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College preview: @SJUHawks_MLAX seeks NEC championship, NCAA berth

Tuesday, 16th February 2016

Categories Boy's/Men's, College  
 

Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 2/16/16
From Press Release

The Saint Joseph’s men’s lacrosse team will open the 2016 season at home against VMI this Saturday, February 20 at 1:00 p.m., the first of eight home games to be played on Sweeney Field this spring.

Pat Swanick

Pat Swanick

Under the direction of fifth-year head coach Taylor Wray, Saint Joseph’s returns 31 Hawks, including seven starters, and welcomes 14 newcomers for the 2016 season. Senior midfielder Rich Gabelman, senior defenseman Joe McErlean (Bishop Shanahan), senior attackman Pat Swanick (St. Joseph’s Prep), senior defenseman John Winchell and junior attackman Mike Rastivo were selected captains for the 2016 season.

“We’re excited to begin the 2016 season,” said Wray. “We feel like our team has a lot to prove. Right now, all we are focused on is improving and coming together as a group. Our approach is taking it one day at a time, one practice at a time, getting better inch by inch, and working to be prepared for the season opener on February 20th.”

The Hawks will embark on their third year in the Northeast Conference this spring. Last year, Saint Joseph’s posted an 11-6 record and went 6-0 in regular-season league play en route to clinching the NEC regular-season title and advancing to the NEC championship game. Recording back-to-back 11-win seasons, the Hawks are 22-10 overall and an undefeated 12-0 in the NEC regular season over the last two years. SJU returns six All-NEC selections from last season.

SJU will open NEC action at Hobart in Geneva, N.Y. on March 26 and will see an even three-home, three-road match schedule for league play. The Hawks were voted second in the NEC preseason poll, the league office announced on February 9. The 2016 Northeast Conference Championships will run from May 5-7 at the top seed’s institution.

OFFENSE
The Hawks return four of last season’s five 20+ point scorers this season in 2015 NEC Offensive Player of the Year junior Mike Rastivo (43g, 19a), 2015 NEC Rookie of the Year sophomore Chris Blewitt (18g, 12a), and All-NEC Second Team picks in seniors Kevin Forster (La Salle, 18g, 17a) and Swanick (19g, 3a). This core combined for over half of SJU’s total goals (98-of-182) and points (149-of-284) in 2015.

After posting a team-best 62 points in 17 starts last season en route to leading the NEC in points per game (3.65) and goals per game (2.53), Rastivo will be expected to lead the Hawks on the offensive end of the field this season. Rastivo reached single-game career highs in points (9), goals (6), assists (3), and shots (13) last as a sophomore last year and scored in 16 consecutive games. Last season’s point (62) and goal (43) totals rank second in SJU’s all-time single-season records.

Blewitt led all SJU freshmen in all offensive categories last season and will look to continue last season’s momentum into his sophomore season. He made all 17 appearances with 16 starts and scored in 11 games, including a behind-the-back, overtime game-winner against Hobart in the regular-season home finale to clinch SJU’s right to host the NEC Championships on Sweeney Field.

Three-year starting attackman Swanick will round out SJU’s attacking trio. Last year, Swanick made 16 starts and matched a single-game career high four goals against Wagner and added three scores against then-#7 UVA. The senior captain has scored 15+ goals in each of his three seasons on Hawk Hill.

Forster wasted no time breaking into SJU’s midfield after arriving at Hawk Hill from Maryland last season en route to making 14 starts for Crimson and Gray. He recorded a career-high eight points on two goals and a career-high six assists against Robert Morris and added a hat trick and two assists against then-#7 UVA.

Junior Ray Vandegrift (Penn Charter) tallied 10 points (8g, 2a) in 16 appearances, including nine starts, last season while junior Kevin Reidinger, who scored four goals in 14 appearances, and redshirt sophomore transfer Hayes McGinley, will also be in the midfield mix.

Junior Anthony Joaquim has appeared in all 32 games over his first two seasons and is a factor on both the offensive and defensive ends of the field; as a sophomore last season, Joaquim turned in 11 points (5g, 6a) and added 47 ground balls.

From the defensive midfield position, sophomore Davis Stoner (22GB, 9CT) and junior Evan Wolf (14 games played) played at high levels for the Hawks last season, and expectations for both are high this year. Junior Tyler Cliggett (St. Joseph’s Prep) has joined the defensive midfield this season and brings great speed and offensive ability to the transition game.

