Freshmen aren’t meant to have great impact during their first season, and they usually aren’t looked upon to lead a team to victory.

Yet after the Fairfield men’s lacrosse team upset No.19 Penn State 10-6 on Saturday, it was a freshman the Stags all ran towards to congratulate.

In his first game against a nationally ranked team, freshman goalie Mike Kruger showed remarkable poise and ability between the pipes. He made 18 saves, including seven in the final quarter to clinch victory against the Nittany Lions for the first time in school history.

“It was huge,” said Kruger. “It was my first big game in college.”

Head Coach Ted Spencer agreed with his young goal keeper.

“It was the greatest win we’ve ever had,” said Spencer. “So many people stepped up. It was just a big-time win.”

While Kruger was excited about his performance, he admits he felt some anxiety entering the game, as he did not know what to expect from his tough opponents.

“I was a little nervous before the game,” he said. “But Coach Spencer told me that the coaches believed in me and that made me feel good.”

The win, which improves the Stags to 3-0 on the season, not only represents the Stags’ first victory against Penn State, but also marks only the second time in the program’s 12-year history they have opened with three straight wins.

Coming into the game, the Stags sought to neutralize the threat of Penn State’s offense with better ball control and efficient shooting.

“We didn’t overshoot and it really paid off,” said Spencer. “We knew it would be hard to beat them but we would just have to outplay them.”

The Stags dominated the first 17 minutes of play as they jumped out to a 6-0 lead, holding the Nittany Lions scoreless until 10:22 remaining in the half.

“We played smart defense, controlled the ball, had great goalkeeping and we never let them get into a tempo,” said Spencer.

“It was definitely a big confidence booster,” said fellow freshman Greg Downing, who contributed a goal on Saturday. “Coming in and beating a Top 20 team shows we can definitely beat any team.”

Along with Kruger, Fairfield received a superb effort from Peter Vlahakis ’04, this week’s MAAC Player of the Week, who dominated face-offs, winning 15 of 20 attempts. Last season, Vlahakis finished seventh in the nation in face-off winning percentage with a 63.3 percent mark.

“It all begins with controlling the face-off and ends with solid goalkeeping,” said Spencer. “Vlahakis was dominant and Kruger really showed what he could do in goal.”

The young goalkeeper replaced C.J. Kemp this season. Kemp was the 2002 Great Western Lacrosse League Player of the Year as well as Fairfield’s first All-American.

“Those are big shoes to fill,” said Downing. “At first [Kruger] seemed kind of nervous, but he’s starting to settle in.”

Kruger, however, hopes to focus on improving, thinking little about the player he is replacing.

“People don’t expect me to be like [Kemp],” said Kruger. “So I don’t really think about it that much.”

Fairfield hopes Kruger will help maintain the success they experienced against Penn State, yet realize it’s still early in the season, and that the team has a long road of league games ahead of them.

“It’s easy to beat good teams early,” said Spencer. “But games like this are so important going into league games. They prepare us for teams like Notre Dame, Ohio State and Denver.”

The Stags hope to continue their momentum into conference play, with their first GWLL game against Butler on April 4.

“As good as we are, we will have a real tough time in the league this year because the teams are so good,” said Spencer. “We have our work cut out for us and it only gets harder. But we won’t take anyone for granted.”

“We feel we are really underrated,” said Kruger.

“People don’t give us respect and we want to prove them wrong. We can beat anyone on our schedule,” Kruger said.

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