Season Preview: Lehigh men's lacrosse vies for third straight championship in 2014

Season Preview: Lehigh men's lacrosse vies for third straight championship in 2014

Season Preview: Lehigh men's lacrosse vies for third straight championship in 2014

Complete 2014 Season Prospectus (PDF)

The Mountain Hawks were up-and-down through the beginning part of last season. A loss to UMass dropped the squad's record to 5-4. Something needed to change if Lehigh was to win its second straight Patriot League Championship. The Mountain Hawks did just that, winning seven in a row capped off by their second straight league title behind a dominant 11-5 win over Bucknell.

2014 Patriot League Lacrosse Preview

The success carried over into the offseason and despite losing a talented senior class of 14, the Mountain Hawks are poised to continue the success in 2014.

Early photos from 2014 preseason

"I'd say we had one of the best fall semesters we've ever had around here," said seventh-year Lehigh head coach Kevin Cassese. "Our guys worked incredibly hard on the field, in the weight room, in the community and in the classroom (3.11 team GPA). I thought we developed great team chemistry and leadership over the course of the fall lacrosse season. Our guys made major gains in the strength, speed, and skill development departments during the fall improvement season as well. Overall, the tone for a successful spring was set in the fall semester."

The Mountain Hawks will be led by a pair of two-time All-Americans: senior defenseman Ty Souders and junior goalie Matt Poillon. They spearhead one of the nation's best defenses over the past two seasons and predicted as the third ranked defense by Inside Lacrosse in its Face-Off Magazine.

"We are most veteran on the defensive end and most inexperienced on the offensive end," said Cassese. "I believe we have tremendous toughness, great team chemistry and outstanding leadership."

Lehigh lost a combined 60 goals and 60 assists between David DiMaria and Dante Fantoni alone, but several Mountain Hawks look primed and ready to step up this season. Juniors Dan Taylor and Patrick Corbett lead the offense. Taylor is coming off a 50 point season in 2013; he posted 29 goals and 21 assists, both second on the team. This came after 11 goals and six assists as a freshman.

Taylor will be asked to quarterback the offense and is a great dodger, finisher and feeder, according to Cassese.

Meanwhile, Corbett was named a Second Team All-Patriot League member last season with 23 goals and three assists. He has seen time at both midfield and attack over his first two seasons. Corbett owned 23 points as a freshman, stepping into the lineup from day one.

As Cassese said, Corbett is an "incredible finisher and off-ball player who is tough as nails with great ground ball instincts and skills."

Sophomore Billy Oppenheimer, a Quinnipiac transfer, will be squarely in the mix at attack. He is a slick player, great scorer and off-ball player. The former Germantown Academy standout finished with 13 points in nine games for the Bobcats last season, earning a spot on the NEC All-Rookie Team.

Senior Matt Smith and sophomore Reid Weber should contribute at attack. Smith has played both attack and midfield in his time at Lehigh, posting 19 points over his first three seasons. Weber got into six games a season ago, with two goals and one assist.

According to Cassese, Smith is "quick and shifty, a good feeder and initiator" while Weber is "a tough competitor who does a lot of things well. He's a good shooter and dodger."

The Mountain Hawks feature plenty of talent at midfield - some experience along with several individuals looking to break onto the scene.

Junior Alan Henderson is the team's best overall midfielder. The two-way middie is a tough competitor who had eight points last season behind two goals and six assists, while also scooping 33 groundballs and causing three turnovers.

Classmate Kurtis Kaunas ran primarily at second midfield last season, finishing with 10 points behind eight goals and two assists. The quick and shifty midfielder is tough to defend with one man. The local product scored a pair of goals at #11 Denver last February.

Junior Jack Bogrowski looks to break into the regular midfield rotation after seeing significant time at defensive midfield in his first year at Lehigh. Both he and senior Cody Ferraro are big, strong and can shoot extremely hard. Ferraro was primarily a man-up specialist in 2013, scoring four goals (three on the extra man). Ferraro is a good feeder as well who looks to break into the lineup.

Sophomore Ray Mastroianni is a highly-regarded midfielder out of New Jersey who sat out all of last season with an injury. The fastest player on the team, Mastroianni is a two-way midfielder who excelled in the 2012 Champion All-American Lacrosse Showcase. He was listed among the "10 Who Impressed" by Lacrosse Magazine.

Sophomore Alex Eaton and junior Klay Heston are expected to contribute in the midfield as well. As Cassese said, Eaton is "tough as nails, fearless and a quick dodger." Eaton scored a goal in the 2013 season opener vs. Saint Joseph's while getting into six games on the season. Meanwhile, Heston saw increased action as last season progressed, playing in seven games while scoring three goals and adding two assists. Owning a shot that can exceed 100 miles per hour, Heston converted five shots and three shots on goal into three goals, including a fourth-quarter goal against top-ranked North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament.