The Hawks have significant depth with their veteran duo of seniors Bryan Garrahan (Archmere Academy, career 10g, 2a) and Gabelman (career 8g, 6a), who both saw time in more than half of last season’s games and own more than 35 career appearances apiece, while juniors Marcus Milione and Robert Raucci (Garnet Valley) and sophomores Jason Kelly (Salesianum School), Kyle Cain, and Mike Bano will round out SJU’s returning attackmen and midfielders.

Despite the loss of graduate Ryan McGee, one of the most prolific scoring threats in SJU program history, Wray holds high expectations for SJU’s offensive unit in 2016.

“Our half-field offense has been a strength for our team, and we believe it will continue to be a strength,” said Wray. “As always, Coach Keating is doing a terrific job of putting our players in positions to be successful. Having our starting attack together again this year gives us solid leadership and continuity at that end, and that’s important as our midfield group continues to come together.”

The Hawks bring in a pair of decorated attackmen in 2015 U.S. Lacrosse High School All-American Danny Bullis and 2015 USA U-18 Box Team selection Michael Major (Holy Ghost Prep) while three-time Wesley Chapel Athletic Association champion Liam Fitzpatrick, 2015 High School All-American Drew Gaffney, 2015 U.S. Lacrosse All-American Zach Hare (Spring-Ford), 2015 USA Today All-Pennsylvania State First Team selection Daniel Lanham (Garnet Valley), 2015 Non-Public All-New Jersey State Second Team selection Thomas LaRose, and 2015 Bob Wright All-Around Midfielder award winner Jack Lombardo will add to SJU’s midfield.

FACE-OFF

2015 All-NEC Second Team selection Mike Lanham returns to the X for his junior season this spring. Lanham went 159-of-290 at the face-off last season, winning over half (team-best .548) of his opportunities for the Crimson and Gray, to go with 70 ground balls in all 17 games. He earned double-digit wins at the X nine times, including a career-matching 17 wins at Delaware. In the NEC opener at Bryant, Lanham won the game’s final face-off with six seconds to play to set up the buzzer-beater gamewinner. He owns a career percentage of 54.9% (212-of-386) to go with 100 ground balls.

Classmate Danny Manning saw face-off action in all but one game last season and went 33-of-82 (.402) from the X in 16 games. Manning won a season-high eight face-offs (8-of-15) and added a season-high four ground balls against Michigan and owns a career percentage of 43.9% (82-of-187) to go with 40 ground balls.

Freshman Daniel Lanham (Garnet Valley) will also look for opportunities at the X after registering a .780 winning percentage (320-of-410) from the face-off to go with 17 points (5g, 12a) for Garnet Valley last season.

“We are counting on our face-off group to help control momentum and keep us ahead in the possession battle,” said Wray. “We feel like we have three great options there, and it is going to be a matter of who matches up best with the guy we are facing.”

DEFENSE
For the second consecutive season, Saint Joseph’s defensive unit led the nation in Extra Man Defense in 2015, holding opponents to 12 goals in 60 opportunities (80%). Two-time All-NEC First Team senior defenseman John Winchell returns to lead the Hawks’ back line in 2016. Winchell recorded 26 ground balls and a single-season career-best 23 caused turnovers in all 17 starts last season en route to ranking fourth in the NEC in caused turnovers per game (1.35).

Juniors Charles Giunta (Penn Charter) and Shane Taggert will also start on the back line. Giunta earned significant experience in his first two seasons, filling the role of injured players, and made 12 starts last season, including against Bryant in the NEC Final. Taggert owns 22 games worth of experience through his first two seasons, including 13 games last year.

Sophomore transfer Nick Buckley (La Salle College Prep/Bellarmine) and senior McErlean can also be in the mix come opening day. Buckley was a 2014 All-Catholic First Team defenseman at La Salle College Prep and arrived on Hawk Hill by way of Bellarmine University this fall. McErlean scooped up 29 ground balls in 24 games throughout his first two seasons before missing most of last season due to injury.

Junior Connor Kubikowski was utilized in all 17 games last year and owns 35 ground balls and 10 caused turnovers in 32 career games played while classmate Jared Wolf, now a long stick midfielder, will add to SJU’s depth with his solid transition game and a shot that can reach 109mph.

Senior Cameron Riley and sophomores Sam Camp, Brendan McNicholas (Avon Grove), and Austin Smith will add depth to SJU’s defensive unit while three rookies in 2015 High School All-American Dustin Buchanan (Central Bucks East), 2015 U.S. Lacrosse High School All-American Zack Reiss, and 2015 All-New Jersey State First Team selection Thomas Tarleton will also compete for time on SJU’s back line.

