Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 2/12/17
From Press Release
The Saint Joseph’s men’s lacrosse team will open the 2017 season at home against 2016 NCAA Championship runner-up Maryland this Tuesday, February 14, the first of six home games to be played on Sweeney Field this spring.
Under the direction of sixth-year head coach Taylor Wray, Saint Joseph’s returns 27 Hawks, including six starters, from a squad that matched a program-best 12 wins and reached the Northeast Conference Championship title game just a year ago, and welcomes 17 newcomers for the 2017 campaign. Senior defenseman Charles Giunta, senior goalkeeper T.J. Jones, and senior attackman Mike Rastivo will captain the Hawks this year.
“We are looking forward to getting 2017 going,” said Wray. “We have a veteran team this year, and I know those guys are really looking forward to playing games. As coaches, you always want more practice time and more preparation time, but for the players, I know they are looking forward to competing for the first time for real on Tuesday afternoon.”
The Hawks will embark on their fourth year in the Northeast Conference this spring, opening league action at Bryant on Saturday, March 25. The Crimson and Gray will see an event three-home, three-road match schedule for conference play.
After clinching its third consecutive NEC regular-season title and advancing to the NEC Championship title game in 2016, the Hawks topped the 2017 NEC Preseason Poll, the league office announced on Tuesday. SJU is 17-1 in the NEC regular season since joining three years ago and returns four All-Conference selections from last season. The 2017 NEC Championship will run from May 4-6 at the top seed’s institution.
Live streaming of all six regular-season home games will be available free of charge through NEC Front Row. For system requirements and best streaming practices, please visit: NEC Front Row. Live stats of all home games will also be provided via SJUHawks.com.
Junior Chris Blewitt will be expected to step up and bolster SJU’s offense this spring. Blewitt turned in 40 points (24g, 16a) last year, which ranked third on the squad and leads all returning, available players for the 2017 season. He increased all of his single-season offensive numbers last spring and enters his junior campaign with 42 goals and 28 assists through two seasons on Hawk Hill.
“Chris has taken on a larger leadership role for our attack unit and for our offense in general this year,” said Wray. “He is an incredibly intelligent guy, he knows what to do, and he is starting to influence the others around him. Chris has made some of the biggest and most clutch plays of anyone on our team in his first two years, and he is poised to have a terrific junior season.”
Senior Ray Vandegrift (Penn Charter) and junior Jason Kelly (Salesianum School) contributed four goals and three assists apiece last season and will add depth to SJU’s attacking unit. Vandegrift owns 40 career games worth of experience while Kelly more than doubled his playing time last year.
A pair of highly-accomplished high school performers in redshirt freshmen Danny Bullis and Michael Major (Holy Ghost Prep), who each missed their freshman seasons due to injury last spring, are also ready to go.
“It has been great to have Danny and Mike back out on the field,” said Wray. “More than anything, I’m just excited that they’re back healthy, competing, and doing what they love to do. They are both talented players, who in essence are freshmen in terms of their experience and development. They have a lot to learn, but they are eager and working hard to try to help the team wherever they can.”
Junior transfer Patrick O’Brien made nine appearances over two seasons at Army West Point, while 2016 All-New Jersey Third Team selection James Bohlinger and 2016 All-County Honorable Mention Jack Hannigan comprise SJU’s duo of true-freshman attackmen.
From the sidelines, senior captain Mike Rastivo will add to the attacking unit with his experience and knowledge of the game. A 2016 USILA/Nike All-American Honorable Mention and the Northeast Conference’s Player of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year last spring, Rastivo suffered a season-ending knee injury this past fall and will not play this year.
“While we miss Mike’s presence on the field, his leadership off of it has been awesome,” beamed Wray. “He still has a strong voice in our offensive huddle and has been doing a great job mentoring our newcomers and the younger guys. You often see the game a little differently from the sideline, and we are encouraging Mike to share his perspectives with his teammates to help them learn, grow, and improve.”
Saint Joseph’s returns a talented midfield trio of 2017 Inside Lacrosse Northeast Conference Preseason Coaches’ All-Conference midfielder and 2016 NEC First Team selection Kyle Cain (20g, 16a) and seniors Hayes McGinley (16g, 10a) and Kevin Reidinger (22g, 3a), a group that combined for 29 percent of SJU’s goals and 26 percent of SJU’s assists last season. Senior Marcus Milione (6g, 1a) and sophomore Zach Hare (Spring-Ford) will add depth to the returning core.
“We have been pleased with the progress of our midfield core,” said Wray. “We are still looking for some guys to emerge and to establish themselves on our second midfield, but that is going to be a work in progress, and I believe it will take shape as we go through our scrimmages and the first few games of our season.”
2017 Inside Lacrosse NEC Preseason Coaches’ All-Conference short stick defensive midfielder Anthony Joaquim (37GB, 9CT), senior classmate Evan Wolf (13GB, Downingtown West), and junior Davis Stoner (41GB, 12CT) played in all 16 games for the Hawks last spring, and the trio brings an immense amount of skill, versatility, and grit to SJU’s defensive midfield.
“Anthony, Evan, and Davis have logged a lot of minutes for us over the last few years,” said Wray. “I believe their position is not only the most critical to playing team defense, but it is arguably the most critical position on the field. Their play affects the game in so many ways. From half-field defense to man-down defense and from clearing and creating transition-scoring opportunities, their impact is immense. These are the guys that are going to be dodged at more than anyone else on the field. With the three of them all being upperclassmen now, we are counting on them to have a strong year for us.”
