BETHLEHEM, Pa. – With its season opener now less than four weeks away, the Lehigh men’s lacrosse team kicked off preseason practice over the weekend with double sessions on Saturday and Sunday. The Mountain Hawks battled frigid temperatures, hitting the field twice each day as the squad works towards its season opener on Feb. 11 at Saint Joseph’s.
“It’s been an awesome weekend, a lot of lacrosse in a short period of time,” said Smith Family Head Coach Kevin Cassese. “The guys are certainly excited to be back. We had four practices and over an hour’s worth of meetings, just putting in the basic principles and laying the foundation of who we’re going to be this spring. From a coaching standpoint, it’s been a lot of fun.”
The Mountain Hawks return nine starters, including their top four scorers and 10 of their top 11, led by the junior tandem of David DiMaria (22 goals, 30 assists) and Dante Fantoni (33 goals, 14 assists). They combined for 99 points as sophomores, good for the 14th most prolific scoring duo in the nation (and sixth-most among returnees).
“It’s great to be back here with the guys,” said DiMaria. “We’re working hard, trying to get better every day and get prepared for the opener.”
Senior co-captain Roman Lao-Gosney helps spearheads the midfield after posting 12 goals and three assists a season ago.
“We’re miles ahead of where we were last year,” said Gosney. “It’s about twice as cold as it was even last week at home [in Maine]. Our sticks are looking good and everyone’s in shape. It’s exciting to be back on the field. We’re ready for a big season.”
Expectations are high for the Mountain Hawks after advancing to the Patriot League Semifinals last season, the program’s first Patriot League Tournament berth since 2006. Lehigh played an increasingly tough schedule in 2011 and wouldn’t back away from the challenge. All nine of the team’s losses came against opponents ranked at some point during the season. Seven of them came by a combined 17 goals, including three one-goal defeats. Two were against NCAA Tournament qualifiers Villanova (9-8) and Bucknell (12-11) while the other was an 8-7 overtime heartbreaker against in-state rival Penn State.
The 2012 Mountain Hawks will certainly have their opportunity to make a statement, facing seven preseason nationally-ranked squads beginning with their home opener against #10/11 Villanova on Feb. 18.
Lehigh began preseason practice with basic fundamentals, and learning the offense and defense, which leads into its scrimmages on consecutive Saturday (Jan. 28 and Feb. 4).
“The first few days are really important,” said Cassese. “We come back off the holiday break and in a few short weeks, we’re playing another colored jersey. It all comes at you pretty quickly. In order to get all those basics and fundamentals in, we have to make the most of our first weekend.
“Right now, it’s just dealing with basic fundamentals – getting used to the offense and making sure everyone’s familiar with it,” said DiMaria. “Yesterday was all about defense and getting used to the defense.”
The Mountain Hawk went through an entire fall together, except freshman TaShan Mitchell who begins practice with the lacrosse team after a successful rookie campaign with football.
“For the upperclassmen, preseason is repetition, but that’s why they’re upperclassmen; they feel comfortable with it,” said Cassese. “The hope is that after this weekend, it jogs everyone’s memories a little bit and they remember what we did in the fall. That allows us to start moving forward with our progression when we reconvene on Tuesday.”
Check back later for video from the team’s opening weekend of practice.
The Mountain Hawks kick off their 2012 campaign at Saint Joseph’s on Feb. 11. Lehigh opens its home slate the following Saturday against local rival and #10/11 Villanova. The Mountain Hawks also host preseason top-20 squads Yale (13/18) and Bucknell (15/10) on Mar. 11 and Apr. 14, respectively.