The 2014 Lehigh men’s lacrosse team advanced to its third straight Patriot League Championship Game, but fell short of its ultimate goals. The Mountain Hawks finished with 13 wins (just one shy of tying the school record set in 2012) and enjoyed a strong season on many accounts, but the team isn’t satisfied.
Lehigh returns in 2015 looking for more; the squad has aspirations for not only its third Patriot League Championship in the last four years, but to also advance in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.
The pieces are in place – a three-time All-American goaltender, one of the nation’s top attackmen and a plethora of players who have the talent and experience to take their individual games, and the collective team play, to a whole new level. But now, most importantly, the team needs to make it happen.
“For the first time in a few years, we have seniors and juniors who’ve started many games for us,” said Lehigh head coach Kevin Cassese. “They have experience and they also have talent. I think that’s really necessary for high-level teams.”
Lehigh’s “down” year was 13 wins and an opportunity to play for an NCAA Tournament berth at Loyola. The program continues its rise and looks to translate the collective hype and excitement into wins this spring.
Let’s take a deeper look at the team as we highlight some players to watch.
Senior Dan Taylor and junior Reid Weber anchor the team’s attack unit after finishing 1-2 on the Mountain Hawks in scoring last season. Taylor finished with a Patriot League leading 76 points on 47 goals and 29 assists while Weber had 44 points behind 27 goals and 17 assists.
“Those guys really solidified themselves last year and developed great chemistry,” said Cassese. “They had a great fall together. They’re healthy, productive, and they’re definitely the strength of our offense as we head into the spring. I expect them to take their games to the next level this year.”
Leading the way is Taylor, who came into his own as last season progressed, really embracing the role of the offensive quarterback and catalyst. After a relatively slow start to the season (by his standards), he ended up with 62 points over his final 11 games. His 76 total points were good for seventh in the nation and tops among Canadian born Division I players.
“We look for Dan to become an even better quarterback of the offense and be able to direct traffic and get other people in the right spots without impacting his own personal play,” said Cassese. “He’s worked really hard on becoming a more multi-dimensional player, going to his weak hand a little bit more and also having that dimension of being able to score, feed and facilitate. I expect him to take the next step and become one of the game’s elite attackmen.”
Taylor has opened eyes on the national landscape, being identified by Inside Lacrosse as a potential Tewaaraton Award candidate after last season’s effort, coupled with his performance in the fall against defending NCAA Tournament teams Cornell and Richmond. He was selected 38th overall by the Denver Outlaws in the Major League Lacrosse Collegiate Draft, held Friday, January 23.
Meanwhile, Weber earned a starting spot last year and ran with the opportunity. He finished last season with eight multi-goal games and four hat tricks, including in the Patriot League Semifinals against Army when he scored the game-winning goal with just 3.7 seconds remaining.
“We look for Reid to take some of the pressure off, carry the ball, facilitate the offense and take his game to the next level off the dodge and with his feeding ability,” said Cassese. “If these guys can take their games to the next level, a pretty potent attack from last year could turn into a really dynamic attack in 2015.”
Kaunas emerged as an All-Patriot League midfielder last season, earning a spot on the second team after 20 goals and eight assists for 28 points, fourth on the Mountain Hawks. The local product tallied his first-career hat trick in the Patriot League Quarterfinals against Navy.
“Kurt is the headliner of our midfield group, coming back as an All-League player who’s really poised for a great senior season,” said Cassese. “He can initiate against a short stick or a long stick and will have to do both this year.”
Alongside Kaunas will be Henderson, Lehigh’s do-it-all midfielder who contributes on both ends of the field. He tallied 13 points as a junior along with 22 groundballs and three caused turnovers. He is an old-fashioned two-way middie.
“Alan Henderson is a huge cog in our wheel,” said Cassese. “He’s a guy who can take extra-long shifts, playing offense, defense and getting up and down the field. We expect him to play defense after he plays an offensive shift.”
Another key player on the offensive end is junior Billy Oppenheimer. A transfer from Quinnipiac, Oppenheimer has played both attack and midfield in his collegiate career. He found a nice role in Lehigh’s midfield last season, finishing sixth on the team with 16 points behind seven goals and nine assists.
“Billy is that skilled lefty presence for us and he can do that out of the midfield or at attack,” said Cassese. “He played midfield in the fall and did a great job.”
With the graduation of All-American Ty Souders who was the quarterback of the defense, fifth-year senior Lukas Mikelinich looks to take over the communication reigns at that end of the field. Mikelinich is a former All-Patriot League honoree (as a sophomore) and has played an integral role in the surge of the Mountain Hawks’ defense. He tallied career highs in both groundballs (37) and caused turnovers (18) last season and is a co-captain (with Taylor) in 2015.
Mikelinich was recently drafted 58th overall by the New York Lizards in the Major League Lacrosse Draft and was highlighted in a feature story on Lehighsports.com and NCAA.com.
Junior Casey Eidnenshink is another experienced returnee on the defensive end. He emerged as a key part of the Lehigh defense last season, both at close defense and long-stick midfield. He looks to jump into the lineup at close defense to fill the void left by Souders. Eidenshink finished with impressive numbers in 2014, posting 29 groundballs and 16 caused turnovers.
“Casey has played a lot for us in the past and we’re expecting him to step up this year,” said Cassese.
After offseason surgery, senior Matt Poillon hopes to become a rare four-time All-American this season. The Inside Lacrosse preseason second team All-American sat out the fall to recover from his surgery and was cleared before winter break.
“We expect him to be 100 percent,” said Cassese. “He played at about 80 percent last year and by the end of the season, maybe even 60 percent. He was really hurting, so to have him at full health and feeling good, I think that gives him an opportunity to be the best goaltender in the country and one of the best that we’ve seen in Division I lacrosse over the last several years. The possibilities are endless.”
Poillon’s resume features a 37-11 record, 7.25 career goals against average and .589 save percentage. He’s a three-time All-Patriot League honoree and All-American, and two-time league Goalkeeper of the Year. Poillon was selected 28th overall by the Lizards in the MLL Draft.
The buzz and excitement around the program continues to build and it begins with a senior class that features two All-Americans (Poillon, Taylor). Those two, along with Mikelinich, were named preseason All-Patriot League honorees while Poillon garnered preseason Defensive Player of the Year recognition.
“There’s definitely a lot of excitement around this team,” said Cassese. “Our senior class has won a lot of games in their time here. They have the potential to be the winningest class in the history of the program, which senior classes have done the last three years.”
Hype, expectation and excitement is one thing, but a lot of hard work needs to happen for the Mountain Hawks to reach their goals.
“There are a lot of variables that go into a season. There’ll be leadership that needs to continue to develop and chemistry that needs to continue to develop,” said Cassese. “We think some of those intangibles are in place and if they’re not in place now, that they will be in place by the time we start playing games. There’s a lot of excitement because we have a lot of the pieces that could potentially make a great team, but there’s a lot of time and a lot of things that need to happen in order for that to take shape.”
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