Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 2/4/17
From Press Release
The Lehigh men’s lacrosse team opened the 2017 season on Saturday in winning fashion with a decisive 15-5 victory at home over NJIT. The Mountain Hawks have now won back-to-back season openers over the Highlanders by a combined score of 36-9.
“Overall, it’s a really good start to the season, but we have a long, long way to go,” said Lehigh head coach Kevin Cassese. “With a young team, it’s always good to start out with a win and I like how we have continued to progress coming out of the preseason. After beating this team by a lot last year, I was a little concerned that our guys might be looking ahead. However, that was not the case. Our guys did a good job of dialing in and coming in with the mindset that this is a new season and a new team.”
Lehigh (1-0) found a sound rhythm offensively to start the season as the Mountain Hawks had 11 different goal scorers and 12 different players record a point on the day. LU dominated the shot column by out-shooting NJIT (0-1) 43-20.
The Mountain Hawks opened the first quarter with five unanswered goals by five different goal scorers to set the tone early. The Highlanders tallied the first two goals of a high-scoring second quarter, but Lehigh answered back with four straight before NJIT tallied a third in the final minute of the first half.
Just like the start of the first half, senior midfielder Ian Strain (Episcopal Academy) also opened the second-half scoring and gave Lehigh a 10-3 lead on his second goal of game to tie his career high. Lehigh would go to outscore NJIT 3-2 in the third quarter and then tack on three unanswered in the fourth.
Freshman faceoff specialist Conor Gaffney (Lenape-NJ, Duke’s L.C.) was a big bright spot, winning 19-of-22 faceoffs in his collegiate debut. Gaffney helped lead Lehigh to a team percentage of 87.5 on the day.
Andrew Pettit (Tower Hill-DE) added two goals and an assist and Lucas Spence (Springfield-Delco) and defenseman Danny Norris (Avon Grove) scored once each,
“It’s a lot easier to play defense when you don’t have to play it very much and our biggest defensive effort today was at the faceoff,” said Cassese. “Conor Gaffney was unbelievable. I give him a ton of credit because I thought he had some nerves early after giving up the first faceoff, but after that, he was great.”
The dominate performance at the faceoff dot, combined with the offensive prowess, helped alleviate some of the pressure on the defense. Anchored by netminder, sophomore Chris Kiernan, who finished the day with eight saves, the Lehigh defense limited the Highlanders to just 13 shots on goal. Lehigh also caused six of NJIT’s 11 turnovers and swarmed to loose balls with a total of 41 groundballs on the day. Strain was one of nine players to scoop up multiple ground balls on the day as he recorded his 50th and 51st groundballs for his career.
“When you don’t have to play that much defense you are fresh and focused, which allows you to dial in and get the stops that you need,” said Cassese “Our defense accomplished that and it all roots back to a dominate performance on faceoffs.”
Today’s stellar defensive effort also adds to the history of outstanding defensive performances within the last seven seasons. The Mountain Hawks have now held opponents to less than 10 goals in a game 49 times in the last 84 games, including 19 games with five or less goals allowed. In two meetings with NJIT, Lehigh has held the Highlanders to a total of nine goals, including a 21-4 victory in last season’s opening game.
Opening day marked a day of firsts for some members of the team as four players recorded their first career points with the Brown and White. Sophomore midfielder Craig Chick recorded his first multi-goal game of his career with two tallies. Sophomore attacker Tristan Rai was the team’s lead distributor as he set a career high with three assists on the day.
Lehigh has now recorded wins in seven of its last eight season-opening games. The Mountain Hawks now improve to 7-3 under Cassese in season openers.
The Mountain Hawks will move away from the friendly confines of the Ulrich Sports Complex and hit the road for a four-game stretch. Lehigh begins its upcoming road trip with matchup at Jacksonville next Saturday, Feb. 11. Opening faceoff is set for 4 p.m.
“The early four-game road trip was by design,” said Cassese. “That was carefully planned because we knew how young this team was going to be so we wanted to challenge them early. It is not going to be easy with four straight weeks of road games. We have flights and long bus rides with trips up north to unfamiliar territory, so we are going to learn a lot about this group. We are certainly happy about winning today and we’ll enjoy it, but we will quickly move past it and start focusing on the Jacksonville Dolphins.”