January 17, 2014

#LMRanks: No. 16 Lehigh Mountain Hawks (MD1)

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive | College Preview 2014

Junior attackman Dan Taylor will take on a larger role with key pieces from last year's Lehigh offense graduated. (Kevin P. Tucker)

Previous: No. 17 Penn Quakers

Vitals

2013 Record: 12-5 (6-0 Patriot)
Coach: Kevin Cassese (7th year)
Record at Lehigh: 45-35

Power Ratings (scale of 1-5)

Offense: 3
Defense: 5
Goaltending: 5
Faceoff: 2

Top Returner

G Matt Poillon (Jr.)
He's the reigning Patriot League Goalie of the Year and a two-time honorable mention All-American. Lehigh has won the Patriot title both years. Poillon was fifth in save percentage (59.6) and eighth in goals against average (7.92) as a sophomore last season, and is viewed as a terrific stopper of the ball. He plays behind some talented, experienced defenders such as Ty Souders and Lukas Mikelinich in a well-defined system. Lehigh's defense ranked sixth nationally in goals allowed per game last season with 7.94.

X-Factor

A Dan Taylor (Jr.)
It's a new era for offense at Lehigh, with Davie DiMaria and Dante Fantoni graduated. Taylor was second on the team in points last season (50 on 29 goals and 21 assists last season), but benefited from other initiators. How will he and the Lehigh 'O' look this year? Taylor, a lefty, will be tasked with quarterbacking the offense. Fellow Canadian junior Patrick Corbett, a midfielder last year with finishing skills, will be Taylor's running buddy on attack.

NCAA Tournament Trend

2009 DNQ
2010 DNQ
2011 DNQ
2012 First Round
2013 First Round

What's New?

A bigger, even better Patriot League. 2012 NCAA champion Loyola and start-up Boston University join the fray and the Greyhounds are ranked 11th, the highest of any Patriot team in Lacrosse Magazine's preseason rankings. Bucknell is 14th, and Lehigh comes in third at 16th, even despite two straight Patriot League titles and NCAA tournament appearances. There's some work to be done, although Lehigh does seem to have Bucknell's number, going 3-0 against the Bison in the last two seasons.

Telling Number

0
Seniors on offense when Lehigh took the field this fall. Starting attackers Taylor and Corbett are established, but a third attackman is still to-be-determined long-term. The offensive midfield also lacked any seniors. "We have a lot of people that are hungry to step up and play," Cassese said at the Capital Lacrosse Classic in the fall.

Enemy Lines

What rival coaches say

"Team that still plays with a major chip on its shoulder and highly doubt that will change."

— One rival coach

"Play with a chip on their shoulder and have talented offensive players in Taylor and Corbett. Great goalie play but passer DiMaria was the engine of the offense and is gone... Strengths are goaltending, defensive schemes. Weakness: athleticism... Poillon is a very good stopper of the ball and the defensive system is one that has and will continue to work... On offense some major firepower graduated and losing DiMaria and Fantoni will really sting as those guys, especially DiMaria, could get to the goal and create his own shot... Team that still plays with a major chip on its shoulder and highly doubt that will change... Taylor is a very skilled left-handed Canadian finisher, issue is who will draw slides and get him the ball?

"Coach Cassese will have to adjust to life without DiMaria and Fantoni. They will help replace those holes with Taylor... Kevin Cassese backed up a great 2012 season with another NCAA tournament appearance in 2013. The culture has been established, as has the status of kings of the Patriot League. The graduation of DiMaria and Fantoni is significant, but hope abounds starting with the guy in back: Matt Poillon. He is one of the game's best stoppers... Taylor showed that Canadians can do more than score, finishing with 21 assists on top of the 29 goals he scored in 2013. Look for Corbett to step up into a bigger role this year, building on his accurate 42 percent shooting percentage for the tune of 23 goals.

"Lehigh graduated a lot of offense and a lot of leadership. I'm going to guess it was their winningest class ever. Certainly their most successful class ever. Having said that, they have a lot of good guys back. They have their core back on defense. They should be one of the best defenses in the country. It will be interesting to see if they maintain the same offensive production. They had good players off-ball, and they're back, but without two extremely talented ball carriers and feeders, conventional wisdom says those off-ball guys will have to work a lot harder to get their shots.

"I don't know how well they replace DiMaria and Fantoni. Those were two great feeders who scored so many big goals. But the other really important things are intact. They play hard, they play really good defense, and they are very well-coached. They're a team that has learned how to figure things out as the season goes on."

2013 Recap

In a Nutshell: A year after bursting on the scene as a true Cinderella, the Mountain Hawks fancied themselves Cinderella 2.0. Lehigh beat Bucknell 11-5 for the Patriot League title to complete a perfect conference slate and make the NCAA tournament for the second straight season. There, they ran into a North Carolina buzzsaw, falling 16-7 in a first-round matchup in Chapel Hill.

High Point: It's got to be the win over Bucknell for the conference title. After anything but a smooth regular season (see below), it was cathartic to hoist the Patriot League championship trophy once more.

Low Point: Which one of the 6-4 losses do you want? That's right, Lehigh lost not one, but two games by that score. The first came to Penn on March 5 and the latter to UMass on March 20. There was some selfishness going around on offense. After the loss to the Minutemen, Lehigh won seven in a row — averaging 12 goals per game while allowing 6.6 — and was red-hot by the time the Patriot League tournament arrived. Also of note as a low point was a 15-10 loss to Air Force that dropped Lehigh's early-season record to 2-2. The game was moved from Denver — where Lehigh lost to the Pioneers in Game 1 of a doubleheader weekend — to the Air Force Academy because of a snowstorm. "They handled the adversity of the day much better than we did," Cassese said afterward. "When it finally came down to game time, they outplayed us in just about every way possible." In short, it was not the smoothest 12-5 season for Lehigh.

2014 Preview

Best Case: Lehigh's defense continues to rank among the nations best — it was second in 2012 and sixth last year — and either senior Ryan Buttenbaum or freshman Casey McAdam emerge to fill the faceoff void left by the graduated Ryan Snyder. The duo of Taylor and Corbett won't look exactly like DiMaria and Fantoni but will get close or match the production. The Hawks' depth at midfield belies its inexperience. Lehigh continues to give Bucknell fits, and defends the Patriot League's honor against newcomer Loyola for the title.

Worst Case: Can't see the defense taking any steps back, not with honorable mention All-American Souders and experienced starters Mikelinich and Tripp Telesco back in the same system in front of Poillon. It will be up to the offense, re-inventing itself somewhat while a gritty midfield sets the tone. Lehigh is competitive at the top of the Patriot League, but falls just a bit short of three straight league championships. The Patriot might be a one-bid league this year, and Lehigh is bubble-out.

Lacrosse Magazine will continue its 2014 college lacrosse preview throughout January and into February, with team-by-team breakdowns of the top teams in NCAA Division I, II and III men's and women's lacrosse. Follow the countdown at LaxMagazine.com/LMRanks and on twitter at #LMRanks.


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