Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 2/9/22
From Press Release
The Lehigh men’s lacrosse team is eager to get the 2022 season started, one year removed from a perfect 9-0 Patriot League campaign, earning the league’s automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournament, along with the No. 8 seed of the 16 teams selected to compete for the NCAA Championship.
It was an outstanding year overall, but there was one thing missing.
The opportunity to play for a Patriot League title on the field, a stage they hope to earn their way back to in 2022.
“A big point of emphasis is making sure we’re still hungry and we should be,” said Cassese. “We never got to actually play the Patriot League Championship Game (due to a positive COVID-19 test among Loyola’s tier 1 personnel). We were deemed the Patriot League Champions and automatic qualifiers and all that was great, but we never actually got to play the game, win it and hold the trophy in our hands.
“That resonates with all of us.”
Luckily for the Mountain Hawks, they have the pieces in place to get back to that stage. It won’t be easy, in an extremely challenging Patriot League that features three teams in the top 15 nationally (also Loyola and Army West Point) and tough games all across the league schedule.
But through the fall and preseason, these Mountain Hawks appear up for the challenge.
“It’s a group that has the experience, that has the mileage to be able to understand what it takes to get back to that stage,” said Cassese. “But at the same time, we have a really great league, a lot of high-end teams that are shooting for the same goal. If we don’t outwork them every single day, it’s going to be tough to accomplish our mission. That’s our focus right now.”
Lehigh’s veteran presence certainly includes attack, as the Mountain Hawks return a starting unit that finished 1-2-3 in points last season, combining for 127 points via 81 goals and 46 assists. Senior Tommy Schelling was a first team All-Patriot League honoree, posting 24 points and a team-high 24 assists. Junior Christian Mule’ led Lehigh with 31 goals, while adding 14 assists. Senior and second team All-League honoree Cole Kirst had 26 goals and eight assists, recording multiple points in all 12 games.
“Tommy comes back as a first team All-League player and Preseason Player of the Year candidate, so naturally, he will draw a lot of attention from opposing defenses,” said Cassese. “His chemistry with Cole Kirst and Christian Mule’ make for some exciting lacrosse on the offensive end. They each bring their own unique strengths and they all complement each other very well. Our offense works best when all three are involved and playing off each other.”
Behind these three, the Mountain Hawks feature a number of players who can interchange between attack and midfield.
“In the fall, Quinn Armstrong played attack in place of an injured Mule’. He can play attack or midfield and is poised for a breakout season,” said Cassese. “Scott Cole had a terrific rookie year and can play attack or midfield at a high level. And Matt Marker (Allentown Central Catholic) will be a key player for us offensively. He can play attack or midfield as well, and is one of our most intelligent offensive players.”
Cole enjoyed a strong rookie season, tallying 11 goals and two assists in 12 games (six starts). Also a sophomore, Armstrong didn’t see a ton of time in 2021, but when he did, he made things happen – recording five goals and three assists. Marker also finished last season with identical goal and assist numbers.
“We’ve had a first-year, Dakota Eierman, who had a great fall and has been coming on in the preseason,” said Cassese. “Andrew Mapstone is another attackman who could see some time through the midfield and on the extra man. Aidan Decker as a sophomore is a solid presence. Other guys in the mix include Mike Monitto as a senior and Hayden Donley and Tyler Lahey as first-years, Freddie Amato and Damon Hsu as sophomores, Ben Weinberg as a junior and several others.”
The Mountain Hawks will be without two juniors in the midfield in John Sidorski and Justin Tiernan, who are sidelined due to injury.
“Not having them is certainly going to challenge us, but that’s why we’re a team,” said Cassese. “We’re going to have others who will step up. Next man up mentality… that’s the plan. Those guys were key components to our offense, but we don’t need anybody to step up and shoulder the load themselves. We just need our entire offense to do a little bit more individually and collectively.”
With first team All-American Mike Sisselberger (Southern Lehigh) facing off, the Mountain Hawks expect their offense to get plenty of chances. Last season, Sisselberger set an NCAA Division I record by winning 79.6 percent of his faceoffs. Alongside him is a strong rope unit (defensive midfielders) with plenty of veteran depth, especially at long stick.
