By: Justin Lafleur, Lehigh Sports Media Relations
Dan Taylor is a born and bred Canadian. Before the World Lacrosse Championships in July, Taylor was truthful with his coach, who was on the coaching staff for Team USA.
“I sent Coach Cassese a text at the start of the tournament and said good luck, but I’m sorry, I can’t root for you,” he said.
Out of Calgary, Alberta, Taylor understandably felt a connection to his roots and his home country. Those roots, combined with continued development at Lehigh, have turned him into one of the nation’s elite attackmen.
“Dan is one of the most talented and smartest lacrosse players I have ever been around in my coaching career,” said Lehigh head coach Kevin Cassese. “His skill set as a finisher is reminiscent of fellow Canadian, Zack Greer, whom I had the privilege of coaching during my time as an assistant at Duke. Dan’s skill set as a facilitator is reminiscent of fellow Canadian, John Grant Jr., whom I had the privilege of playing alongside during my time with the Rochester Rattlers of Major League Lacrosse.”
Growing up, Taylor didn’t know Lehigh, nor did he know much about NCAA Lacrosse in the United States. It wasn’t until around ninth grade when he realized he could come down to the U.S. and play. In tenth grade, he visited Lehigh for the King of the Mountain Tournament.
“As soon as I visited, I fell in love with the campus and the coaching staff,” said Taylor. “After visiting a couple times, I knew this was where I wanted to be.”
It also helped that Taylor knew Lehigh assistant coach Taylor Wray, who had coached Dan in eighth grade.
“I was in a program called the National Sport Academy during middle school which offered lacrosse as a class,” said Dan. “Coach Wray happened to be one of the coaches. At the time, he was playing for the Calgary Roughnecks, the professional indoor team in Calgary. We kept in touch and it was really nice to reconnect.”
“You could tell even at a young age that Dan had a special set of skills,” said Wray. “His hands around the goal and vision with the ball were exceptional at that point. You knew he was going to be a heck of a player, especially a goal scorer. That was never in question.”
Wray was named head coach at Saint Joseph’s before Taylor’s freshman season. He never coached him in college, but has followed his progress.
Taylor began playing box lacrosse at age four and field lacrosse around age 12. Coming into Lehigh, he was tall, but physically underdeveloped. Four years later, Dan credits his work with strength and conditioning coach Eric Markovcy as one of the biggest reasons for his success.
“I got on a meal plan, gained 30 pounds of muscle and continued improving physically, which led to greater success on the field,” said Taylor.
Taylor has progressively taken his game to the next level. Last season, he led the nation in scoring among Canadians, posting 76 points. Following a relatively slow start to the season, Taylor turned up his game down the stretch, recording 62 of his points over the final 11 games. The streak began with an eight-point effort against Navy.
“I focused less on trying to be something that I’m not,” said Taylor. “I let the game come to me. That Navy game was a big turning point; I think it helped my confidence and turned things around for me.”
“Dan’s lacrosse IQ is off the charts,” said Cassese. “He has a great understanding of game plans, matchups, tempo and clock management. He studies film as if he was on the coaching staff. He makes it a point to know his job and everyone else’s job on the offensive side of the ball.”
Taylor’s success down the stretch was unparalleled. He posted seven points or more on five occasions, including nine at Lafayette when he recorded a double natural hat trick (six straight goals) and eight in the Patriot League Semifinals vs. Army, the nation’s top-ranked defense.
“Dan also has an uncanny ability to read body language and facial expressions, then use that to determine where the offense should attack on the next dodge or next possession,” said Cassese. “He’s been so impressive in that quarterback role that I’ve relied on him to call secondary offensive signals and/or audibles during live game offensive possessions. This is something I’ve never done in my 10 years as a Division I lacrosse coach, and I’ve been around some very talented offensive players.”
Even though 47 of his 76 points were goals, Taylor prides himself on being an all-around player.
“Growing up as a hockey player, everyone always looks to be a Wayne Gretzky type of player,” said Taylor. “He was so good at scoring goals and getting assists. It’s great to score a lot of goals, but it’s equally as rewarding to assist and help set up the offense.”
