BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Smith Family Head Lacrosse Coach Kevin Cassese announced the Mountain Hawks’ 2012 schedule on Thursday,which includes a 14-game slate highlighted by four teams who qualified for the 2011 NCAA Tournament. Lehigh will host tournament participants Villanova and Bucknell while traveling to Penn and North Carolina. In addition, the Mountain Hawks play Yale, Penn State, Army and Colgate, who were all nationally ranked for much of last season.
“Once again, we have lofty goals set for the upcoming spring season,” said Cassese. “In order to achieve those lofty goals, there needs to be a schedule in place that provides opportunity to compete against some of the top ranked teams in Division I Lacrosse. The Patriot League certainly provides some built in opportunities; it has become customary over the last few years for the Patriot League Champion to be ranked in the top 10 in the final regular season [national] poll.
“Our nonleague schedule is as challenging as it’s ever been,” he continued. “Personally, I look forward to working with our student-athletes and coaching staff on a variety of fronts, on and off the field, in an effort to best prepare this group for our most successful season since arriving to Bethlehem five years ago.”
Lehigh kicks off the season at Saint Joseph’s on Feb. 11 when it plays former assistant coach Taylor Wray and his Hawks. The Mountain Hawks have defeated Saint Joe’s two straight years and own a 10-2 record in the all-time series.
The following Saturday, Lehigh heads home to play its first NCAA Tournament team in Villanova out of the Big East. The Wildcats surged onto the national scene last season, reaching as high as seventh in the national polls before earning an at-large berth into the tournament where they hung tough against eventual Final Four participant Denver. Lehigh and Villanova played a tight game last season as a back-and-forth game saw the Wildcats pull out a slim 9-8 final.
The Mountain Hawks play their second straight at home on Feb. 25 when they welcome Manhattan to the Ulrich Sport Complex. That marks their final home game for more than two weeks as Lehigh then heads to Penn (Feb. 28), North Carolina (Mar. 3) and VMI (Mar. 6).
Penn and UNC both earned at-large berths to the NCAA Tournament after stellar 2011 campaigns. The Mountain Hawks and Quakers have enjoyed a long and storied history, playing 47 times with Penn owning a 26-21 advantage. This will mark the first game between the two sides since 2007, a 13-12 Quaker victory.
Lehigh and North Carolina will meet for the fourth straight season. Last April, the Mountain Hawks bounced back from a slow start to play the Tar Heels even for the game’s final 33:21 in a game shown live nation-wide on CBS Sports Network. Lehigh will then wrap up its spring break trip at VMI, marking the first meeting between the Mountain Hawks and Keydets since 2003.
The Mountain Hawks return home for two straight and three of their next four, hosting Yale on Sunday, Mar. 11 before welcoming Army for the Patriot League opener on the 17th. Both squads vied for NCAA Tournament berths a year ago as the Bulldogs finished the season at 10-3 while reaching as high as 14th in the national polls. Meanwhile, the Black Knights continued to enjoy success, being nationally ranked for much of the season while earning the No. 3 seed in the Patriot League Tournament. Army’s season was highlighted by a nonleague win over Ivy League Champion Cornell.
A midweek trip to Penn State is set for Mar. 20 as the Mountain Hawks look to avenge last season’s heartbreaking overtime loss to the Nittany Lions. That will serve as Lehigh’s final nonleague game of the season.
Lehigh rounds out the regular season with Patriot League games on each of the next five Saturdays. It first hosts Holy Cross on Mar. 24, looking to improve to 22-0 all-time against the Crusaders. The Mountain Hawks then travel to Navy on Mar. 31 and Colgate on Apr. 7. Lehigh will be searching for a second straight win over the Midshipmen for the first time in program history. Last season, the Mountain Hawks defeated Navy for the first time in nearly 100 years; the program’s only other win over Navy came in 1913. Lehigh will then travel to a Colgate squad that finished off last year with a win over eventual national finalist Maryland.
The Mountain Hawks’ final home contest is set for Saturday, Apr. 14 against defending Patriot League Champion Bucknell. That game is slated for Goodman Stadium. Lehigh and Bucknell played a pair of tight games last season; the regular-season contest was a one-goal margin while the sides played an intense Patriot League Semifinal which saw the game tied at two at the half.
Lehigh wraps up the regular season at crosstown rival Lafayette on Apr. 21. The last time the Mountain Hawks played in Easton, Dante Fantoni scored his second-straight overtime game-winner to lead Lehigh to a 10-9 win over the then nationally-ranked Leopards.
The Patriot League Tournament is set for the following weekend as the semifinals will take place on Friday, Apr. 27 and the championship game on Sunday the 29th. The entire tournament will be hosted by the regular season champion. Lehigh is looking to make its second straight league tournament appearance for the first time since 2005-06.
The NCAA Tournament will kick off in mid-May with the first round on campus sites, followed by the quarterfinals the following weekend. Championship weekend is scheduled for May 26-28 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
View full schedule at Lehighsports.com.