2022 NCAA Lacrosse Preview: No. 11 Lehigh (Men)

PHOTO BY RICH BARNES

James Spence was No. 14 in the nation in save percentage in 2021.


The 2022 college lacrosse season is nearly upon us. As is our annual tradition, we’re featuring every team ranked in the Nike/USA Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.

Check back to USALaxMagazine.com each weekday this month for new previews, scouting reports and rival analysis.

NO. 11 LEHIGH

2021 Record: 10-2 (8-0 Patriot League)
Final Ranking (2021): No. 11
Coach: Kevin Cassese (15th year)

If you wanted a snapshot of the Lehigh men’s lacrosse team’s progress, the best place to start is a shared Google Doc, titled “WW1.” It stands for “Winter Workout 1” but contains all the metrics of the Mountain Hawks’ five-week “Fall Improvement Season.”

The virtual leaderboard for the eight squads the team is divided into includes, amongst other stats, the results from the Rubber Floor Cup (a 4-v-4 indoor tournament), a myriad of lifting numbers, performance in the classroom and totals for fundraising initiatives like the HEADstrong  Foundation’s LaxStache Madness. The comments within the document feature a healthy dose of trash talk. The team named “Valley Freight,” captained by senior attackman Cole Kirst, took home the Rubber Floor Cup and earned the most overall points to be crowned WW1 champions.

“It encompasses everything they do,” Lehigh head coach Kevin Cassese said of the team-wide competition. “A big part is making sure that we don’t take the foot off the gas pedal and that we’re always competing in everything we do.”

By any measure, last season was a success in Bethlehem (Pa.). The Mountain Hawks raced out to a 9-0 record and went perfect in the Patriot League. They defeated Loyola for the first time in program history and secured their first NCAA tournament berth since 2014. They fell to Rutgers 12-5 in the first round.

While Cassese said that it’s in the back of everyone’s minds not only to get back to where they were but to go farther, the coaching staff has emphasized that this season represents its own journey with different challenges ahead.

Two words define their focus: Win today.

“I wouldn’t even say it’s a motto,” said fifth-year LSM Teddy Leggett of the phrase that bordered the hem of Lehigh’s gameday undershirts in 2021. “It’s just a standard you have to hit. I think people recognize that.”

NIKE/USAL PRESEASON TOP 20
TEAM PREVIEWS

1. Virginia

2. Maryland

3. Duke

4. Georgetown

5. Notre Dame

6. North Carolina

7. Loyola

8. Yale

9. Penn

10. Rutgers

11. Lehigh

12. Denver

13. Army

14. Syracuse

15. Johns Hopkins

16. Delaware

17. Drexel

18. Cornell

19. Vermont

20. Bryant

A captain since his junior season, Leggett ranked first on the team in caused turnovers, and Cassese said he’s been a catalyst helping the program take the next step. Along with fifth-year goalie James Spence, who ranked No. 14 in save percentage (56 percent) last spring, and a trio of first-time captains in Kirst, Tommy Schelling and Matt Marker, Leggett leads the most veteran-laden team Cassese has coached in recent memory.

The seniors’ influence will be evident across the field. They make up the entire starting close defense, headlined by Anthony Tangredi, and two-thirds of the attack with Kirst and Schelling. Add in junior Christian Mule’, who had a breakout season last spring, and the entire unit that combined for 127 points to drive the No. 9 scoring offense in the country is back.

They should have plenty of opportunities. Lehigh will also likely enjoy a considerable possession advantage with senior Mike Sisselberger, who set the Division I single-season record for faceoff percentage last spring. Sisselberger prides himself on being the hardest worker in the room. He possesses an insatiable competitive drive that’s also helped him obliterate the program’s lifting records at the university’s Goodman Campus — the site of the athletic complex — a short drive over South Mountain.

“When he’s over the mountain, he’s locked in 100 percent of the time,” Leggett said. “He’s dedicated to his craft and every single millimeter when it comes to working on and practicing the faceoff.”

“I know that I have to train just as hard if not harder than whoever is chasing me because I’m not perfect,” Sisselberger said. “Day by day, be the best you can be. Hopefully it pays off in the end, you know?”

The Mountain Hawks hope it does this year. Their 2022 journey starts next week. The first order of business? “WWII,” which begins with testing in the weight room and on the field. “There’ll be another champion crowned,” Cassese said.

After getting a glimpse of the NCAA tournament, Lehigh refuses to settle. Especially when the Mountain Hawks get over the mountain.






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TOP RETURNERS

Tommy Schelling, A., Sr.

A starter since his freshman season, the Delbarton product tallied a team-high 48 points  despite missing the first-round NCAA tournament game due to an injury. With 111 career points, Schelling headlines one of the best units in the conference from a year ago with fellow senior Cole Kirst (26 goals, eight assists) and junior Christian Mule’ (31 goals, 14 assists).

Mike Sisselberger, FO, Sr.

Sisselberger helped the Mountain Hawks dominate possession by winning an NCAA-record 79.5 percent of his draws. He also led the NCAA in ground balls per game. He still thinks he has a lot of work to do. “I feel like I have not tapped into my full potential yet,” he said this fall. “If I were to be the best version of myself, I don’t think there’s anybody that can beat me.”

Teddy Leggett, LSM, Gr.

A three-time captain, Leggett led Lehigh in caused turnovers (15) and provides a reassuring presence on the faceoff wing. He finished second on the team in ground balls behind Sisselberger and impressed this past October playing with the Canadian national team at the USA Lacrosse Fall Classic. “He’s one of the best leaders that we’ve ever had,” Cassese said.

KEY ADDITION

Dakota Eierman, M., Fr.

The lefty out of Dematha Catholic, a program with a history of producing great midfielders, stepped in and had an immediate impact for the Mountain Hawks this fall. Cassese called him “electric” and said that he plays like a point guard.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE

Quinn Armstrong, A/M, So.

Armstrong has lived up to his last name over the past year, putting on 20 pounds of muscle since his freshman season when he registered five goals and three assists. Now listed at 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, Armstrong impressed throughout the fall, filling in at attack for an injured Mulé. He’ll likely shift back to midfield in the spring. “He’s someone that’s gonna be a force to be reckoned with this year,” Cassese said.

ENEMY LINES

What rival coaches say about the Mountain Hawks:

“I think people are afraid to play them this year because they don’t think they’re going to win any faceoffs against them.”

BEYOND THE BASICS
POWERED BY LACROSSE REFERENCE

1779

1500 is the average Faceoff Elo rating, which captures a FOGO’s skill by factoring the strength of their opponents from their overall win percentage. It’s a career rating and Sisselberger has managed to scale to the rarified heights where only two players have higher fElo ratings — Trevor Baptiste (1802) and TD Ierlan (1792). Will he supplant either of those two this year? Stay tuned. — Zack Capozzi

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