Souders is the leader of the defense as a big, strong, tough, physical, smart, athletic player and the team's best leader, according to Cassese. The local product out of Emmaus High School is a two-time All-Patriot League honoree and All-American who owns 95 career groundballs and 42 caused turnovers.

Sophomore Tripp Telesco looks to carry the momentum from a strong rookie season as a key member of the defense in 2014. He altered between close defense and long stick midfield as a rookie, posting 29 groundballs and 14 caused turnovers while earning two straight Patriot League Rookie of the Week awards during the season.

Senior Lukas Mikelinich returns after missing last season. The 2012 All-Patriot League honoree is a terrific cover defenseman with great takeaway ability and great feet who is strong in transition. Mikelinich finished with 17 groundballs and 10 caused turnovers to help an emerging defense in 2012.

Sophomore Casey Eidenshink should see increased time in 2014 after playing seven games as a freshman. Named as the #35 incoming defenseman by Inside Lacrosse, the La Salle College High School graduate posted four groundballs and a caused turnover. As Cassese said, Eidenshink is a "great position defender, intelligent player with terrific skills."

Junior Dylan O'Shaughnessy leads the way at long stick midfield. Standing 6-feet-5-inches tall out of Chaminade High School, O'Shaughnessy is long and rangy and physical, owning great groundball skills while excelling in transition. He's posted 32 groundballs and 17 caused turnovers in 29 games over his first two seasons.

Eidenshink will slide to long stick midfield as well.

Named a preseason All-Patriot League honoree by Inside Lacrosse, senior Jimmy Cahill anchors the short stick defensive midfielders. Cassese identifies Cahill as tough as nails, fearless, physical and reliable. Cahill finished with 12 groundballs and seven caused turnovers last season and even added his first-career goal against Lafayette.

Junior Sam Lawrence and senior Harrison Lawrence look to contribute at defensive midfield. Neither has extensive experience – Sam playing four games last season and Harrison seven – but each own tremendous upside. As Cassese said, Sam is big, strong, athletic and good in transition while Harrison is a seasoned veteran, smart and a very good athlete.

Senior co-captain and 2013 All-Patriot League Tournament Team honoree Ryan Buttenbaum returns at faceoff for the Mountain Hawks. Buttenbaum won 62-of-123 (50.4 percent) at the X last year, highlighted by winning 11-of-19 in the Patriot League Semifinals against Colgate and 7-of-13 in the Championship Game vs. Bucknell. Buttenbaum has won 103-of-212 faceoffs in his career, backing up three-time All-Patriot League honoree Ryan Snyder. Buttenbaum was an Inside Lacrosse top 100 incoming freshman and looks to step up as the primary player at the X this season. According to Cassese, the Malvern, Pa. native is "big, strong and tough."

Complementing Buttenbaum is freshman Casey McAdam out of Somerville, N.J. who is "quick and skilled and has potential to be a very good player."

Junior two-time All-American Matt Poillon looks to continue his unparalled success. A starter from day one, Poillon owns a 25-6 career record with a 7.27 GAA and 59.7 save percentage. The three-time All-American is among the active leaders in career wins and currently owns the seventh best goals against average in NCAA history.

"Matt is one of the best in the business," said Cassese. "He is athletic, explosive and charismatic. He makes many routine saves and can erase goals with spectacular saves."

Sophomore Steve Brodeur will be the primary backup for Poillon after playing in three games (one start) as a freshman.

The Mountain Hawks know what they have at defense while some unknowns at midfield and attack will need to step up. The talent is in place at both positions. Now, it's a matter of proving it.

"We'll need to have some midfielders step up," said Cassese. "We have more depth at that position than ever before, just need to find the right personnel combinations."

One of the biggest positive for the program for 2014 is the leadership that has emerged. As early as the first preseason practice, the players showed tremendous attention to detail.

"Our senior class has done a great job of getting on the same page and getting the team on the same page," said Cassese. "They've made a point to focus on an improved culture for the program and they've set the team standards extremely high."

Winning a third straight championship won't be easy. The addition of 2012 National Champion and 2013 NCAA Tournament team Loyola adds to the already deep Patriot League.

"Loyola is a terrific team and will strengthen the Patriot League overall," said Cassese. "I have a feeling this will quickly develop into an exciting rivalry. We look forward to competing against such a talented team."

Last year's senior class was a talented group

"The class of 2013 was the winningest class in Lehigh lacrosse history. They were flat out winners. We will miss them. But, we will work hard to build upon the legacy they left and I believe the class of 2014 is excited about leaving a legacy of their own."

Expectations for the program have changed from solely winning a Patriot League Championship to doing damage in the NCAA Tournament and ultimately winning a National Championship.

"The minimum expectation of our program is to compete for championships on an annual basis," said Cassese. "League Championships and National Championships."
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