BETHLEHEM, Pa. – With the season opener quickly approaching, the Lehigh men’s lacrosse team opened its preseason minicamp on Friday which included meetings, fitness testing and practice. The two-time defending Patriot League Champion Mountain Hawks open their season on Feb. 1 at Furman before hosting Marquette the following Saturday.
“It’s great to get the guys back here and focused on lacrosse before classes begin (on Monday) and all the students get back,” said seventh-year head coach Kevin Cassese following Sunday afternoon’s practice. “This is an opportunity to focus on our base systems. We get the wheels in motion on what we’re going to be doing as a program and what we’re trying to achieve; we get everybody pointed in one direction.
“Guys came back with tremendous energy and incredible focus,” Cassese continued. “They did a great job of taking care of the details. You can tell that they’re really passionate about trying to be a winner this year.”
The Mountain Hawks are coming off a 12-5 season which saw them win a second straight Patriot League Championship and advance to their second consecutive NCAA Tournament. Lehigh is 26-8 over its last two seasons and despite losing a talented group of seniors, returns plenty of talent including two-time All-American and senior captain Ty Souders at defense.
“Everyone’s skill isn’t going to be game ready on day one, but I think our conditioning level coming back from break is better than it has been in a while,” said Souders. “It’s always a positive sign when guys are mentally ready to go. The energy level was awesome. It’s great to see guys continuing to fly around at the end of that last practice.”
Along with Souders, the Mountain Hawks return fellow two-time All-American Matt Poillon in goal. The junior is 25-6 in his career and owns a save percentage of 59.7 and GAA of 7.27. His career goals against average is currently seventh in NCAA history.
Juniors Dan Taylor and Patrick Corbett are the team’s top returnees offensively. Taylor is coming off 50 points a season ago (29 goals, 21 assists) while Corbett posted 26 (23 goals, three assists).
“You can never really replace those seniors or what they were able to do on the field,” said Souders. “We were able to learn from them and pick up where they left off. If you want to build a program, like Coach Cassese does and we all want to be a part of, it’s more about reloading rather than rebuilding.
“I think our senior class has come together really well,” Souders continued. “We have a bunch of juniors stepping up into leadership roles and filling the spots that were voided from the seniors of last year. We’re looking forward to continuing to get better.”
This preseason is especially important with the earliest opener in program history set for Feb. 1.
“Every single practice, every minute that we get with these guys, whether it be on the field, in the meeting rooms, or anywhere, is really valuable to help build team chemistry and help our team take steps together,” said Cassese. “This week coming up will be really important. We’ll treat it like a game week; go through a full week of practice and hopefully by the weekend, be able to have a little intrasquad scrimmage and continue to build on our systems.”
Effort and attention to detail has impressed Cassese the most.
“I think the collective effort has been tremendous,” he said. “This is a team from day one in the fall that’s been more about the group than about individuals. That has the makings of a very, very strong team.
“One of our mottos this year is ‘everything matters’ and the guys treat it as such,” Cassese continued. “There were a lot of examples over the course of the weekend of guys just playing really hard. You can tell there are a lot of guys who trained incredibly well. Our two-mile times and our run tests on Friday were about as good as we’ve had around here in my seven years. The guys are dialed in, they’re focused and they’re ready to go.”
Check back to Lehighsports.com for continued updates as Lehigh eyes its third straight Patriot League Championship in 2014.