BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Following a preseason scrimmage against each other Saturday, head coaches Kevin Cassese of Lehigh and Brian Dougherty of Chestnut Hill will be joining forces Sunday when the two friends coach the U.S. National Team in the Champion Challenge. After the Mountain Hawks and Griffins squared off, the two hopped in a car for the Philadelphia airport. Their ultimate destination is Lake Buena Vista, Fla. where they’ll lead the United States against defending national semifinalist Denver.
Also on the United States’ staff is Towson head coach Shawn Nadelen. Sunday’s game will face-off at 1:30 p.m. live on ESPN3.com and will re-air at 10 p.m. on ESPNU.
Things worked out so perfectly that you’d think the two set up the scrimmage intentionally, knowing that they’d be headed in the same direction Sunday. But that wasn’t the case.
“It’s pretty cool how this weekend came together,” said Dougherty after the game. “Now, we’re going to hop in a car [for Philadelphia] and fly down to Florida. We’ll probably talk a little bit about the game, but more about life; two buds getting a chance to catch up. It’s pretty cool, from getting our teams going to representing the United States the next day.”
Cassese and Dougherty have always been competitors, but it wasn’t until 2007 when the friendship truly blossomed. After facing each other on the field for quite a while, Cassese was traded to the Philadelphia Barrage where he and Dougherty went on to win an MLL Championship.
“That’s when we got to know each other really well,” said Cassese. “We’ve had a great relationship ever since through both Team USA and coaching.”
For Cassese, it’s déjà vu from October when the Mountain Hawks played Towson in a fall ball game before he and Nadelen headed right to Stars & Stripes weekend to face Cassese’s alma mater Duke.
“I need to get a ride at some point,” said Cassese jokingly. “I gave Shawn a ride in the fall and now I’m giving Doc one in the spring. At some point, I’ve got to get some gas money back or something.”
“It’s a lot of fun and an honor to be involved, especially with Shawn and Doc; they’re great coaches and great people. It’s extra special when you do these types of things with great friends.”
This is Cassese’s fourth time coaching the United States’ team, leading the squad in the Stars & Stripes Weekend and Champion Challenge each of the last two years. Sunday will mark the first time that Cassese, Dougherty and Nadelen are coaching together, though. Cassese was the only coach last fall against Harvard before being joined by Dougherty for last year’s Champion Challenge against Notre Dame. Meanwhile, this fall, it was Cassese and Nadelen for Stars & Stripes against Duke.
On Sunday, the trio wants to win and improve to 4-0 over the last two seasons. Along with getting a result, the experience with the U.S. National Team is an invaluable opportunity to learn from the best and should ultimately help the collegiate teams they’re coaching. Both Cassese and Dougherty stressed the importance of being around the best from the sport of lacrosse.
“Just being around the best players in the world, you pick up so many things,” said Dougherty. “Just little drills, attitudes and things they do during the game. I try to absorb all that kind of stuff then bring it back to a smaller level.
“We have to realize that our guys are not the world team, so we can’t ask them to do things that Paul Rabil is doing out there, but we can pick some things out,” he continued. “I think that gives us a pretty good advantage over maybe some other coaches who don’t have that opportunity.”
“It’s always great to stay involved with the top players in the game and be around the highest level of play that our game has to offer,” said Cassese. “That’s really what Team USA is all about. We get the opportunity to work with, and coach, some of the top young talent in the world.”
“The players form such great habits in how they play and how they work,” he continued. “You can bring that back to your team. Team USA is a collection of guys that has really never played together. Each time they come out, it’s a different group; there are some consistent members, but there are different players every time. Every single time, they come together very quickly and the common goal is to get a victory.”
For all three coaches, it’s a busy weekend, but something that’s worthwhile both personally and for their current teams – Lehigh, Chestnut Hill and Dougherty. Cassese and Dougherty experienced a little bit of everything this weekend: from coaching against a good friend one day, to teaming up to coach some of the best players in the world the next.