“Teddy Leggett can play up top (at long-stick midfield) or down low (at close defense),” said Cassese. “We love him on wings; he’s a vacuum out there. He’s great with Mikey at the faceoff. Those two work really well together. Ryan Niggeman is a guy who has seen a lot of time in his career and now as a junior, we’re hoping he can take the next step in his development. And, we have Judah Hicks returning to the team after a year away from lacrosse.”
The Mountain Hawks did lose veteran talent at short-stick defensive midfield (most notably, Christian McHugh), but have plenty of options as well.
“We have some youth there, but we’re bolstered by the return of Jack Spence (Springfield-Delco), who missed most of last year with a season-ending injury,” said Cassese. “To get him back is a huge boost. We’ve missed his athleticism, toughness and overall reliability.”
There are other returners who saw significant time last season as well.
“Nick Turrini, now as a sophomore, is someone we’re going to look to step up,” said Cassese. “Junior John Danforth is in the mix and a first-year, Giovanni Procaccini, has done a really good job. He is a grinder and someone we’re going to lean on between the restraining lines. Senior Jack Barclay and first-year Raul Ochotorena are in the mix as well.”
The Mountain Hawks feature a veteran group at close defense, led by senior and first team All-Patriot League honoree Anthony Tangredi.
“Anthony returns as one of the top cover defenders in the Patriot League,” said Cassese. “He has played a lot of meaningful minutes, started a lot of games and seen a lot of the matchups he’s going to see again this year. He’s very familiar with the top offensive players in the league. We are looking for him to take another step in his development, athletically and leadership-wise.
“Patrick McIlroy and Michael Hagenberger have both started a ton of big games (each starting multiple games since their rookie seasons),” Cassese continued. “Then there’s the emergence of Michael Gomez, someone who’s just a great all-around lacrosse player – great stickwork, great off the ground, great communicator – and has emerged as a glue guy for the group.”
The last line of defense is graduate student and All-American goaltender James Spence (Springfield-Delco). Spence finished last season 14th in the nation in save percentage (56.0) and 15th in goals against average (9.83).
“Great to have a fifth-year back, captain, someone who’s played so many games for us between the pipes,” said Cassese. “He’s our rock back there. He has a knack for making incredible saves and the type that really generate energy amongst the team. He’s also just steady and makes the saves he should make – always being there for us in the end. We’re excited to have James back and excited for him to take the next step with his game, as well as with his leadership.”
Moving into 2022, one of the areas where the Mountain Hawks know they must improve is clearing. Last season, Lehigh was only 49th nationally in clearing percentage (82.5).
“That’s been a huge point of emphasis for us all fall and preseason,” said Cassese. “We were not good at it last year. We’ve decided we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure that doesn’t happen again. I’m really eager to see if that hard work and training pays off once we get into live game action.”
On the flip side, the area of strength Lehigh wants to make sure it continues – and even improves upon – is faceoffs and the possession battle.
It’s something Cassese and his staff have made a concerted effort with, in how they recruit and develop that aspect of the game.
“Last year, with all the success Mikey Sisselberger had dominating the way he did, we’re hopeful we can continue that trend,” said Cassese. “We understand that’s going to be more of a challenge because Mikey has a target on his back and we have a target on our backs, so people will be much more prepared for us in that aspect of the game. We need to continue to work at it and develop our parts and or schemes. We expect to see more defensive-style faceoff game plans and some different things that people have been thinking about for a full year rather than a week of prep like they had last year.
“Faceoffs are so vital in our game,” Cassese continued. “If you have the ball, the other team doesn’t. The possession battle for us last year was tipped so much in our favor that it gave our offense so many opportunities and allowed our defense to be fresh.”
From offense to defense, the 2022 Mountain Hawks are led by a veteran group, and that’s what has Cassese the most excited about the season ahead.
“There’s a lot of experience on the team, so that’s important,” he said. “If you’re going to have success in sports, especially at the college level, having some veteran presence and experience is critical – guys who have been around the block, played a lot of meaningful games and been in the trenches – and I think we have that. We just need those guys to step up and lead us consistently and we need them to help develop the younger and more inexperienced players.
“There’s some tremendous motivation by this group to get back to the Patriot League Championship stage,” Cassese continued. “I think that’s terrific, but my goal is to keep them focused on the daily details and specific processes that need to take place to put ourselves in a position to get back to that stage.
“One day at a time.”