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.@LehighLacrosse opens season Saturday eager to find success

Thursday, 2nd February 2017

Categories Boy's/Men's, College, Posted 2/2/17
From Press Release

The Lehigh men’s lacrosse team advanced to its sixth straight Patriot League Tournament in 2016. The Mountain Hawks lost a strong senior class, led by co-captains Reid Weber (Germantown Academy), Tripp Telesco and Casey Eidenshink (La Salle) who were all selected in the Major League Lacrosse Supplemental Draft, but they return plenty of young talent as well.

Ian Strain (left), Conor Gaffney

“I think this is a group that’s eager to earn respect,” said Lehigh head coach Kevin Cassese, whose Mountain Hawks open their season Saturday at home vs NJIT at noon. “I feel like that is a common theme within our program. Coming off the last couple years where the results weren’t exactly where we wanted them naturally leads you to a lower ranking, both within the league and nationally, and less accolades amongst the individuals on your team.

“Therefore, I feel like there’s even more of a reason for our players to work harder and develop a chip on their shoulders to go out and prove people wrong.”

The Mountain Hawks have the pieces to be successful, featuring a core group of returning players leading the way at each position.

Here’s how the roster breaks down…

The most experienced returning attackman is senior Matt Raposo, along with sophomores Tristan Rai and Andrew Pettit (Tower Hill-DE). In the shadows of talented attackmen like Weber and Dan Taylor, Raposo has quietly put together a very solid career. “A very talented dodger, feeder and facilitator,” according to Cassese, Raposo finished third on the Mountain Hawks last season with 30 points behind 16 goals and 14 assists.

Rai is coming off a freshman campaign in which he finished second on the team with 41 points behind 31 goals and 10 assists. His 53.4 shooting percentage was second nationally. Meanwhile, Pettit missed significant time mid-season, but when he was on the field, proved to be a strong finisher, tallying seven goals (three on the extra man).

“Tristan and Andrew are two of our best scorers and play makers,” said Cassese. “They also have great chemistry together, as they are always looking for one another and seem to know exactly where the other one will be at all times.”

Several other players are in the mix offensively, including junior Brandon Plante who returns after missing last season.

“Brandon wasn’t able to play in fall competition, but he had a great fall season so we’ll see if it translates over,” said Cassese.

Among Lehigh’s top midfielders are seniors Ian Strain (Episcopal Academy), Cody Triolo and Mike Sammarro, junior John Mehok (Bishop Shanahan) and sophomores Mickey Fitzpatrick and Lucas Spence (Springfield-Delco). Strain and Triolo are senior co-captains who have plenty of experience, both as two-way midfielders. Classmate Sammarro’s role has increased as his career has progressed; last season, he saw extensive time at defensive midfield.

Mehok began to emerge as a sophomore in 2016, tallying five goals and one assist before suffering a season-ending injury. Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick and Spence both got a strong taste of the college game last year and look to emerge in 2017.

The biggest hole the Mountain Hawks will look to fill offensively is the void left by Weber, the team’s leading scorer each of the last two seasons.

“If you look back over the last few years, we’ve lost a lot of really talented offensive players … guys like David DiMaria, Dante Fantoni, Dan Taylor, Patrick Corbett and Reid Weber,” said Cassese. “All these guys are All-League, All-America caliber players. You might not necessarily be able to replace those players, but what you can do is replace that production by playing really good team ball.

“In the fall, we had a huge emphasis on getting all six of our guys involved every single time we play offense, not being as concerned with who’s getting points or how many points one specific guy is getting, as long as the Lehigh offense is scoring,” Cassese continued. “If you look at our offensive production in the fall, you couldn’t say a certain guy is a superstar or that guy is going to have a breakout year. It should be a really balanced and combined effort. At any one time, all six guys playing together to make sure that Lehigh scores.”

Several others look to contribute on the offensive end, including senior Anthony Ramaizel, junior Nolan Apers and freshmen Ryan Klose and Andrew Eichelberger.

“Eichelberger is an unbelievable athlete, a 6-foot-3, 235 pound monster,” said Cassese.

Freshman Conor Gaffney (Lenape-NJ) out of Mount Laurel, N.J. is the Mountain Hawks’ number one guy at faceoff with junior Matt Ernst (Episcopal Academy) as a very capable option as well. Lehigh will look to improve upon its struggles facing off last season, especially late in the year.

