October 14, 2013

Pennsylvania Programs Show Stock at Capital Lacrosse Classic

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive

Bucknell returns seven of its top eight point-producers on offense, including starting sophomore attackman Sean Doyle.
© Kevin P. Tucker

BETHESDA, Md. — Who is Pennsylvania's best?

The question was not answered Sunday, nor should it have been. It is fall ball, after all. But the mere presence of Penn State, Bucknell and Lehigh at The Landon School (Md.) for the second annual Capital Lacrosse Invitational begged the question.

Penn State hosted its first-ever NCAA tournament game last May, and the program has shown an upward trajectory as Jeff Tambroni and staff begin their fourth season with the Nittany Lions.

Bucknell has been on a similar, steady ascent up the Division I men's lacrosse mountain in nine years under head coach Frank Fedorjaka. It started in his first season in 2006, when Bucknell beat then-No. 1 Maryland, the program's first-ever win against a top-ranked team. Success has continued, highlighted by 14 wins in 2011. That year, Bucknell pushed Steele Stanwick-led Virginia to the brink of tournament extinction in the first round of the Cavaliers' national title run. The Bison were on the wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble last season with a 12-4 record.

Lehigh, led by seventh-year coach Kevin Cassese, has made all kinds of history the last two years. There was the historic 2012 season, when the Mountain Hawks won 14 games, won their first Patriot League title and made the program's first trip to the NCAA tournament. Lehigh was Cinderella 2.0 last year, winning its second league crown before losing to North Carolina in an NCAA tournament first round game in Chapel Hill.

It's important to keep in mind neither Ivy League threat Penn nor other Philadelphia-area based programs Villanova, Drexel and St. Joseph's were present Sunday in Bethesda. Nor was Lehigh and Bucknell's Patriot League foe, Lafayette. And Robert Morris was scrimmaging Team Canada on Sunday.

But any argument about the state's best college program has to include the three that were at the event benefitting the Mario St. George Boiardi Foundation.

(The foundation was founded in memory of the late George Boiardi, who died after being struck in the chest with a ball in March 2004 while playing for Cornell. Boiardi also played for Landon. The Big Red's participation this year was canceled in the wake of a hazing investigation and UMBC replaced them.)

All in all, it was a draw among three Pennsylvania teams very familiar with each other. In the last two regular seasons alone, Lehigh is 3-0 against Bucknell (including an 11-5 win in last season's Patriot League final) and 2-0 against Penn State. Penn State beat Bucknell last season, but Bucknell beat the Lions in 2012.

After Lehigh eked out a 10-9 scrimmage win Sunday against Penn State, Cassese said of the two sides: "They enjoy playing against one other. It was fun."

The game was tied at 8 when most of the starters were pulled to start the fourth quarter. Later, Penn State beat Bucknell, 12-11. Similarly, most starters were out of the game by early in the fourth quarter.

Bucknell and Lehigh didn't play each other. UMBC bested Lehigh 12-10 in the Hawks' second game of the day and, unofficially, Bucknell beat UMBC 9-7 in its first game.

Penn State, which is profiled in more depth today in our "30 in 30" fall ball series, brings back all starters from a defense that ranked second in the nation in goals allowed per game last season. For much of Sunday, they were without a hopeful faceoff man in Drake Kreinz, who suffered a concussion early in the Lehigh game and exited for good just as Lehigh was rallying back from a 6-0 hole. Shane Sturgis, Penn State's third most productive scorer a year ago, didn't play in the second game against Bucknell because of an injured hand, and talented Canadian freshman Dan Craig rolled his ankle after scoring two goals on his first two shots.

"I don't what happened that first game. We lost three of our better players, just random," Tambroni said. "The guys that were in today and played, I liked what they did."

Lehigh is searching for a new faceoff man, too, to replace the graduated Ryan Snyder, and its offense will be new-look this year with stalwarts David DiMaria and Donte Fantoni no longer in Lehigh uniforms.

