|Title:||Smith Family Head Lacrosse Coach|
Kevin Cassese is in his fifth season as Lehigh’s head men’s lacrosse coach. Cassese’s impact has been immediate in his short time, capped off by this season’s Patriot League Championship and first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history. Cassese has also led the Mountain Hawks to a school-record 14 wins, a program record nine-game winning streak and their highest-ever national ranking (#7).
The excitement around the program has never been higher. Lehigh enters the NCAA Tournament winners of 13 of its last 14 games, posting an impressive 8-2 record against nationally-ranked foes. That includes a big 9-8 win at #4 North Carolina in March, propelling the Mountain Hawks into the national polls for the first time. Lehigh ended a number of long droughts this season, defeating UNC for the first time since 1951, Yale for the first time since 1918 and Penn State for the first time since 1971.
Lehigh owns the nation’s #2 scoring defense (only behind Notre Dame), holding opponents to only 6.61 goals per game. The Mountain Hawks picked up their first shutout in 40 years with a 13-0 triumph over Manhattan, allowed only two goals to VMI and five or fewer to Penn State, Navy, Holy Cross, Penn and Saint Joseph’s. Cassese was named Patriot League Coach of the Year while freshman Matt Poillon became Lehigh’s first-ever Goalkeeper of the Year. Eight cracked the All-Patriot League Team, tied for most in school history and the most in Coach Cassese’s tenure.
On a personal level, Cassese continues to make his mark on the U.S. Lacrosse scene as he’s coached the United States in Stars & Stripes Weekend and Champion Challenge each of the last two years. In February, Cassese was named an assistant coach for the 2014 U.S. men’s national team, joining a staff led by former Navy head coach Richie Meade. Cassese will serve as one of three assistant coaches along with Dave Pietramala (Johns Hopkins) and Jeff Tambroni (Penn State).
The 2011 season saw Cassese lead the Mountain Hawks to their first Patriot League Tournament appearance since 2006. Lehigh got off to a quick 3-1 start, which included a 14-10 triumph over Navy, the program’s first victory over the Midshipmen in nearly 100 years.
The Mountain Hawks jumped squarely into the national lacrosse picture in 2011 by not only qualifying for the Patriot League postseason, but also proving they could compete with anyone in the country. Lehigh played an increasingly tough schedule in ’11 and wouldn’t back away from the challenge. All nine of the team’s losses came against ranked opponents, with seven coming by a combined 17 goals. The Mountain Hawks nearly topped a pair of NCAA Tournament qualifiers (Villanova and Bucknell), falling by a single goal each time. They also took a ranked Penn State squad to overtime, just one week after the Nittany Lions dominated eventual CAA Champion Delaware.
The up-and-coming Mountain Hawks posted the nation’s eighth biggest improvement in 2011, according to LaxPower.com’s computer rankings, which takes into account many of the factors used by the NCAA Tournament selection committee. Other highlights included defeating MAAC Finalist Detroit Mercy on the road while winning three-of-four in one stretch in late March. In that stretch was a convincing 13-7 win over America East Tournament qualifier Binghamton.
A young Mountain Hawk squad will graduate only eight seniors and return six of Lehigh’s eight All-League performers in 2013 as the anticipation and excitement around the program continues to rise. Cassese has mentored an impressive array of offensive talent, led by one of college lacrosse’s most prolific scoring duos of David DiMaria and Dante Fantoni, who combined for 99 points in 2011 (14th in the nation) and 85 in 2012 (currently tied for 15th).
The Mountain Hawks led the Patriot League and finished 18th in the nation in scoring offense (10.44 goals per game) while they were ninth nationally with a sizzling 40.7 man-up percentage. The squad continued strong on the ground, scooping up a league-leading 33.62 groundballs per game, nearly four ahead of the second-place team Bucknell. Lehigh’s improvement was just as impressive on the defensive side; the Mountain Hawks lowered their goals against average by nearly a full goal in 2011, allowing only 9.38 goals per game while holding four teams to seven goals or fewer.
The success caught the attention of coaches and media around the nation. On numerous occasions, Lehigh received votes in the national lacrosse top-20 polls in 2011 and was identified by Inside Lacrosse as a program on the rise.