Senior Tyler Cliggett (St. Joseph’s Prep) and sophomore Thomas LaRose return while 2016 All-League pick Alex Ives, 2016 VISAA D1 All-State selection Garrison Kedda, 2016 U.S. Lacrosse High School All-American and 2016 LNP Player of the Year, Nate Patterson (Lampeter-Strasburg), three-time All-Lancaster Lebanon League pick Tommy Poulos (Elizabethown Area), 2016 All-Region pick CJ Stowell), and 2016 All-State selection Nicholas Vernacchio (Upper Dublin) will add new faces to SJU’s midfield group.
2017 Inside Lacrosse Northeast Conference Preseason Coaches’ All-Conference face-off specialist and 2016 All-NEC First Team selection Mike Lanham (Garnet Valley) returns for his final go at the X this spring. Lanham went a single-season, career-high 177-of-280 at the face-off last season, winning over half (team-best 63.2%) of his opportunities, to go with 76 ground balls in 15 games. Lanham ranked eighth nationally in face-off winning percentage and went 50% or better from the circle in 11 games, including in his season-best performance vs. Wagner (88.9%), in the NEC semifinals vs. Robert Morris (72.0%) in which he won a career-best 18 possessions in 25 opportunities, and in SJU’s first-ever win over Penn (70.0%). Lanham’s career face-off percentage sits at 58.4 percent entering his senior campaign.
Senior classmate Danny Manning also experienced great success at the X last season, breaking through for a career-high 54.9 percent on a 45-of-82 showing from the circle throughout 12 games. Manning won a career-high 18 possessions in 22 opportunities against Drexel, went 7-of-13 in SJU’s win over Bryant, and saw eight opportunities in the NEC title game vs. Hobart.
Sophomore Daniel Lanham (Garnet Valley) will continue to gain immeasurable experience from the senior duo as he enters his second season on Hawk Hill. The younger of the Lanham brothers went 6-of-13 from the circle in five games last spring.
“We are fortunate to have a group of solid face-off men on our team,” said Wray. “Danny and Mike have established themselves as a great 1-2 punch, and Daniel showed great promise in our scrimmages and practice sessions during the fall and preseason.”
The Hawks take a hit on the defensive end this year as they will look to replace recent graduate John Winchell, a three-time 2016 Northeast Conference First Team defender and SJU’s program record-holder in career games played (63). A pair of seniors in captain Charles Giunta (Penn Charter) and Shane Taggert, both of whom started all 16 games last spring, will be expected to lock down SJU’s defense.
A three-year starting defenseman for the Crimson and Gray, Giunta started 37 of 43 total games over his first three seasons, with a minimum of nine starts per year.
“Charles has been an incredible leader for our defense over the course of the last two seasons,” said Wray. “He has tremendous grit and intelligence along with a hard-working, no-nonsense attitude. As a vocal team defender, he has carved out an invaluable role as the quarterback of our defense.”
Taggert had an exceptional year in 2016, turning in a team-best 20 caused turnovers in his first season as a starting defenseman.
“Shane is one of the most vocal and outgoing players on our team,” said Wray. “He is always full of energy and gets his teammates excited to practice and train every day. Now a starter, he continues to be a steady leader for our team.”
Juniors Nick Buckley and Brendan McNicholas (Avon Grove) and 2016 All-League pick freshman Tyler Makar will battle for that third spot on the back line.
“The competition at close defense has been really tight, and I envision playing more people at this position than we’ve done the last few years,” said Wray. “Tyler was excellent this fall, and Buckley and McNicholas are both physical, vocal defensemen who have gained experience and are hungry to be on the field.”
Wray expects three long stick midfielders to impact the game for the Hawks this spring. 2016 NEC Second Team pick Connor Kubikowski has 48 games of experience entering his senior season and reached a single-season high of 25 ground balls last spring, while junior Austin Smith racked up 40 ground balls in all 16 contests. Two-time BC’s Best Field Lacrosse Showcase All-Star Josh Bosher has played both LSM and SSDM this preseason and adds depth to the group.
“Connor and Austin have continued to improve this year,” said Wray. “They both have terrific stick work and ground ball ability, which helps us on both the face-off wing and in the transition game. They’ve also improved their defensive play this fall, and I’m excited to see what they are capable of this spring.”
Senior Jared Wolf (Downingtown West) and sophomores Zack Reiss and Thomas Tarleton alongside 2016 PAC-10 Player of the Year and 2015 PAC-10 Defensive Player of the Year Liam Hare (Spring-Ford) and 2016 All-Lancaster-Lebanon First Teamer Tate Hutchinson (Manheim Township) will add to SJU’s back line.
Arguably one of the best goalkeepers to come through the Saint Joseph’s men’s lacrosse program, senior captain T.J. Jones returns for his final go-around this spring. Jones went 12-4 with a 7.47 goals-against average and 57.9 save percentage last year to rank third nationally in both categories. Over three years, Jones owns 26 career wins, a program record, to just 10 losses to go with a program-best career goals-against average (7.798).
“T.J. is a mature, even-tempered, and dedicated teammate,” praised Wray. “He is a game-changing player for our defense and one of the top goalkeepers in the country.”
Junior Pat Dallon, who made six appearances last season, and 2016 U.S. Lacrosse High School All-American goalkeeper selections Mike Adler and Jason Roland (Wilson) round out SJU’s goalkeeper unit.