Dan’s balanced mindset fits perfectly with his role as the offense’s facilitator. The transition was a challenge for Taylor, who was primarily around the crease his first two seasons. Those inside skills came from his experience in box (indoor) lacrosse, which is the primary sport up in Canada.
“The box game is very fast-paced with quick ball movement and it’s all about tight spaces,” said Taylor. “With the open field here, Canadians have found a niche of working inside. Having such a large net to shoot on with such a small goalie, finishing came naturally to us.”
Taylor has finished as well as anyone at Lehigh, the Patriot League and the nation. Last season, his .412 shooting percentage led the team and marked a career high. Taylor has also developed a knack for finishing behind-the-back shots. He’s not trying to be flashy; it’s just the practical shot in the moment.
“In box lacrosse, you tend to stay on your side of the floor and if you ever have to cross over, you increase your angle by going behind the back,” he said. “It was something that I’ve learned since I was six or seven years old and have been able to develop.”
Taylor has become Lehigh’s focal point on offense. The Mountain Hawk offense came into its own last season as Reid Weberposted 44 points, Patrick Corbett record 37 and Kurtis Kaunas had 28. The team’s seven leading scorers all return in 2015.
“The transition was definitely tough,” said Taylor. “In the first seven or eight games last season, I was still figuring out what I could do in that new role. I remember talking with Coach Cassese, who reminded me to figure out what works for me. Over the rest of the season, I really figured out what worked and what didn’t.”
“It took a while for Dan to realize that he was a different player than David and Dante, and that it was perfectly fine,” said Cassese. “Dan began to learn that being the quarterback of the offense didn’t mean he had to play behind the goal, at X, the entire game. He learned that he could quarterback from any spot on the field. It was more about relying on his leadership, his intellect and his well-rounded lacrosse game to help our new-look offense succeed by any means necessary. Dan embraced his role and ran with it.”
Taylor has already created a legacy at Lehigh. He owns 87 goals and 56 assists in his career, but most importantly, is a two-time Patriot League Champion.
After this season, Taylor hopes to continue his playing career. He aspires to play professional indoor and outdoor lacrosse in the National Lacrosse League and Major League Lacrosse, respectively. Taylor also dreams of representing his country on the national level.
Who knows, maybe he could find himself playing against Cassese in the 2018 World Lacrosse Championships.
“My goal for a long time has been to represent Team Canada, whether it’s box lacrosse or field lacrosse,” said Taylor. “I would love to represent my country.”
Taylor tried out for the Canadian Under-19 team in 2012, which Wray coached. He didn’t make the team, but has developed into an entirely different player since then.
“Now that he’s a few years older, he’ll definitely be in contention during the next men’s national team tryouts,” said Wray, an assistant coach for the Canadian Senior National Team. “It’s an incredibly talented pool of players, so for someone to just be invited to camp – which I assume he’ll be – would be an honor. He’s certainly capable of playing at that level.”
Along with his professional aspirations, Taylor will be attending school in Canada for a two-year Education degree to go with his English major at Lehigh. The two-year degree in Canada is equivalent to a second Bachelor’s degree. Taylor hopes to become a teacher and would also like to return to the United States one day as a coach, like Wray.
“I’d like to help Canadian players get down here because I know how awesome this experience has been and how it’s helped me grow as a person,” said Dan.
For now, the focus is on the present. All Taylor and his class have known is winning, combining to go 39-13 over their first three seasons and reaching the league title game every year.
With a class featuring Taylor, three-time All-American goalie Matt Poillon, Corbett, Kaunas and long-stick midfielder Dylan O’Shaughnessy, the 2015 season could be special. The Mountain Hawks hope to return to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year hiatus and make noise on the national scene.
“I feel like the level of focus with this team as a whole is on another level,” said Taylor. “As a class, we’ve really gelled together. We always knew that our senior year would be a huge year where we could do something special.
“I’d say the ceiling is set as high as you can set it.”