Despite losing the leadership and talent of a trio of graduates in two-time All-NEC First Team LSM Will Farrell, two-time All-NEC Second Team defenseman Kevin Barrow, and two-year team captain Jack Moran, Wray expects his defensive unit to continue to reach high levels of success this spring.

“We definitely miss Will, Kevin, and Jack,” said Wray. “Those guys logged a lot of minutes for us over the last four years, and it’s tough to replace that kind of experience. With that said, we’ve been pleased with how our returning defenders have stepped up into those roles. Giunta and Winchell have been very solid and I’m really excited about how Taggert has emerged thus far. We have an ongoing competition for the 3rd spot down low, and I think it’s bringing out the best in all those guys. We return the core of our transition group in. Joaquim, E. Wolf, Stoner, and Kubikowski, and bringing J. Wolf up top has been a positive move. Smith and Buchanan are right there at LSM as well, so we feel we can be pretty good at that end of the field.”

GOALKEEPERS
Junior T.J. Jones returns for his third season between the pipes for the Crimson and Gray in 2016. In 15 appearances with 11 starts last season, Jones went 9-4 (6-0 NEC) en route to posting a 7.89 goals against average and .537 save percentage in 753:09. Jones’ 7.89 GAA led the NEC and ranked sixth nationally at the end of the 2015 campaign and ranks second in SJU program history for single-season GAA.

“T.J. has really matured over his first two season, and he seems very poised in and out of the goal this year,” said Wray. “He is our leader back there and our defense thrives on his communication and energy.”

Sophomore Pat Dallon, who made two starts and seven appearances last season for a 6.81 GAA and .600 save percentage, and 2015 All-New Jersey State Second Team selection in freshman Niklas Hedengren (Brookside, N.J./West Morris Mendham) will back up Jones in net.

SCHEDULE
Including exhibition games against Army (Feb. 6) and Binghamton (Feb. 12), Saint Joseph’s will compete against members of nine conferences, including teams out of the Patriot League, America East, Southern Conference, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Big East, Colonial Athletic Association, Atlantic Coast Conference, Ivy League, and Northeast Conference.

The Hawks’ 14-game schedule features eight home contests – including the February 20 home opener against VMI – to be played on Sweeney Field. St. Joe’s will play seven non-conference games to open the season and will see an even three-home, three-away game slate in Northeast Conference play. The bulk of non-conference action will run from February 20 through March 19, while regular-season NEC action will run from March 26 through April 30.

Saint Joseph’s will kick off the 2016 campaign with four consecutive home games, featuring VMI (Feb. 20), Manhattan (Feb. 27), St. John’s (Mar. 2), and Drexel (Mar. 5).

The Hawks will open road play at the University of Virginia’s Klöckner Stadium (Mar. 8) and will face Monmouth (Mar. 12) in West Long Branch, N.J. just four days later before closing out the seven-game non-conference stretch at home vs. Delaware (Mar. 19).

Of Saint Joseph’s eight non-conference opponents, the Hawks faced six last season en route to posting a 3-3 record, with wins over VMI, Monmouth, and Delaware. SJU’s losses to then-#7/7 Virginia and then-#14/12 Penn were decided by just one goal.

This year will mark the first meeting between Saint Joseph’s and St. John’s in program history while SJU and Manhattan will meet for the first time since 2010 and for the first time under the direction of Coach Wray.

The back-to-back 2014-15 NEC regular-season champion Hawks will kick off their third season in the NEC with a pair of road games at Hobart (Mar. 26) in Geneva, N.Y. and Wagner (Apr. 2) in Staten Island, N.Y.

The Hawks will then return home for a pair of league contests, hosting Sacred Heart (Apr. 9) and four-time defending champion Bryant (Apr. 16) on Alumni and Family Day.

Saint Joseph’s will then head to Robert Morris (Apr. 23) before facing city-rival Penn in non-conference play (Apr. 26) at Franklin Field.

The Hawks will close out the regular-season four days later vs. Mount St. Mary’s (Apr. 30).

The 2016 Northeast Conference Championship will be held on Thursday, May 5 and Saturday, May 7. The top four teams from the regular season qualify for the playoffs, with the highest seed earning the right to host the tournament.
Saint Joseph’s hosted the tournament on Sweeney Field in 2014 and 2015 and reached the championship game last season.

SJU went 6-0 against the same conference opponents in the Northeast Conference regular season in 2015 and is currently 12-0 in NEC regular-season games entering the 2016 campaign.

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