Penn State lacrosse head coach Jeff Tambroni described the cancellation of his team’s season due to the coronavirus pandemic during a conference call with the media last week.
“We’re in unchartered territory," he said, "unchartered times.”
His No. 6 Nittany Lions (5-2) include three Long Island standouts: senior attack and captain Mac O’Keefe (Syosset), senior face-off specialist Gerard Arceri (Smithtown East) and redshirt-senior long-stick midfielder and captain Tommy Wright (Garden City). Penn State was considered a national title contender and started the season ranked No. 1.
“Once we saw that [the Ivy League spring season was cancelled] it was kinda like, ‘what’s going to happen to us?’” O’Keefe said. “You know if one conference went down it’s all probably going to go down eventually.”
The uncertainty of the situation started as the team was coming off a 22-7 dismantling of Furman in Greenville, South Carolina, on March 10, after a disappointing 18-17 loss at Cornell two days earlier.
Before the game, the team was pumped up to play, but had some nervous thoughts.“You hear these rumors going around, but you don’t really know what’s true and what’s not,” said O'Keefe, Penn State’s all-time leading scorer with 192 goals.
According to Wright, Tambroni often says “every game should be played as if it’s your last.”
The team then had an off day in Greenville and were playing at a Top Golf facility when the news first started to circulate on Twitter.
On March 12, following what could have been their final practice together, the team began its nine-hour bus ride back to campus.
Nearing the final leg of the journey, the team found out on Twitter that the NCAA had cancelled spring seasons before Tambroni could tell them.
They needed to pull over at a rest stop to attempt to gain a grip on the situation.
“It didn’t really hit me until we got off the bus…something that was so secure just got taken away so quickly in the blink of an eye,” Arceri said. “It didn’t seem real.”
“For me it was crazy" said Wright. "I was not processing anything at that point.”
Following an emotional meeting with the seniors led by Tambroni, the team made its way back to State College. The players left campus over the weekend.
Back home, Wright and O’Keefe (who said he didn’t leave his house for three days) could finally let reality sink in.
“Arriving back in Long Island, seeing my family it all came full circle for me…it’s definitely a weird time in our lives,” Wright said.
O’Keefe had rarely seen Syosset so quiet.
“It was a complete ghost town,” he said.
The goal was to return to normalcy by “hanging out,” doing homework online, and most importantly continuing to exercise using activities provided by strength and conditioning coach Matt Dorn.
“I have to get active or I will lose my mind,” said Wright, who had been Arceri’s main wing and “bodyguard” the past four years at the face-off. “I am an athlete”
The NCAA has said it plans to extend a year of eligibility to athletes who compete in the spring sports, though how that will work still has not been disclosed.
“It’s a time when I’m sitting back and waiting,” said O’Keefe, who scored 28 goals in five games this season.
This highly touted class reached its first Final Four last year, losing to Yale in the semifinals. Now O'Keefe, Arceri and Wright must wait to see if they can come back to finish the job.
“They’re wonderful ambassadors for our program and our university. We remain hopeful that they will return,” Tambroni said. “I remain hopeful that we won’t be going down this path of a farewell.”