In his first four years at Lehigh, Cassese mentored a total of nine All-Patriot League honorees, including four in 2011. Faceoff specialist Ryan Snyder cracked the First Team after winning 61.6 percent of his draws and scooping a Patriot League record 118 groundballs. Jonathan Stumpf was not only named to the Second Team, but also earned endless other academic and athletic honors. He became Lehigh’s first-ever CoSIDA Academic All-American while being named a Lowe’s Senior First Team All-American, USILA Scholar All-American and Patriot League Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Stumpf (along with teammate Will Scudder) also played in the USILA North-South All-Star Game where he netted the eventual game-winning goal for the South.
During the fall of 2009, Cassese was named to the 2010 United States Men’s National Lacrosse Team, traveling to Manchester, England in July. That marked the third time Cassese earned a spot on the National Team. Just months later, he worked with the U.S. National Team as the squad’s head coach. In October, he led Team USA to a win over Harvard. Then in January, 2011, Cassese coached the United States to a 12-7 win over No. 7 Notre Dame in the Champion Challenge at the ESPN Wide World of Sports.
Cassese’s players have been involved in US Lacrosse as well as defenseman Ty Souders tried out for the U.S. Under-19 Team as part of a three-day training camp at UMBC.
In his first season as the Mountain Hawks’ leader in 2008, Cassese led a young Lehigh squad to more home wins and more overall victories than the season prior. The Brown and White also ranked in the top 10 nationally in man-down defense and in the top 25 in scoring defense. Success continued into 2009 campaign, highlighted by back-to-back wins over ranked foes; the Mountain Hawks defeated #16 Army and #20 St. John’s in succession.
In 2010, the Mountain Hawks posted their first winning overall record since 2006 by going 8-7. A resilient group, Lehigh went a perfect 3-0 in overtime games, including wins over #9 Villanova and #19 Lafayette in consecutive weeks to close out the season. Villanova marked the Mountain Hawks’ first top-10 win since downing #7 Georgetown in 1997. Fantoni scored both overtime game-winners to set the tone for what has been an impressive career to date.
One of the most decorated student-athletes in Duke history, Cassese served as an assistant coach at his alma mater from 2005-07, helping lead the Blue Devils to the 2007 National Championship Game. He also served as Duke’s interim head coach for part of the summer of 2006. Prior to Duke, Cassese spent one season at Stony Brook as an assistant where he directed the nation’s top extra man offense and helped the Seawolves to a 10-6 record in 2004.
A two-time captain and three-time All-ACC selection while at Duke, Cassese helped lead the Blue Devils to three NCAA Tournament appearances and a pair of ACC Championships during his collegiate career. Cassese earned All-America honors on three separate occasions, including First Team accolades in 2002 and 2003. Cassese, who scored 80 goals and handed out 38 assists in his career, was a two-time Tewaaraton Trophy finalist and garnered ACC Player of the Year honors in 2001. In 2002, Cassese was the recipient of the Lt. Donald MacLaughlin, Jr. Award as the nation’s top midfielder.
An accomplished player on the international level as well, Cassese helped the United States to the gold medal at the 2002 International Lacrosse Federation World Championships. He was also a member of the United States team that placed second at the 2006 ILF World Championships in London, Ontario.
Cassese was the second overall selection in the 2003 Major League Lacrosse Draft by the Rochester Rattlers. Among his professional accomplishments are a pair of MLL Rookie of the Week honors and a spot on the 2005 All-Star Team. Cassese, who was traded to the Philadelphia Barrage during the summer of 2007, helped lead his new team to the 2007 Major League Lacrosse Championship, as well as a spot in Championship Weekend in 2008. Cassese was signed by the Boston Cannons prior to the 2009 MLL season and appeared in 12 games during the regular season while helping lead them into the postseason.
A native of Port Jefferson Station, New York and graduate of Comsewogue High School, Cassese earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from Duke in 2003. He garnered USILA Scholar All-America and ACC Academic Honor Roll honors as well as the ACC’s Weaver-James-Corrigan Honorary Award for outstanding athletic and academic achievement.
Cassese and his wife, Katie Granson Cassese who attended nearby Freedom High School, were married in Bethlehem in December of 2006. Katie is currently a Realtor for RE/MAX Central in the Lehigh Valley. They had their first child, Drew Cassese, in July.