Overall, the 2013 Hawks graduated 14 seniors, 10 of whom played significant minutes.

Junior Alan Henderson played on Lehigh's second midfield on Sunday. The Mountain Hawks graduated 14 seniors. "We have a lot of people that are hungry to step up and play," Lehigh coach Kevin Cassese said.
© Kevin P. Tucker

Lehigh's starting offense against Penn State included no seniors, Cassese said. Junior Dan Taylor showed good lefty finishing ability with three goals, and one assist. Junior Patrick Corbett (one goal) joined him on the starting attack. Billy Oppenheimer, a sophomore transfer from Quinnipiac, added a goal, as did senior Matt Smith and freshman Anthony Ramaizel.

The starting midfield was all juniors: Klay Heston, Kurtis Kaunas and Jack Bogorowski. Junior Alan Henderson played on the second midfield with sophomores Alex Eaton and Ray Mastroianna. Senior Cody Ferraro also saw some time.

"We have a lot of people that are hungry to step up and play," Cassese said. "With that, we were down 6-0 and some of them had that deer in headlights look on the onset, and that's OK. That's why we're here and playing. I thought it was promising. I was exciting to watch those guys play and see what they could bring to the table. I was excited about how they answered back after we dropped off 6-0."

Senior Ryan Buttenbaum and freshman Casey McAdam are battling to fill the void left by Snyder on faceoffs. As they settled in, Lehigh crawled back in the game with a 5-0 run heading into halftime. Taylor had three goals and assisted on Corbett's two-man-up goal right before the break.

Defense is more of Lehigh's strength presently. Seniors Ty Souders and Lukas Mikelinich started at close with sophomore Tripp Telesco. Junior Dylan O'Shaughnessy returns at long-stick midfield. And, of course, two-year starter Matt Poillon, who ranked fifth in the nation in save percentage last season, backs up the unit.

Defense, particularly aggressive slides, along with a signature 10-man ride is what Bucknell has become known for recently. But keep an eye on the Bison's offense this season, which brings back more returners than the defense.

While four of Bucknell's top seven poles are freshman that could all see the field come spring, Fedorjaka said, the Bison return seven of the top eight point-producers on offense. Three of them are freshmen.

"We were very freshmen heavy last year and now all those guys are all sophomores," Fedorjaka said. "To me, the best year of improvement is between your freshman and sophomore year. All those guys are back and playing terrific. And we got a nice blend of older guys."

Sophomore midfielder Tom Flibotte scored three goals, sophomore attackman Sean Doyle scored twice, and sophomore midfielder Brock Ghelfi scored once against Penn State. Senior Todd Heritage has scored 96 goals over the first three years of his career and was paired on attack against Penn State with Doyle and junior David Dickson (two goals Sunday; eight goals and 48 assists in 2013).

Bucknell also has a new starting goalie in Sam Grimburg that Fedorjaka is confident in. That's important as some new defensive parts go to work in front of him, although senior Jackson Place provides experience and leadership as well.

As one of Bucknell's freshman defenseman ran off the field for a substitution Sunday against Penn State, Bison coach Frank Fedorjaka was pleased with what he saw. "Good job following protocol," he said on the sideline.

"Our whole philosophy is, better to slide early than late, better to slide with two than none, better to give than receive, it's better to make a bad decision than no decision," Fedorjaka said later. "It's very aggressive mentally."

"Sometimes freshmen, if they're not sure where they're going, they just kind of stand there. We've played all fall with making aggressive decisions. That's accomplished. Now we have to have them make the right decisions," he said. "That's phase two."

Sunday marked Bucknell's last fall action of the season, and the Bison are also done with practice. They will train until Thanksgiving and players return to the central Pennsylvania campus from winter break in early January.

Bucknell starts the spring season early — Feb. 8 against Delaware. By then, then the real battle for the best in Pennsylvania will start.

UMBC goalie out for year

Junior Wes DiRito, who was UMBC's starting goalie last season, is out for the year after having surgery on his foot. Freshman Connor Gordon started against Bucknell.


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