By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 2/13/10
The Villanova men’s lacrosse team opens its 2010 season today when it travels to meet Ohio State at 1 p.m.
The Wildcats are coming off perhaps their most successful season in school history when they claimed their first Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) crown and advanced to the NCAA Division I tournament for the first time ever. Villanova went 11-6 overall and knocked off the top two seeds – Hofstra and Towson – in the CAA tournament.
This year, under fourth-year coach Michael Corrado (25-25), Villanova moves to the Big East, in its first year of men’s lacrosse action. The ‘Cats will have to manage without the MVP of the CAA tourney, goalie Andrew DiLoreto, a three-year starter and the anchor of the Villanova defense. Also graduated are the team’s top scorers in Tim Driscoll, Matt Fritts and Chris MacDonald. Another key loss is four-year defensive starter Eddie DiDonato (La Salle), a two-year captain who has made national headlines by surviving an incident which saw him get shot six times in Philadelphia last month.
DiDonato’s recovery from the shooting (he is out of Intensive Care and is expected to make a full recovery) will be one source of motivation for Villanova. Another will be playing in the Big East with the likes of two-time defending national champion Syracuse, Notre Dame and Georgetown as well as Rutgers, St., John’s and Providence. The ‘Cats were picked fourth in the Big East Pre-season Poll.
“We’re excited to be in the Big East,” said Corrado, as he was heading to the team dinner last night in Columbus. “Villanova is a Big East school. We enjoyed being in the CAA, but the opportunity to play these schools will be fun. We’re looking forward to the challenge of playing in one of the top conferences in the country.”
“Losing Eddie is like losing the vocal part of your team defense,” added Corrado. “He would run the defense and help out getting guys prepared for games. You’re losing a lot of veteran leadership with a 4-year starter.”
The Wildcats, though, do return All-American long stick midfielder Brian Karalunss (junior). Karalunas was the CAA Player of the Year and scooped 63 groundballs last year.
The rest of the defense features two key returning starters: senior Bryan McCartney (Archbishop Wood/28 groundballs) and junior Chris Ficke (37 groundballs), as well as senior Greg Boukas and junior Troy Higgins. Sophomore transfer Chris Creighton (Malvern Prep), who played a key reserve role at Fairfield, will back up Karalunas at long pole. T.J. O’Donnell is the top short-stick midfielder. Sophomore Ryan McDonagh is another key backup at close defense.
“We have Brian (Karalunas) back as well as Bryan and T.J. O’Donnell at short-stick midfield and we feel very comfortable on defense,” Corrado said.
Corrado noted that the team has rallied around DiDonato’s fight for survival and his remarkable recovery.
“It happened on a Sunday and we leiterally started practice the next day,” said Corrado. “We were all in shock! I don’t want to say we weren’t unified because we were always a close-knit team. But once we got over the initial shock, this brought us even closer. Thinking of his well-being helped us concentrate as we began to prepare for the season.
“There is a picture of him in the locker room and we talk about him every day at practice. He is still very much a part of what we are doing.” With DiLoreto graduated, sophomore Dan Gutierrez will be the starter. Freshmen Peter Metcalf and Bill Hurley are the reserves.
“Losing Andrew (DiLoreta) is tough,” Corrado said. “He was a 3-year starter in the cage and as a coach you’re always a little nervous about replacing someone like that. But Dan has taken the job by storm and has been outstanding in the preseason.”
The young attack is led by sophomores Kevin Cunningham and Matt Bell and junior Alex Westcott. Freshman Paul Mita (Conestoga), who scored well over 100 goals the past two years for the Pioneers, is vying for time with two more freshman, Jack Rice and Wil Casertano.
“Kevin Cuninngham and Matty Bell have stepped right in,” Corrado said.
At midfield, sophomore C.J. Small (15 goals) , junior Mike Brennan (9 goals, 18 assists) and senior Paul Webber (12 goals, 10 assists) return. Junior Chris Aitken (Haverford School) had seven goals last year and could be a major contributor this season, along with senior Mark Scioscia. Junior Andrew Henrich (La Salle) is expected to be a regular at short-stick midfield and freshman Harte Thompson (Malvern Prep) is vying for time. Sophomore Nolan Vihlen and O’Donnell are the face-off men.
Ohio State (8-8 last year) returns 28 letterwinners and seven starters from the 2009 squad. Four of the returnees were all-ECAC selections, including midfielder James Green (Central Bucks East/senior/15 G, 10 A), defensemen Matt Kawamoto and Scott Foreman and goalie Brandon Freeman.
Green was one of three that earned a spot on the 2010 Preseason All-ECAC Team (Ohio State was slated third). In the Inside Lacrosse Face-Off Yearbook 2010 preseason poll Ohio State was ranked No. 21. The Buckeyes also feature junior defender Packy Campbell (Conestoga), junior attackman Scott Gerland (Radnor) and sophomore midfielder Eddie Bambino (Penn Charter).