BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Following more than four weeks of preseason practice, the Lehigh men’s lacrosse team will travel to Philadelphia on Saturday for its season opener at Saint Joseph’s. Faceoff is set for 1 p.m. at Finnesey Field. This marks the fifth straight year that the Mountain Hawks will open with Saint Joe’s, with Lehigh winning three of the previous four meetings. The Hawks are led by first-year head coach Taylor Wray, who came to Saint Joseph’s from Lehigh where he spent four seasons as assistant coach.
The Mountain Hawks are coming off their first Patriot League Tournament since 2006. With numerous key players returning, including 10 of the team’s top 11 scorers, Lehigh looks to take the next step in 2012 with aspirations of a Patriot League Championship and NCAA Tournament appearance.
Though it’s becoming tradition for these two teams to duel in their season openers, it should prove extra special this time around with Wray taking the reins at Saint Joseph’s. Wray, a former Duke standout, was named an assistant coach at Lehigh prior to the 2008 season. A Native of Edmonton, Alberta, he served as the team’s defensive coordinator. The Mountain Hawks allowed only 9.4 goals per game last season while holding seven teams to single digits and four to seven or fewer. Lehigh also held its opponent scoreless for long stretches in 2011, including one string of six straight games with a 15+ minute scoreless stretch in each contest.
The Hawks went 0-12 last year, their first in the challenging Colonial Athletic Association. Wray will attempt to limit the number of goals his squad allows, as the Hawks gave up an average of 12.67 goals per game last season while scoring less than five per contest.
Lehigh’s offense will be led at attack by juniors David DiMaria and Dante Fantoni, who combined for 99 points as sophomores. Both Long Island natives, DiMaria led the team in assists while Fantoni found his role as the team’s leading finisher, though each have lethal feeding and scoring abilities.
Adam Johnston, the team’s second-leading returning goal-scorer (27) is looking for a stellar senior campaign. Johnston has proven to be a man-up specialist, tallying 12 times with the extra man last season, good for half of the Mountain Hawks’ EMO goals. The Mountain Hawks led the Patriot League in scoring last season.
Senior twins Cameron and Roman Lao-Gosney will be reunited at midfield. Despite moving back to his natural midfield position, Cameron will hope to maintain his scoring touch from last season, as he ranked third on the team with 35 points, including 24 goals. Junior Brian Hess should also see significant action as an offensive midfielder as well.
Another player to watch is Inside Lacrosse preseason All-American Ryan Snyder, who will look to continue his success in the faceoff X. Snyder won 61.6 percent of his faceoffs as a sophomore, scooping a Patriot League record 118 groundballs. He finished in the top 10 nationally in both faceoff percentage and GBs.
At the other end of the field, sophomore Ty Souders and senior Blaise Fullen with anchor the defense at long pole. The Mountain Hawks have added depth in net with freshman Matt Poillon, who has impressed in the fall and preseason, while juniors Dan Carr and Griffin Farha, and senior Conor Murphy also have extensive starting experience in the past.
Saint Joseph’s features a strong mix of senior leadership and emerging younger talent. Senior goalie Griffin Ferrigan posted a 48.6 save percentage a season ago, splitting time with junior Chris Moffa. Senior Bobby Hurley will anchor the midfield. A pair of young guns (sophomore Ryan McGee and junior Kyle Williams) will test Lehigh’s defense from the attack position. Williams, a lefty, led Saint Joe’s in scoring last season with 26 points on 17 goals and nine assists.
Lehigh is 10-2 all-time against Saint Joseph’s, including victories in the last two matchups and six of the last seven. The Brown and White opened last year with a 16-7 romp of the Hawks at the Ulrich Sports Complex, led by a career-high six points (five goals, one assist) from Fantoni. The 16 goals were the most the Mountain Hawks have scored against Saint Joseph’s since 1998 (spanning eight games). Lehigh has eked out slim 7-6 and 7-5 victories over the Hawks in each of the past two road contests.
Following Saturday’s game, the Mountain Hawks will return home to host another Philadelphia school (Villanova) on Saturday, Feb. 18. Faceoff against the 10th-ranked Wildcats is set for 12 p.m. at the Ulrich Sports Complex. Lehigh also hosts preseason top-20 squads Yale (13/18) and Bucknell (15/10) on Mar. 11 and Apr. 14, respectively.