Senior-Loaded Lehigh Has DNA of Team That Can Play Deep into May

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Lehigh senior defenseman Craig Chick, who did not commit to college until the summer entering his senior year, is on pace to become the NCAA’s all-time leader in caused turnovers.


US Lacrosse Magazine released the Nike/US Lacrosse Division I Men’s Preseason Top 20 on Jan. 2. Team-by-team previews will be unveiled on uslaxmagazine.com through the end of the month and will also appear as part of the magazine’s NCAA preview edition in February.

Don’t get the mag? Join US Lacrosse today to start your subscription .

 

No. 13 Lehigh

2018 Record: 10-7 (5-3 Patriot League)
Coach: Kevin Cassese (12th year)
All-Time Record: 602-698-17
NCAA Appearances: 2
Final Fours: 0
Championships: 0

All the talk in the Patriot League is about Loyola’s Pat Spencer, the celebrated late bloomer who was no one’s idea of a blue-chip recruit.

But if the conference championship comes down to Loyola and Lehigh as it did last year, the Mountain Hawks likely will counter Spencer with their own revelation of the senior class of 2019 — ball-hawking defenseman Craig Chick.

Chick, who broke his own school record with 41 caused turnovers in 2018, is on pace to become the NCAA’s all-time leader in that category. Not bad for a lanky public school kid from the Annapolis, Md., area whose only Division I offer came from Lehigh coach Kevin Cassese.

“He plays that way,” Cassese said. “Always something to prove.”

Chick, who did not commit to the Mountain Hawks until the summer going into his senior year, came highly recommended by current Chesapeake Bayhawks general manager Dave Cottle, who at the time coached Chick’s club team, the Annapolis Hawks. Former Lehigh assistant Brendan Callahan, now the head coach at Dartmouth, also liked the ball skills Chick possessed and the frequent disruptions he produced as a long-stick midfielder.

Though Chick received interest from Division II and Division III teams, many Division I coaches passed on him because of his lack of bulk. Even now, he’s only 195 pounds, draped on a 6-foot frame. He wasn’t that fast, either.

But Chick had great instincts and an insatiable competitive drive. That was enough for Cassese, and enough for Chick to earn a starting role as a freshman in 2016, when he led the country in caused turnovers with 37. He set a school record with 40 caused turnovers in 2017, and then one-upped himself with 41 in 2018.

Chick, who plays both close defense and long-stick midfield, currently ranks eighth in Division I history with 118 career caused turnovers, 40 shy of the NCAA record held by Detroit Mercy’s Jordan Houtby.

“Causing turnovers is definitely a mindset,” Chick told LehighSports.com  in April 2017. "I just think I want it more sometimes. A lot of the teams we play are teams I wanted to be recruited by. Knowing that the guy with the ball may have taken my spot in the recruiting process, it gets me going. I take that aggression and try to get the ball back any way I can.”

Chick headlines a 14-player senior class that shares his drive. Lehigh’s 53-player roster is its largest and deepest since 2013, when the Mountain Hawks went undefeated in the Patriot League and last advanced to the NCAA tournament.

Seven of Lehigh’s 10 starters are seniors. That includes the attack unit of Andrew Pettit, Lucas Spence and Tristan Rai — all of whose numbers should continue to grow with multiple years of experience playing together — as well as the close defense of Eddie Bouhall, Matt Rimol and Chick.

“History shows that teams that have been successful at the highest level have been those that were senior-heavy and veteran,” Cassese said. “I like the makeup of our team. I like the dynamic. I do believe we have a chance to be great.”






z

The Case For Lehigh

With senior leadership in spades, including the entire starting attack and close defense units, the Mountain Hawks should continue the momentum from last year’s run to the Patriot League championship game. Lehigh started 7-2, its lone losses coming by one goal each to North Carolina (in overtime) and Rutgers. A three-game swoon followed, with losses to Loyola, Cornell and Bucknell. But the Mountain Hawks showed resilience in regrouping for the stretch run. They will benefit from that experience, capitalize on the new NCAA rules with their cadre of long poles who can put the ball on the carpet and make plays in transition, and make the Patriot League at least a two-bid conference.

