Story by Justin Lafleur, Lehigh Sports Media Relations
Despite two weeks between the Patriot League and NCAA Tournaments, the Lehigh men’s lacrosse team is hard at work in various areas to ensure success – on and off the field. The players have hit the books for final exams, while sprinkling in some time to get stronger in the weight room and stay sharp on the field. With the NCAA Selection Show on Sunday at 9 p.m. on ESPNU, the Mountain Hawks won’t know their first-round opponent until then, but the coaches are utilizing the close proximity of several conference tournaments to get a jump-start on possible opponents.
The top priority this week is rest and final exams. The Mountain Hawks were given two days off following Sunday’s Championship Game victory over Bucknell, Lehigh’s second game in less than 48 hours. The de facto bye week fits in well with final exams, allowing the players to focus on academics before shifting to lacrosse after the brackets are announced.
“We’re studying for finals. That’s the number one reason why you come to school,” said senior Dante Fantoni. “You have to get good grades. Everyone is studying for their tests this week.”
“The players are extremely busy studying, writing papers and taking exams,” said Lehigh head coach Kevin Cassese. “I’ve built in some lifting sessions, speed sessions and general practice sessions to keep them sharp, keep them motivated and also provide some much-needed study breaks. Without knowing who our next opponent will be, there isn’t much to do in the way of game preparation, scouting reports or film, so we’ve taken this opportunity to truly focus on ourselves.”
The coaches are also utilizing the time to start exploring potential NCAA Tournament opponents.
“For the coaches, we have been busy trying to figure out exactly who we might play,” said Cassese. “With that in mind we’ve decided to spray out over the Northeast to attend many of the conference tournament games so we can live scout some potential first round match-ups and/or some potential NCAA teams. By the end of the week, we will have watched tournament games from the ECAC, Ivy and Big East.”
Conveniently for the coaches, those three tournaments are all held within close proximity: Big East (at Villanova), ECAC (at Hobart) and Ivy League (at Cornell).
For Lehigh, the 13 or 14 days in between games (depending on the first-round date) marks its longest layoff of the season, but the team has been here before. The Mountain Hawks went through the same break last year following their title game victory at Colgate.
“Experience is always an advantage when it comes to making decisions,” said Cassese. “For coaches and players alike, we definitely have a better grasp on how to handle the finals week and how best to prepare ourselves for the NCAA prep week that will begin on Monday.”
The team wants to use its second straight Patriot League Championship as a springboard to success in the NCAA Tournament. With Championship Weekend right down the road in Philadelphia, Lehigh has aspirations of a National Title. The quest has already begun this week with a focus on academics, the weight room and staying sharp in all areas. Taking care of those things this week will do wonders for next week, and hopefully beyond.
“The most important thing is to get in your books, stay focused on what’s important and make sure it’s all taken care of on the academic front,” said senior Tewaaraton Award nominee and Patriot League Tournament MVP David DiMaria. “As the week progresses, the focus starts shifting back to lacrosse and getting back on the field, focusing on what it’s going to take to beat a very good opponent.”
“For as much as we all wish we could play again this weekend and get right back at it, it’s nice to be able to rest and refocus on what we need to do,” said Fantoni. “Get the focus on ourselves. It’s great because we can worry just about our finals. Coach does a great job with that, letting us study for our finals so we’re not pulling all-nighters then coming in for four hours on the side. He’s doing a great job of balancing that. It really helps us out and I think we’ll be ready to go for whoever we’re going to play.”
The Mountain Hawks will learn their NCAA Tournament fate on Sunday night at 9 p.m. on ESPNU and ESPN3. Check back to Lehighsports.com for continued updates on Lehigh men’s lacrosse in the NCAA Tournament.
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