“Conor is athletic, tough and a ferocious competitor,” said Cassese. “He’s mature beyond his years. He looks and acts like a junior, even though he’s only a freshman. That’s been a huge boost for us, obviously based off where we finished last year.”

Spearheading Lehigh’s long-stick defensive midfielders will be sophomore Craig Chick, who led the nation as a freshman with 37 caused turnovers to go with 59 groundballs, both tops on the team. Chick emerged on the national scene with eight caused turnovers at Princeton before recording seven vs. Cornell.

“Craig was an animal in 2016. He was suffocating between the restraining lines and very capable in transition, said Cassese. “Behind Craig, junior Danny Norris (Avon Grove) has steadily improved to become our second long-stick midfielder.”

Coming off injury, junior JJ Foley looks to be in the mix as an option at either long-stick midfield or close defense.

Senior Casey McAdam is one of Lehigh’s top short-stick defensive midfielders after being moved to the position from faceoff. Multiple freshmen are in the mix for potential playing time at short stick, including Parker Kent and Christian McHugh.

The Mountain Hawks’ starting close defense looks to be sophomores Eddie Bouhall, Matt Rimol and freshman Erik DiGirolamo (Parkland). Lehigh looks to replace two defensemen who were named All-Patriot League in their careers, Eidenshink and Telesco. The 2017 close defense is young, but Bouhall and Rimol were both starting by the end of last season, so there is experience.

“We saw a lot of progress out of our defense in the fall,” said Cassese. “Initially, it was really slow going. Our defense was porous and our offense was just crushing our defense. I think that was good for them to experience because they really missed those senior captains from last year.”

The defense did make progress and ended the fall on a strong note.

“A lot of hours in the film room, a lot of hours in the meeting room, a lot of time spent together and with Coach Scudder, and they improved to the point where they actually far outperformed our offense in our fall scrimmages against Saint Joseph’s and Syracuse,” said Cassese. “Our defense was very good. They learned a lot, then were able to come together in the face of adversity. I like where they ended the fall, to the point where they’re now starting to fire like a Lehigh defense should be firing.”

Sophomore goaltender Chris Kiernan is the last line of defense for the Mountain Hawks, looking to continue to build on his success last season and continue his impressive improvement. The walk-on played his collegiate debut at Army before making his first-career start one game later at Lafayette and starting every game the rest of the way.

Senior co-captain Donny Stires is set to back Kiernan up, with highly-regarded freshman Colin Kirst also available.

As a program, the Mountain Hawks have high expectations. Not long ago, they won two straight Patriot League Championships and advanced to a third straight title game in 2014. Three years later, their goals continue to begin with the Patriot League.

“The Patriot League is an absolute gauntlet,” said Cassese. “Our mission is to win the Patriot League Championship. We have lots of other goals that will certainly help towards winning the championship and help us earn distinction nationally, but the hyper focus is on the Patriot League right now.”

Talent is in place, but for the team to return to championship contention, they need consistency.

“Our core nucleus is so young that they’ll have to develop and mature quickly,” said Cassese. “Mature teams are usually good because they’re consistent in their effort at practice every day, in their training and how they prepare. With young teams, typically you’ll get inconsistency. You’ll have a Herculean effort against one of the best teams in the country then follow it up with a meager effort against one of the worst teams in the country.”

The team has made a concerted effort to make sure they are consistent.

“There have been a lot of conversations about how we gain consistency, making sure that our effort is at the same level, our passion is there, we remember who we are and we deliver that every single day, whether it’s a practice or a game,” said Cassese. “Working hard is just the price of admission. We have to work hard; we don’t have a choice because every Division I team in the country works hard.

“But for us, it’s going to be more about how we work hard. Are we doing everything we possibly can to maximize our abilities as athletes, as lacrosse players? If we do that, I think we’ll have a chance to compete in 2017.”

With so much young talent, the Mountain Hawks look to be building towards sustained success.

“We don’t have a ton of upperclassmen on the roster, nor in the regular lineup,” said Cassese. “So, the ones we do have need to be great role models and provide tremendous leadership and mentorship for the younger players.”

The future is certainly bright, but right now, Lehigh is only focused on 2017.

“If you look at our projected starting lineup and regular rotation for this season, you’re going to see around eight sophomores and around five freshmen,” said Cassese. “If they continue to develop and grow, then we’ll have them for the next two to three years as juniors and seniors. Then, we would have a team with a core nucleus that is experienced and mature.

“That said, while we are excited for what the future may hold, we don’t intend to just sit and wait around for that. We want to be great this year and it starts with being great today.”

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