Posted: 02/17/2012 | Last updated: February 17, 2012 at 02:02 PM
BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Following a dominating 11-4 win over Saint Joseph’s, the Lehigh men’s lacrosse team will welcome #10 Villanova for its home opener on Saturday. Faceoff is set for 12 p.m. in the Ulrich Sports Complex. The Mountain Hawks are eying their first win over a top-10 foe since the end of the 2010 season when they also defeated the Wildcats (when they were ranked ninth).
Villanova is Lehigh’s second of three Philadelphia schools it will face in February, along with the Hawks last week and the #15 Penn Quakers on Feb. 28. The Mountain Hawks will look to win their first two games of the season for the first time since 2000 when they defeated Air Force and Towson in succession. Lehigh is also looking to win its home opener for a second straight season.
Lehigh broke open a 2-2 tie with seven straight goals last Saturday. Freshman Matt Poillon dazzled between the pipes, stopping 13-of-17 shots to earn Patriot League Goalkeeper of the Week honors. In doing so, he became the first-ever Mountain Hawk goalie to win the honor (which was created in 2007). Junior Ryan Snyder won 14-of-19 faceoffs with a career-high 14 groundballs to earn honorable mention recognition on the league’s weekly honor roll. Snyder and fellow junior Dante Fantoni were named to the Tewaaraton Award Watch List on Wednesday.
Last Saturday was a reunion of sorts for Lehigh head coach Kevin Cassese and Saint Joseph’s head coach Taylor Wray, who was on Cassese’s staff for four seasons before departing for the head-coaching opportunity. In addition, Dan Keating (a volunteer assistant in 2011) is now one of Wray’s assistant coaches at Saint Joe’s. Senior Adam Johnston led the way with four goals, falling just one shy of tying a career high. In a more offensive midfielder position, junior Brian Hess didn’t waste time getting on the scoreboard, scoring just 2:33 into the game while finishing with a career-high two goals and three points. In the process, Lehigh improved to 11-2 all-time against Saint Joseph’s with its third straight win over the Hawks and fifth straight away from home.
Villanova is coming off a sensational 11-5 season and an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats earned some big wins over ranked squads Drexel, Penn, Princeton and Delaware while falling by one to #1 Syracuse. All-American Brian Karalunas, who had 70 caused turnovers a year ago, graduated, but the Wildcats return a plethora of talent including Tewaaraton candidates Jack Rice and Kevin Cunningham. Lehigh has won three straight home games against Villanova while dropping last season’s showdown, 9-8, in Philadelphia.
Saturday is the first of two straight home games as the squad welcomes Manhattan to the Ulrich Sports Complex next Saturday. That precedes a three-game road trip at Penn, North Carolina and VMI before the middle of the season when the Mountain Hawks play three straight weekends at home with a midweek tilt at Penn State sprinkled in between.
The Wildcats return a plethora of offense from their NCAA Tournament team, which includes their top eight scorers led by Rice and Cunningham. The team’s biggest blow was the graduation of Karalunas on defense, who posted ridiculous caused turnovers and groundball numbers of 70 and 74 as a senior. Billy Hurley returns in goal following an 8.33 GAA and 48.2 save percentage last year. Villanova advanced to its second NCAA Tournament in a three-year span in 2011 before falling to eventual National Semifinalist Denver in a close contest.
The all-time series with Villanova has been fairly tight with the Wildcats owning a 16-12 advantage. The teams have split the last six meetings with each winning on their own home field. Overall, Lehigh has won four of its last five home games against Villanova. Each of the last three games have been one-goal affairs, including last season’s slim 9-8 defeat and a thrilling 15-14 double overtime win in 2010. That was the first of two straight overtime game-winning goals against ranked squads from Fantoni, marking the Mountain Hawks’ last victories over ranked foes. The teams first met in 1977, a 5-4 Villanova win before Lehigh responded with four in a row.
Lehigh returns home next Saturday when it hosts Manhattan at 2 p.m. The Mountain Hawks will wrap up February with a trip to #15/16 Penn on Feb. 28 at 7 p.m.