By: Justin Lafleur, Lehigh Sports Media Relations
With the World Cup bringing out national pride as of late, Lehigh head men’s lacrosse coach Kevin Cassese will be representing his country as well at the World Lacrosse Championships which begins on July 10 in Denver, Colorado.
An assistant coach for the U.S. National Team, Cassese and Team USA is in the midst of training camp this week which is capped off by an exhibition game against the Major League Lacrosse All-Stars on Thursday evening inside Harvard Stadium. Faceoff is set for 7:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network. The World Lacrosse Championships, including every United States game, will air on the ESPN family of networks.
Richie Meade of Furman is head coach for the United States while he is assisted by Cassese, Penn State coach Jeff Tambroni and Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala.
Cassese is representing Lehigh at the national stage and looks to continue building the Mountain Hawks’ program to a point where it consistently sends players to the national stage.
“I’m proud of what the Lehigh Lacrosse program represents and how I get to represent the Mountain Hawks,” said Cassese. “It’s great to be the face of Lehigh Lacrosse on the international scene. It’s a place where our players aspire to be.”
Cassese’s first recruits at Lehigh – Cameron and Roman Lao-Gosney – tried out for the United States while recently-graduated Ty Souders tried out for the U.S. Under-19 team after his freshman season.
“We’ve had a lot of guys who have gotten a taste of the international experience,” said Cassese. “With all my years being involved with Team USA, I’m hoping to groom some of our players to eventually be the first from Lehigh to represent the United States in international play, or perhaps Team Canada. The international game (and the world championships) really is the pinnacle of our sport. If you have the opportunity to represent your country, no matter the country, it’s really special.”
Cassese and the U.S. team converged in Connecticut this week for training camp and will travel to Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, for practiceWednesday afternoon. It’s an important time period for many reasons.
“This will really be the only time when we can have intense practice,” said Cassese late last week. “Once we get out to Denver (the team will arrive on July 6), we’ll only have a couple days right up until our opening game against Canada. At that point, it will be less taxing, more game-plan oriented and getting everyone on the same page.”
The other important goal is final evaluation. The current roster consists of 31 players, but it needs to get down to 23 for World Lacrosse Championship competition.
“It’s still an important phase of evaluation, but we also need to start putting in our systems as well,” said Cassese. “Everything we’ve done up to this point has been strictly evaluation. A little bit of systematic input here and there, but mostly just evaluations. We have to start working towards who we’re going to be, how we’re going to play and who’s going to play in certain spots.”
Thursday will be a unique All-Star Game. It’s more than just an exhibition game. The MLL All-Stars feature several American players who tried out, but didn’t make Team USA. In addition, there are also several members of Canada’s national team among the MLL All-Stars which adds to the rivalry between the two countries.
“It will be a great opportunity to not only progress as a team and as a unit, but also continue to evaluate everybody,” said Cassese. “There are a lot of storylines. It’s more than just your typical All-Star Game where everyone shows up, has a good time then goes home. Both sides will have something to prove.
“It will be highly contested,” Cassese continued. “I think it will be more than just a happy All-Star Game. It will be pretty intense and a good experience.”
That All-Star game will play a large role in the United States preparation for the World Championships which kicks off just two weeks from Thursday’s game.
The U.S. and Canada have combined to win all 11 World Lacrosse Championships. The United States earned a 12-10 victory in the 2010 championship game, a tournament which Cassese played. He has since retired from playing and moved on to the coaching realm on the national stage.
The World Championships begin with opening ceremonies on Thursday, July 10 followed by the United States against Canada to kick off competition. There are 38 nations scheduled to play over 142 games in the tournament. The countries with the top six rankings (Australia, Canada, England, Iroquois, Japan and the United States) will compete in the Blue Division with the top four teams automatically advancing to the quarterfinals or semifinals.
Belgium, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Israel, Russia, Thailand, Turkey, and Uganda will all be competing in the event for the first time.
One major challenge with the World Championships is the physical demand of playing every day (or almost every day).
“In 2010, we played five games in five days in pool play,” said Cassese. “This year, because we play after opening ceremonies, we’ll actually get one day of rest. We’ll play, have one day off then have four games in four days. It’s really physically demanding and taxing. It’s a war of attrition for all these guys because they’re used to playing one game per week (in Major League Lacrosse).”
“There’s been a huge emphasis of being in the best shape of your lives,” he continued. “It’s not about playing one game a week; it’s about playing up to eight or nine games over a two-week span.”
This is a busy, but fulfilling time period for Cassese. He is among an elite group of coaches representing their country at the international stage. With the opportunity, Lehigh receives tremendous publicity as well. Anytime someone reads through the United States coaching staff, people will think (or say) “Kevin Cassese from Lehigh.” That goes a long way for the program which has made three straight Patriot League Championship Games, winning two, under Cassese.
“I personally think there’s no greater honor in our game,” he said. “Having a link from Team USA and the international games to Lehigh is really special.”
Follow along on social media throughout the tournament for consistent updates.