HEISER: Here's a story that deserves notice from Penn State fans and lacrosse lovers

Penn State men's lacrosse head coach Jeff Tambroni  is seen with his team during halftime  of their game against Villanova on Feb. 2, 2019. Tambroni has led the Lions to an 8-1 start and a No. 1 national ranking.

Imagine, for a moment, that the Penn State football team was ranked No. 1 in the nation.

Then imagine that the Nittany Lions were coming off a stirring road victory over a Big Ten rival that was ranked No. 3 in the nation.

Finally, imagine that the latest victory came against one of the most storied programs in the nation — a program that had owned a 36-0 lifetime record vs. PSU, not to mention three national championships.

If that was the case, you wouldn’t need a great imagination to predict the reaction in these parts.

York County would be gripped by Nittany hysteria. Folks would be strutting around town adorned from head-to-toe in blue and white. The area water-cooler talk would be dominated by the latest exploits of James Franklin’s Lions.

Well, you obviously know we’re not talking about PSU football. The PSU grid opener is still five months away.

Compelling story: Still, there’s another compelling story developing in Happy Valley that is receiving relatively little attention.

For folks who haven’t been paying attention — and many of you haven’t — the PSU men’s lacrosse team checks every box listed above.

The Lions (8-1) are ranked No. 1 in the nation by both Inside Lacrosse and the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association coaches, receiving 46 of a possible 47 combined first-place votes.

They’re coming off a 13-10 triumph on Sunday night over No. 3 Maryland in College Park in the Big Ten opener for both teams. It was PSU’s first-ever varsity triumph over the Terps, who own three national titles, winning the crown as recently as 2017. In 2018, Maryland entered the NCAA D-I playoffs as the No. 1 overall seed. The Terps have made the NCAA D-I finals a whopping 14 times.

So, in the college lacrosse world, PSU’s win over Maryland was a pretty big deal.

Penn State's Grant Ament (1) is seen here during a recent game vs. Penn. Ament is one of the Nittany Lions' top offensive threats.

Blip on the radar: Still, around here, it’s hardly created a blip on the sports radar. In fact, when it comes to Internet clicks, stories about PSU’s spring football practices are almost certainly generating exponentially more interest. The PSU Blue-White spring game, essentially an exhibition contest, will likely attract a crowd of more than 70,000. A typical PSU men's lacrosse game will draw less than 1,000.

Of course, that’s just the nature of our national sports scene. Football undeniably rules America's athletic landscape. And in central Pennsylvania, PSU football is king.

Nevertheless, the accomplishments of the 2019 PSU men’s lacrosse team shouldn’t slip by unnoticed. That’s especially the case here in York County, which is packed with Penn State fans and alumni and where lacrosse interest has flourished over the past couple of decades.

Penn State's Mac O'Keefe (3) is seen here during a game vs. Robert Morris earlier this season. O'Keefe has helped the Nittany Lions to the No. 1 national ranking.

Breakthrough season: This has the makings of a breakthrough season for coach Jeff Tambroni’s Lions. PSU has made just four NCAA tournament appearances in program history, losing in the first round each time.

The Lions have a respectable lacrosse tradition, to be sure, but they’re certainly not regarded as a traditional national lacrosse powerhouse. They didn’t even make the NCAA tournament field in 2018, so to be ranked No. 1 in 2019 is rather remarkable.

While it may be remarkable, it’s also deserved. PSU already owns wins over No. 3 Maryland, No. 6 Penn and No. 10 Cornell. The Lions’ only loss was 14-13 at No. 5 Yale, which just happens to be the defending national champion. Grant Ament (10 goals, 48 assists) and Mac O’Keefe (38 goals, 10 assists) have led the way for the Lions.

Lots of season left: Of course, there’s still a ton of lacrosse yet to be played. The Lions have four regular-season contests remaining, including a key home contest at the Lions' new 1,300-seat Panzer Stadium (bet you didn’t know that was the name of PSU’s home field) on Sunday night vs. No. 9 Ohio State.

That will be followed by the Big Ten and the NCAA tournaments. There are certainly no guarantees that the Lions will make a postseason splash.

Still, it’s been quite a ride so far, and it should be a fascinating story to follow in the weeks and months to come.

It’s not PSU football. There’s no denying that.

However, it has been, and will likely continue to be, a sports drama worth our attention.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.