Mountain Hawks deep into preseason practice

BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh men’s lacrosse team is five days into its preseason schedule as it looks to build off a breakout 2012 campaign and continue the success this season. The Mountain Hawks’ first day was last Friday (Jan. 11), which consisted of meetings and testing, while they hit the field for the first time on Saturday. Lehigh enters 2013 with high expectations, ranked #8 nationally by Face-Off Yearbook.

“It’s nice to be back at it again; it feels like the winter break lasts forever,” said Lehigh head coach Kevin Cassese. “To have the whole group back together again working towards our goal is a great feeling. I’m really excited and I know the guys are too. We already have a weekend under our belts, so we’re off and running.”

The Mountain Hawks feature a veteran laden squad led by a senior class of 14. Six players earned Preseason All-America honors from Inside Lacrosse, including four seniors (David DiMaria, Dante Fantoni, Noah Molnar and Mike Noone).

“We’ve been looking really good,” said senior captain Brian Hess. “We’ve been more advanced than in the past with everyone being in good shape, going really hard. We have a lot of older guys now who’ve been playing for three or four years, so we can go into more advanced things early on.”

The first few days of practice are all about the basics, the fundamentals that lead to success.

“Right now, it’s all about base systems,” said Cassese. “For us, we want to get in our basic systems – just a quick review for our upperclassmen and a reintroduction for our freshmen who were here in the fall. Over five practices already, we’ve already put in everything that we did all fall long. So five practices condensed into what would be 20-25 practices in the fall.”

It’s also important to get the 11 freshmen and two sophomore transfers acclimated.

“They’re an awesome class; they’re a bunch of good guys,” said Hess. “They fit in right away and we get along really well with them. I think a couple of them will be able to contribute early on. They’re giving us really good looks in practice and fitting in really well.”

“Not only is it a talented group of freshmen, but they’re also great people,” said Cassese. “That’s the most important thing. We need to keep stockpiling great people around here. The guys are really working hard. It’s tough as a freshman to crack the lineup on a veteran team, but we do have a couple guys who I think will find themselves some playing time.”

Lehigh is entering this season as “the hunted” for the first time in program history. Last year, the Mountain Hawks finished 14-3 and made their first-ever NCAA Tournament after capturing their first Patriot League Tournament Title. Lehigh fell to eventual National Finalist Maryland by only a single goal in the first round of the tournament, and look to learn from that experience in 2013.

“We have to keep to our fundamentals, the basics that got us this far, which is hard work and competitiveness,” said Hess. “Even though we’ve received a number of preseason accolades, it’s only preseason and we haven’t proven anything. This is a new team; we’re trying to work hard to accomplish our goals.”

With a number of rule changes in place for this season, one common denominator is speed of play. It will speed up what was already called “the fastest game on two feet.”

“There’s no down time over the course of a lacrosse game. There never was, but now there’s just zero down time,” said Cassese. “You have to be in great shape. If you’re not in great shape, you’re probably not going to play. Especially in the midfield position, you’ve got to be able to go up and down 3-4-5 times then play a shift, and play a great one, in order to be effective.

“I feel good about where we are,” Cassese continued. “Obviously it’s a race against time for the first game on February 9. You’re trying to dodge any bullets you get with weather. That’s just the nature of the preseason in the Northeast. It certainly makes us tougher and stronger.”

The Mountain Hawks continue hard at work in preparation for their season opener on Saturday, Feb. 9 against Saint Joseph’s, who’s led by former Lehigh assistant Taylor Wray. Opening faceoff is set for 1 p.m. at the Ulrich Sports Complex.

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