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.@LehighLacrosse season preview: Mountain Hawks seek to challenge in Patriot League

Thursday, 4th February 2016

Categories Boy's/Men's, College  
 

Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 2/4/16
From Press Release

On paper, the Lehigh men’s lacrosse team “should” take a step back this season. Fortunately, the season is played between the lines and wins and losses are decided on the field.

Germantown Academy grad Reid Weber is a key member of the Lehigh attack

Germantown Academy grad Reid Weber is a key member of the Lehigh attack (Courtesy of Lehigh Sports)

The Mountain Hawks graduated a decorated senior class, but return plenty of talent. With those pieces, combined with a top-20 ranked incoming class by Inside Lacrosse, Lehigh is hopeful and optimistic heading into 2016.

With such a young team, the Mountain Hawks have a mantra… win today.

“We’re focused on the process,” said head coach Kevin Cassese. “Winning today is the process. Every single day that we show up and whatever we have on the schedule that day, we need to make sure we earn a victory in those areas. Getting our team to think this way has been helpful, especially with our young players.”

The Mountain Hawks will depend on a freshman class of 16, many of whom should make an impact in 2016.

“Young players have the tendency to look ahead at the end result,” said Cassese. “Their focus drifts from the daily process and the details that need to be attended to, day in and day out. I think our win today mentality has helped us, but we definitely still have goals and we still have a mission.”

That mission is to win a Patriot League Championship.

Defense wins championships and the Mountain Hawks return a veteran group on the defensive side of the ball, led by senior captains and close defensemen Casey Eidenshink (La Salle) and Tripp Telesco, who have both earned All-Patriot League honors in their careers.

Eidenshink enjoyed a breakout 2015 with a team-high 50 groundballs and 23 caused turnovers to earn second team All-League recognition and garner preseason All-League this season. Telesco has also enjoyed a decorated career, highlighted by a sophomore season which featured first team All-Patriot League and honorable mention All-America laurels.

Junior Jason Kozel looks to step into a key role after working his way back from injury late his freshman year. Kozel played in nine games last season with one start, moving to long stick after primarily playing short-stick defensive midfield as a freshman.

Highly-regarded freshman Eddie Bouhall is also vying for the third close defense spot, but could run at long-stick midfield as well. Bouhall was one of 50 individuals named to the U.S. Men’s Under-19 Tryout pool, he became Lehigh’s first-ever incomer to play in the Under Armour All-America Game and was named one of 15 impact freshmen in the nation by Lacrosse Magazine.

Senior Corey Eppley is the returning starter at long-stick midfield after putting together a solid 2015 campaign. In his first year starting, he recorded 16 groundballs and 12 caused turnovers. Behind Eppley is freshman Craig Chick out of Edgewater, Maryland. Sophomore JJ Foley could also see action at long-stick midfield, or close defense. Foley played in all 16 games as a freshman, with five starts.

Backstopping the defense is sophomore goaltender Adam Sawicki, who was named the starter following a freshman season which featured plenty of highlights. In his first-career start, against eventual National Champion Denver, Sawicki made 11 saves including five in the first quarter to help the Mountain Hawks open a 3-0 lead. For the season, Sawicki tallied a 10.25 goals against average and .504 save percentage.

“Adam solidified the starting spot in the fall and has enjoyed a strong preseason,” said Cassese. “Donny Stires will back up Adam.”

Stires put forth a strong 2015 campaign, recording a 6.95 GAA and .550 save percentage, including a five-save effort in the Patriot League Quarterfinals at Bucknell.

Moving into the midfield, senior Chris Appell is Lehigh’s top returning short-stick defensive midfielder. Appell came on as last season progressed, tallying 12 groundballs which included a career-high four GBs in Lehigh’s big win at No. 14 Stony Brook. Along with Appell, the Mountain Hawks have several options at defensive midfield as players like senior Ray Mastroianni and junior Ian Strain (Episcopal Academy) played key minutes in that role last year.

Mastroianni and Strain should also see time at offensive midfield, where they both have experience. Senior Alex Eaton and Cody Triolo also return in the midfield with plenty of experience.

“Ray, Alex, Ian and Cody all played on our top two lines or top defensive midfield line last year,” said Cassese. “They’re all really solid two-way midfielders, who will be in the top mix.”

