Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 2/18/11
From Press Releases
After what could be described as the best seasons in program history, a first-ever NCAA tournament appearance in 2009 and reaching the program’s highest ranking at No. 9 nationally in 2010, the Villanova men’s lacrosse team is preparing for another standout year under the direction of fifth-year head coach Mike Corrado.
The BIG EAST Coach of the Year welcomes back a seasoned group of upperclassmen and perhaps what could be slated as the most talented freshman class to be assembled under Corrado’s direction.
In the inaugural season of BIG EAST Men’s Lacrosse, the Wildcats showed promise and concluded the season on the brink of a berth into the 16-team NCAA Championship field, with signature wins over national finalist Notre Dame and two top-20 teams. Competing in the BIG EAST offers top-notch competition from perennial powerhouse programs like Syracuse, Georgetown and Notre Dame, and with Villanova playing high-caliber lacrosse there’s no reason to doubt their place amongst the nation’s best.
The ‘Cats open their 2011 season Saturday at home against Philly rival Lehigh at noon.
Here is a look at Villanova, position-by-position.
The biggest challenge the Villanova offense will face will be replacing the BIG EAST Midfielder of the Year and top goal scorer of 2010 in Paul Webber and All-BIG EAST Second Team performer, Mark Scioscia. Combined, the duo accounted for 52 goals and 66 points and provided valuable leadership to the inaugural conference squad. However, taking over the reins on attack will be junior Kevin Cunningham and sophomore Jack Rice.
Cunningham began to make a name for himself during his sophomore campaign, tallying 15 goals and 30 assists in his second year on the Main Line and collected All-BIG EAST Second Team accolades for his efforts. Prior to the start of the season, the attackman was chosen as an All-BIG EAST Preseason selection and will be relied upon to quarterback the offense as he begins his stint as an upperclassman.
The steady and consistent play of Rice, who amassed 26 goals as a freshman, will be heavily relied upon to make plays with the addition of classmate Will Casertano. Casertano made an impact posting 13 goals and 11 assists during his first season, good for fifth on the team in total points. Also look for contributions on the front line from senior Alex Westcott, sophomore Paul Mita (Conestoga) and freshman Kevin O’Neil.
A seasoned midfield line will feature several up and coming players who are ready for breakout seasons. Juniors Matt Bell and Michael Vigilante and sophomore Nick Doherty will look to build upon a solid 2010 season where the trio combined for 26 goals and 16 assists.
Vigilante, a strong dodger with possibly the best shot on the team, is now fully recovered from a knee injury suffered during his freshman season, while Doherty is coming off a hamstring injury that plagued him throughout his first year with the team. Bell was a consistent performer for the Wildcats during his sophomore campaign and will continue to be relied upon to step up as a fourth attackman on offense as well.
Senior Mike Brennan will sit out the season after suffering an ACL tear during the fall. Brennan was a solid two-way midfielder who contributed 10 goals and 12 assists during his junior season. Looking to fill Brennan’s absence will be redshirt junior Chris Aitken (Haverford School), juniors C.J. Small and CJ Burke as well as sophomore Max Hart.
Also look for junior Joe Payne, sophomores Harte Thompson (Malvern Prep) and Nick LoBiondo to push for playing time on the midfield line after gaining experience as underclassmen.
Seniors T.J. O’Donnell and Andrew Henrich (La Salle) return as the mainstays at the short stick defensive unit. Together the fourth-years captured 36 ground balls and contributed five assists throughout the 2010 season.
Also pushing for playing time will be freshman Mark Jackson (Malvern Prep), who is coming off a stellar high school career with 32 goals, 11 assists and 42 ground balls with the Friars during his final year with the squad.
Junior Nolan Vihlen returns as the most experienced specialist on the Villanova roster. In 2010, Vihlen garnered a .507 win percentage from the X off of 170-335 attempts. Joining the quest for time will be freshman Thomas Croonquist, who notched a 75% win percentage and picked up 204 ground balls in his senior season, setting a single-season record at Seton Hall Prep. Croonquist brings in all-state honors after finishing a successful fall season adjusting to the college game.
LONG STICK MIDFIELD
Senior Brian Karalunas, the returning 2010 BIG EAST Co-Defensive Player of the Year, two-time USILA All-American and Preseason All-BIG EAST selection will anchor much of the defense for the Wildcats. One of the best position players in the nation, Karalunas began 2011 as the 35th overall pick in the Major League Lacrosse Collegiate Draft, selected by the Long Island Lizards in the sixth round.
In 2010, Karalunas captured 55 ground balls and caused 55 turnovers, leading the NCAA with 3.47 takeaways per contest.
Backing up Karalunas will be freshman John LoCascio. LoCascio comes to the Main Line as a first team All-American and all-state selection after a successful playing career at West Essex Regional in New Jersey.
The Wildcats will reload after graduating Bryan McCartney (Archbishop Wood), one of the best defensemen from 2010, but return several experienced and talented upperclassmen who will easily adjust in McCartney’s role.
Possibly the strongest unit on the field, the Villanova backline will continue to make a mark as a steady force in the BIG EAST. Led by seniors Chris Ficke and Troy Higgins with the addition of junior Chris Creighton (Malvern Prep), the trio combined for 63 ground balls and 26 takeaways in 2010.
Junior Ryan McDonagh will also gain some valuable playing time at close defense after improving during the off season. At 6’1″, 200 lbs. the junior will have the size to compete with some of the best attackmen in the conference.
Sophomore Billy Hurley earned the starting role just five games into the season last year, taking over from junior Dan Gutierrez, and continued to play well throughout his first year between the pipes. Hurley totaled over 580 minutes in net, earning a .514 save percentage and a 7-3 record.