By: Justin Lafleur, Lehigh Sports Media Relations
Lehigh junior attackmen David DiMaria and Dante Fantoni went to high school less than a mile from each other on Long Island. While DiMaria was tearing it up for Half Hollows Hills West, Fantoni was doing the same for St. Anthony’s. Little did they know that in the near future, the two would complement each other as one of the nation’s top collegiate scoring duos. Not only that, but they’d also help lead the Mountain Hawks to the verge of national prowess.
“Our high schools are actually right down the road from each other,” said DiMaria. “I was familiar with Dante, but didn’t know him personally. I knew he was a great player. We’d hear his name thrown out on the Long Island circuit.”
“Dave was one kid you definitely heard about on Long Island,” said Fantoni. “I was happy when he decided to come to Lehigh.”
DiMaria and Fantoni combined for 99 points a year ago, good for 14th in the nation among teammates. Entering 2012, they are the sixth-leading returning duo. For perspective, the 99 points were more than some big names like Nicky Galasso and Billy Bitter (North Carolina), Ryan Young and Grant Catalino (Maryland), Stephen Keogh and JoJo Marasco (Syracuse), and Kevin Cunningham and Jack Rice (Villanova), among others. DiMaria and Fantoni have already made their mark at Lehigh, but their work is far from over. Their goal continues to be team-first and with that will come more individual recognition.
“We’re definitely not satisfied with the season we had [in 2011],” said Fantoni. “I feel like we had a good year - the points show that - but it’s not what we wanted. The goal is a Patriot League Championship and we’re not going to settle for anything less.”
“The numbers don’t lie and the amount of points they put up are remarkable,” said Lehigh head coach Kevin Cassese, who has worked with some of the nation’s best with the U.S. National Team. “From that standpoint alone, they’re up there among the elite.”
It’s hard to believe that DiMaria and Fantoni are only halfway through their collegiate careers. The duo entered the college scene with a bang in 2010, finishing their rookie campaigns 1-2 on the team in points. Fantoni posted 40 via 26 goals and 14 assists while DiMaria had 33 behind nine goals and 24 assists. Cassese knew they had a special chemistry from the beginning. DiMaria had earned a starting spot in the season opener at Saint Joseph’s while Fantoni had been hampered with a preseason injury.
“We ended up putting Dante in late in the second quarter, and within 30 seconds, he scored,” said Cassese. “It seemed to ignite David, who then scored a goal. We soon realized that not only were they competing against each other, but they also ended up working well together and getting others involved.
“It took a quarter or two into the first game,” Cassese continued. “We didn’t see it in preseason practice or the scrimmages, but as soon as the lights came on in game one, that’s when it came time for Dante and David to shine.”
From the beginning, DiMaria seemed to take over the role as feeder while Fantoni served as the finisher. Both were very comfortable with those roles.
“I feel like my game is putting the ball in the back of the net, and his game is more passing and distributing,” said Fantoni. “But I’m capable of passing the ball and getting some assists and he’s capable of scoring as well.”
“I was a quarterback on the football team and point guard on the basketball team; that translated to lacrosse,” said DiMaria. “I didn’t start playing until around ninth grade, so when I started, I was looking for my teammates before getting my own look.”
“David is used to distributing the ball; he’s at his best when he’s making others around him better,” said Cassese. “Dante was able to fill the role as the goal-scorer on his attack line at St. Anthony’s; he’s always had a knack for that. Everybody thinks they have him under wraps, but he’s the one who emerges, steps up and has a monster night.”
Fantoni’s freshman season was highlighted by two straight overtime game-winners to end the year, defeating nationally-ranked Villanova and Lafayette in thrilling fashion. DiMaria also made a statement in both games, dishing out three assists against the Wildcats while scoring a goal and adding three helpers against the Leopards.
After 73 combined points as freshmen, the two took their game to another level as sophomores, with DiMaria leading the charge with 52 points (22 goals, team-leading 30 assists) while Fantoni scored 47 (team-leading 33 goals, 14 assists). DiMaria came up big down the stretch, posting 12 points in the last two games including a career-high eight (four goals, four assists) against Lafayette, then four (two goals, two assists) in the Patriot League Semifinals at Bucknell. He had a hand in four of Lehigh’s five goals, including a key score just seven seconds in to put the top-seeded Bison on their heels.
Meanwhile, Fantoni was steady throughout the year, finishing with three or more points in nine games. He registered a point in every contest to extend his streak to 28, good for ninth in the nation entering 2012.
For as talented as both juniors are, it’s the intangibles that have truly made them thrive.
“These two have completely bought in to everything that we’re asking them to do,” said Cassese. “When you recruit talented players, you always hope for that, but it’s not always the case. In order to recruit a talented player and have him turn into a star, they have to be willing to work harder than everybody else.”
Both are committed to becoming better athletes and not just lacrosse players.
“David has embraced the weight room,” said Cassese. “He’s changed his body type 180 degrees from where he was as a freshman. He’s just become bigger, faster, stronger and more explosive. Dante has really worked on his speed, quickness and agility. It shows up in his game.”
The Mountain Hawks hope the special chemistry between the two will help lead Lehigh to a place it hasn’t been before: the NCAA Tournament.
“We came in here as the two Long Island guys,” said DiMaria. “We made that connection from day one and since, our chemistry has only grown, not just on the field but more so because we get along just as well off the field.”
“Obviously, Dave’s a great player and great passer; that works well with my game,” said Fantoni. “We’re continually working to figure out where each other will be. The chemistry is unbelievable; it gets better every day.”
The two pride themselves on developing more well-rounded games. They took a big step forward as sophomores with DiMaria scoring 22 goals and Fantoni dishing 14 assists. Last season, the two connected on nine goals; Fantoni from DiMaria six times and DiMaria from Fantoni on three occasions. They look to continue developing their all-around game in 2012.
“We were both a little more one-dimensional as freshmen,” said DiMaria. “As sophomore year came around, we wanted to round out our games to become more balanced players. Now this year, I feel we both have that balance of being able to pass and take the ball to the net.”
Most importantly, DiMaria and Fantoni are focused on helping Lehigh achieve its ultimate goal.
“We definitely want to win a Patriot League Championship and take the next step of making a run in the NCAA Tournament,” said DiMaria. “I think we have the talent and ability to play with anyone in the country. Now, it’s just putting it all together.
“The success of Dante and I should translate with how our team will perform,” he continued. “If we’re playing really well and firing on all cylinders, that likely means our whole offense gets going, and hopefully that can translate to the defensive end as well.”
“We’re really looking forward to this season,” said Fantoni. “The chemistry between everyone is growing. We’re all hungry. It’s all great that we made it to the Patriot League Tournament for the first time since 2006, but we want the championship.”