Juniors Mike Sammarro and Anthony Ramaizel are other returnees who will be vying for time in the midfield. In addition, senior Billy Oppenheimer (10 goals, six assists last season, Germantown Academy) and sophomore Nolan Apers (three goals, two assists) will squarely be in the mix in the midfield, or attack.

The Mountain Hawks have plenty of freshmen in the same situation; they include Lucas Spence (Springfield-Delco), Tristan Rai and Mickey Fitzpatrick. The Mountain Hawks have plenty of depth and several options in the midfield.

Senior Reid Weber (Germantown Academy) leads the attack unit after posting 51 points last season. The Patriot League’s top returning point getter, Weber has quietly posted 95 points over the last two seasons in the shadows of All-American Dan Taylor. Now, it’s Weber’s team and he looks to continue his strong play on the field, and lead off it (as one of three co-captains).

Junior Matt Raposo returns as a likely starter after seeing significant time last season, which included two starts. Freshman Andrew Pettit (Tower Hill) is in the mix at attack, as are other lefty attackmen Openheimer, Apers and Fitzpatrick who look to complement the righties Weber and Raposo.

Lehigh features a pair of experienced players at the faceoff X in junior Casey McAdam and sophomore Matt Ernst (Episcopal Academy). Both came on as last season progressed, which included a 14-of-21 effort in the Patriot League Tournament at Bucknell. Ernst played his best late in the season, winning 16-of-25 faceoffs at Holy Cross and 11-of-19 at Colgate, 11-of-18 vs. Princeton.

In the end, the 2016 Mountain Hawks feature plenty of options and talent that look to grow in front of the coaching staff’s eyes.

“This is the first year in a very long time where we’re still trying to make personnel decisions this late in the year,” said Cassese. “I think it’s a positive because there are so many players who could play for us, especially on the offensive end. There are a lot of guys who have filled different roles for us, including people like Ray Mastroianni and Ian Strain, who played defensive midfield last year and could now play more on the offensive end. There are a lot of guys who have the opportunity to grow their games and do a little bit more within the framework of our offense, or our defense.”

The Mountain Hawks look to get back to the basics of hard work that led to Lehigh’s breakthrough 2012 season. Seniors Weber, Eidenshink, Telesco and the senior class are leading the charge. There is a foundation at every position that looks to lead the young team to success.

“We’re going to need leadership and we’re going to need guidance,” said Cassese. “At times, we’re going to need certain players to either put an arm around somebody or kick somebody in the tail. These are guys who have consistently done that, and they’re going to need to do that over the course of a year.

“We’re going to need guys like Weber, Telesco, Eidenshink, Eaton, Mastroianni to show us the way,” Cassese continued. “They’re definitely the tone setters. That’s what we ask of our seniors anyway. We hope they can set that bar and get others to meet it.”

For as much as the seniors can and will do, the Mountain Hawks will also need to rely on their freshman class.

“This freshman class is very good; it’s one of the best that we’ve had here in my nine years,” said Cassese. “It’s been very exciting to see this group work the way they have. A lot of them are going to play very meaningful roles. I’m excited for this group because they have injected new life into this team, but it’s also a lot more work for the coaches and seniors because of the youth and inexperience.”

Lehigh fans will have an opportunity to watch the youngsters grow right before their eyes.

“We have a chance to see how guys develop and see them step up, evolve and be able to put their stamp on the program,” said Cassese. “There’s a lot of excitement around the class, but also urgency in knowing that they need to be brought up to speed as quickly as possible and gain experience as quickly as possible because they’ll be expected to deliver from day one. Day one is approaching quickly.”

Day one is Saturday, Feb. 6 against NJIT, the first game at hand. The Mountain Hawks aren’t looking past NJIT.

“Winning a Patriot League Championship is the mission, but we don’t get the opportunity to do that unless we take care of each individual game,” said Cassese. “We have 14 games on the schedule. We’ll take it one at a time. The same goes for the Patriot League schedule. You’ve got to play eight games and if you get ahead of yourself, you’re not going to be focused on the game at hand. Last year was a dogfight. That’s the way it’s going to be moving forward. We feel like we’re going to be right in that mix. We know every team is strong and we feel like we’re going to have a chance to be strong as well.

“We get into Patriot League play on Feb. 27, which will be here before you know it. We can’t afford to be looking down the road to March, April or May. We’ve got to focus on February first.”

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