NCAA Game Preview: Lehigh to Open Season at Home Against Marquette

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Coming up this Saturday February 7 is the opener for both Lehigh and Marquette. There’s a lot of amplified following behind Lehigh this season, and Marquette still stands as a strong program also.

I predict Marquette will be a bit off-beat to start 2015 as they don’t see their home turf until their fourth game of the season. Their first match-ups away are Lehigh, Hofstra and Richmond.

The Golden Eagles sit in the BIG EAST conference with quality opponents such as Denver, Villanova, Georgetown and St. John’s to name a select few.

Lehigh is in the Patriot League, which I believe is traditionally a lesser-competition conference. Until the past 3 years. For one, lacrosse programs at Cornell, Bucknell, Army, Navy and Boston University have all excelled the past few seasons. Then, last year Loyola (Md.) was added to conference which gave it another boost.

This is why Lehigh will beat Marquette. They have transitioned into higher-caliber lacrosse in general than I believe Marquette has.

It all starts with Lehigh Head Coach Kevin Cassese. For one, he was granted the opportunity this past summer to coach the U.S. National Team at the Champion’s Challenge. That honor is recognition of Cassese’s coaching abilities. Also, at that level of play, I don’t doubt that everyone teaches everyone, meaning Cassese points out things to the team, but those MVP professionals also show him some new tricks. The experience will definitely pay off and enhance his qualifications as Lehigh’s Head Coach.

Next on the Preseason Platter is goaltender Matt Poillon, who was drafted 28th overall in the MLL Draft by the New York Lizards. He’s been a four-time All-American and sat out the fall to recuperate.

Cassese says, “We expect him to be 100 percent. He played at about 80 percent last year and by the end of the season, maybe even 60 percent. He was really hurting, so to have him at full health and feeling good, I think that gives him an opportunity to be the best goaltender in the country and one of the best that we’ve seen in Division I lacrosse over the last several years.”

A goaltender is the #1 player on your field. They’re stepping in front of sizzling shots, commanding the defense, understanding offensive schemes, and also having to be the most athletic for perfect technique and skill.

Dan Taylor (Sr) and Reid Weber (Jr) lead the attack unit for the Mountainhawks. After shattering personal statistics last season (Taylor 76-points, Weber 44) the team expects quite a bit from the two:

“Those guys really solidified themselves last year and developed great chemistry,” Cassese says. “They had a great fall together. They’re healthy, productive, and they’re definitely the strength of our offense as we head into the spring. I expect them to take their games to the next level this year.”

Not only is Lehigh returning two key attackmen, but almost all of the midfield unit is also coming back. Led by Senior Kurtis Kaunas and Alan Henderson, Lehigh couldn’t be in a better spot to merely pick up where they left off last season.

Whereas Kaunas has the ability to take on any defender and beat them, Henderson will be relied on for his stamina.

Defense will be under the command of Lukas Mikelinich who is a fifth-year senior, drafted 58th overall by the MLL New York Lizards and has played an intergral part in the rise of this lacrosse program the past few seasons.

Returning for Marquette at midfield is Kyle Whitlow who was second on the team in 2014 statistically with 33 points behind 23 goals and 10 assists.

Conor Gately also returns as a junior, having finished 2014 third on the team with 31 points from 17 goals and 14 assists.

A roster thing going against Marquette both this season and heading into Bethlehem, PA is that they are a young squad. They are only returning two seniors and one of them is ‘red-shirted’. With a whole bunch of freshmen, sophomores and juniors, this will be more of a building year for Marquette, whereas Lehigh has been building up to this point and will now capitalize on it all.