Chris and I have known each other for a long time from growing up in the same area. We knew it was going to be a pretty high-level event to give us an opportunity to compete in a Final Four setting.”
As for Cornell, their season got off to a late start, so they came in to the weekend having only played three games. There was a sense that the Crown would be an opportunity for the Big Red to figure out who they were. They started their season 3-0 and putting up some nice numbers on offense, taking down Hobart 19-16 away before two straight home games, a 14-9 victory over Hobart and a tight 17-16 win over Albany.
The combination of the quality of talent and the structure was a common theme among the coaches assembled in Charlotte.
“Coach Schiller did a great job bringing those teams in,” Galloway said. “I think he’s responsible for that. We’re just lucky to be a part of it. Obviously struck a year where these three teams are in the top 10, top five. I think it just worked out really well, and our team is competing. They’re not afraid of these games.”
“Great competition,” Tambroni said. “The three other teams we knew were going to be a great test for us, to challenge us in other ways. I love the format, having to play two games in three days was really enticing. If we’re ever fortunate enough to get into that opportunity in our own Big 10 Tournament, who knows., this will be something we’ll try to pull back on. So our job as coaches is to try to put these guys in as many opportunities as they can to be familiar with some of those uncomfortable situations, and we thought this environment and these teams would provide that.”
The weekend provided a lot of uncomfortable situations for the four teams. Friday night brought temperatures in the low 40s and near-constant rain. Yet while everyone who took the field was soaked after the first two games of the weekend, by Sunday afternoon, their attention had turned toward the benefits of coming to the Crown Lacrosse Classic.
“It was a good experience for us,” Tambroni said. “I think spring break is about team camaraderie, team chemistry. It’s about getting your guys away from the distractions at school, just coming and bonding on the bus, in the hotel. I give our guys a lot of credit, it’s a wonderful group of young men. They’ve bonded very well . . . The games are a bonus, the competition is a bonus. Coming back on spring break, obviously our goal was to be 2-0, but the other goal was to be closer as a team, to create a bond. Get guys around others that they haven’t necessarily spent a lot of time with back up in State College. Hopefully by the time we get back, it’ll be a long bus ride home, hopefully it’ll just be that.”
Both games provided a different insight,” Tambroni said. “We’re proud of our guys for different reasons in both games. In the first game, they came out with a ton of energy I thought from stat to finish. Very well-prepared early and then a lot of poise late which we’re very proud of. Today, we did not get off to a great start, which we were really frustrated and disappointed about, had to kind of dig in a little bit deeper. Then I thought we ended the game in that fourth quarter really well with a different group of guys out there that had been sitting there and watching for a long time. They just played exactly the way we hoped the first group was going to play, just very simplistic, very team-oriented. So it was really nice to see those guys do what they did.”
For Galloway, his attention was focused on how the weekend was preparing the Dolphins for what lay ahead.
“We’ve played Duke, we’ve played Marquette, we’ve played Michigan,” Galloway said. “We’re not afraid of anybody. I think that’s kind of our identity, to play the best and to prepare ourselves for conference which starts next week. This is really the final chapter of our non-conference schedule and couldn’t end it any better than with a team like Penn State.”
Jacksonville may have dropped that game against Penn State, but on Friday evening at the Crown, they took on Towson, the number one team in the country at that point. The Dolphins gave Towson everything they had and just fell short, 15-13. Galloway was not willing to put that game up as a sign of how far his team had come, though.
“We’re kind of past the concept of moral victories,” Galloway said. “I think it was a great game on Friday, but we felt like there were times where we could have brought it within one, even tied it up. Our team is ready to win one of these things.”
Towson may have had high hopes for the weekend, coming in with the top ranking in the land, but they split their weekend after dropping Sunday’s game against the Cornell Big Red 18-11. After the game, Nadelen was able to get his thoughts together about what he and his team had learned.
“I think the guys have got to learn how to prepare for one game and be able to step on the field prepared to play one team, then be able to shift gears and prepare for another team a day later,” Nadelen said. “I don’t think our minds were where they needed to be. I don’t think we engaged as we needed to be in the process and understand our opponents as best as we could. We weren’t sharp in either game, so I feel like that’s something to work on. It gives us an idea of how we might need to change what we did and how we need to get better if we’re in this opportunity again with the CAA tournament or the NCAA tournament. It just gives us an opportunity to learn and grow in an environment like this.”
All-in-all, the Crown Lacrosse Classic turned out to have wide-reaching consequences across the landscape of the NCAA lacrosse world. Penn State came out with the top ranking. Cornell rebounded after a tough loss at the hands of Penn State to hand Towson their first loss of the season and both teams hung on to top five spots in the rankings. Cornell’s head coach, Pete Milliman, came away impressed with the way his team rebounded from their first loss of the season. Clarke Petterson was a force with 10 goals on the weekend while Jeff Teat had two goals and seven assists. Jacksonville proved they were not just an add-on to the festivities. All four coaches came away with plenty to think about after an intense weekend, and if they are able to implement what they learned, the rest of Division I could be in trouble.
As for the Crown Lacrosse Classic, Chris Schiller has plans to make next year even better. Stay tuned.