Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 1/18/19
From Press Release
Coming off a Patriot League Championship Game appearance in 2018, the Lehigh men’s lacrosse team began practice this week in preparation for a highly-anticipated 2019 season. Ranked No. 13 in Inside Lacrosse’s Face-Off Yearbook, the Mountain Hawks feature a veteran group, with talented returnees all over the field and a senior class that features four returning All-Patriot League honorees and an All-American.
“It was good to be back out and practicing,” said Lehigh head coach Kevin Cassese. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to work with these guys. We’re excited to get this thing going again. With a lot of upperclassmen and seniors coming back, being able to hit the ground on a full sprint was the goal and mission early this preseason. I feel like that’s already begun.”
The Mountain Hawks reported on Tuesday, a day which featured meetings, conditioning and more. On Wednesday morning, Lehigh held its first official practice, which was focused on defense.
“Our first three practices are very much focused on defense, then we’ll switch over,” said Cassese. “Our second pod of three practices, four through six, will be offensively focused. The plan is to get to the end of the week and have our basic half-field schemes in place on offense and defense.”
Lehigh looks to build off its success from last season when it finished 10-7, defeating Colgate and No. 11/13 Navy in the Patriot League Tournament to reach its first league title game since 2014. The Mountain Hawks stood tied against No. 6/8 Loyola at halftime of the championship game, but the Greyhounds pulled away in the second.
“We’re very hungry,” said senior attackman Lucas Spence (Springfield-Delco), who scored the game-winning goal in overtime of the semis vs. Navy. “We got to the championship last year, we didn’t win, so I think we all know not only what it’s going to take to get there, but also, the extra steps to win. That’s what we’re all going for at this point.”
Spence makes up one third of Lehigh’s starting attackmen, also featuring classmates Andrew Pettit (Tower Hill, DE) and Tristan Rai. Lehigh’s attack unit was recently ranked No. 3 in the country by Lax Sports Network.
“We’re all best friends on the field, and off the field as well,” said Spence. “We’ve all been growing up for the last four years together.”
The trio combined for 172 points last season – with Pettit posting 66 (46 goals, 20 assists), Spence 58 (35 goals, 23 assists) and Rai 48 (23 goals, 25 assists).
Along with a strong attack, Lehigh returns reigning All-Patriot League honorees, seniors Craig Chick and Eddie Bouhall at close defense and junior Conor Gaffney (Lenape, NJ) in the faceoff circle. Chick is a two-time All-American and named preseason first team All-League by Inside Lacrosse.
“I saw a lot of energy out there,” said Chick following practice number one. “It was awesome to see. It’s cold and windy, but we’re loving every second we get on the field. We have a very veteran group this year, defensively and offensively. We’re getting concepts very quickly, with older guys helping younger guys get in the groove.”
The Mountain Hawks’ primary goal this preseason is getting the entire team up to speed for the season opener, which is quickly approaching on Saturday, Feb. 2. After the opener at NJIT, Lehigh will host Hofstra on Feb. 9 then travel to preseason No. 8 Virginia and round out the month at No. 5 Cornell.
“In my opinion, this week is a coach’s dream,” said Cassese. “We’re doing a few days of double sessions and getting a lot of meeting time. We don’t necessarily feel rushed with guys sprinting over from class or trying to rush to get to class. We can spend time on all the questions that they have, getting to the playbooks and in the film room and then get out on the field and not feel rushed to get somewhere.”
The Mountain Hawks are talented, top to bottom, with student-athletes across all the classes primed to contribute. There’s little doubt, though, that Lehigh’s senior class will be the engine for what the Mountain Hawks hope is a special season.
“I love this senior class,” said Cassese. “One of the best classes from a talent perspective, but more importantly, from a human being perspective. They’re great guys and I love being around them. It’s the last practice number one I’m going to get with this group of seniors; I’m going to enjoy every minute. I don’t take that for granted. They’re great players, but even better men.”
“It’s a special group,” said Chick. “I believe the drive and the motivation is at a higher level than it’s ever been and you know guys really want it this year. It’s a fun environment to be around.”
“I see a lot of sense of urgency,” said Spence. “Everyone’s really excited to get back on the field. Our first game is just over two weeks away, and everyone’s amped up to get after it and start the season.”