By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 8/25/13
Kevin Cassese had a vision of building a perennial power six years ago when he took the job as head men’s lacrosse coach at Lehigh.
Today that vision has taken shape.
And Saturday at PPL Park after the first period of the second semifinal game of Major League Lacrosse Championship Weekend, Cassese’s Mountain Hawks were honored on the field for winning two consecutive Patriot League championships and being ranked among the top 20 teams in the nation running for two years.
Cassese arrived in 2008 with Lehigh coming off a 4-9 season. His first two seasons (6-9 and 4-11) laid the groundwork and then in 2010 Lehigh went 8-7 before going 7-9 in 2011. In those years, the Mountain Hawks appeared close to moving past being a .500 team, but lacked consistency.
Then the breakthrough year came in 2012 when Lehigh went 14-3 and defeated Colgate, 16-14, for its first Patriot League title and first NCAA playoff game. The Mountain Hawks lost a heartbreaker to eventual finalist Maryland, 10-9, in the NCAA first-round playoff, but they had hit the spotlight by being ranked among the top 10 teams for much of the year.
Then this year Lehigh repeated as Patriot champs, going 12-5 while losing to North Carolina in the first round of the NCAAs
“He (Coach Cassese) planted the image and told us we could turn around the program,” said defenseman Mike Noone (La Salle), who earned USILA Honorable Mention All-America honors this year as a senior. “He told us that we’d be the kids to do it and he made it a reality.
“It was something to dream of turning around a program, but you never know if it can happen until it does. It’s kind of surreal.
“I think, following him, he had an image and we accepted that image. It was impressive the hard work that went into it. We followed him and he led the way.”
Noone and the rest of the Mountain Hawks were told in the middle of the summer that they had been invited to attend the game for the celebration. Cassese, a former MLL star for the champion Philadelphia Barrage, also was seen on ESPN’s telecast after his team was honored.
“It’s awesome I don’t think most of us have seen a live MLL game,” said rising senior Ty Souders (Emmaus), also an Honorable Mention All-American in 2013. “It’s been a great journey; and it’s taken a lot of hard work and dedication to get here.
“Since we were freshmen, from the top it’s been a process to get here. We have to continue to improve and keep working hard. Now that we have these expectations, it’s makes us want it that much more.
“People expect us to be good and we have to prove people right; or we have to prove the doubters wrong.”