The Case Against Lehigh

The Mountain Hawks’ one glaring weakness is their midfield. Can Andrew Eichelberger (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) be the guy that commands a long pole or consistently draws slides?  Is Mickey Fitzpatrick more than a role player? For as highly touted as Lehigh’s incoming freshman class is — Inside Lacrosse ranks the group eighth nationally — its most important member may be a midfielder garnering very little attention from the pundits. Cassese made a point to single out Mike Monitto. Still, there are more questions than answers in the middle of the field.

Path to the Playoffs

Consecutive non-conference road games against preseason top-five foes Virginia and Cornell on Feb. 16 and Feb. 24 will be telling. Add in a brief Patriot League slate interruption with Rutgers on March 12 — not to mention the potential to play a powerhouse like Loyola twice — and Lehigh’s schedule includes plenty of opportunities to fortify its RPI.

Players To Watch

Lucas Spence, A, Sr.
35 G, 23 A

The initiator in Lehigh’s offense, Spence scored the biggest goal of the 2018 season, the OT game-winner against Navy in the Patriot League semifinals. It was an especially sweet moment for a player who was in and out of the starting lineup as a freshman and playing out of position as a midfielder as a sophomore. Spence broke through with a 58-point junior campaign and showed off his riding ability with 39 ground balls. “He’s an X attackman that plays with the energy and toughness of a defensive midfielder,” Cassese said.

Andrew Pettit, A, Sr.
46 G, 20 A

Pettit crushed the Patriot League tournament record with 12 goals en route to the Mountain Hawks’ surprise appearance in last year’s final. He plays the role of lefty finisher across from versatile and skilled Canadian righty Tristan Rai, with Spence serving as a pivot point in the offense. “They have great chemistry,” Cassese said of the trio. “They’ve played together a long time.”

Conor Gaffney, FO, Jr.
59.4 FO%, 101 GB

The Patriot League’s leading faceoff specialist, Gaffney twice outdueled Navy’s Joe Varelli en route to a 59.4-percent finish in 2018, good for 10th nationally. This, after finishing eighth nationally at 61.0 percent as a freshman. Gaffney works well with long poles Craig Chick and Teddy Leggett, as well as with short-stick defensive midfielder Christian McHugh. Inside Lacrosse’s Face-Off Yearbook rates the Mountain Hawks specialists — also including goalie James Spence — second nationally.

National Rankings

Category

Rank

Value

Offense 31st 10.59 GPG
Defense 22nd 9.47 GAA
Faceoffs 10th 59.1 FO%
Ground Balls 16th 30.42/game
Caused TO 18th 7.71/game
Shooting 20th 32.1%
Man-Up 1st 63.4%
Man-Down 41st 66.0%
Assists 22nd 6.65/game
Turnovers 43rd 13.53/game
Clearing 31st 87.5%

Power Ratings (Scale of 1-5)

Offense
⭐⭐⭐

Defense
⭐⭐⭐⭐

Goalkeeping
⭐⭐⭐

Faceoff
⭐⭐⭐⭐

85

Lehigh ranked 11th nationally with 131 caused turnovers in 2018. Chick, Bouhall and Leggett combined for 85, or about 65 percent, of those forced errors.

5-Year Trend
Man-Up Offense

Year

Rank

Pct

2014 33rd 36.5
2015 8th 48.4
2016 10th 46.5
2017 18th 41.2
2018 1st 63.4

Coach Confidential
Kevin Cassese

“This senior class has done a lot of nice things, but they have yet to win a championship.”

Enemy Lines

“Seniors with something to prove.”

“Just on a hunch. A lot back.”

Most Recent

Fall Ball Focus: Notre Dame Must 'Leave No Doubt' After NCAA Tournament Omission

The Irish peaked at the right time last year but were left out of the Big Dance.

California Dreamin’: Danielle Spencer Reeling in Top Recruits at Stanford

Danielle Spencer is dead set on building an NCAA champion at Stanford.

Fall Ball Focus: New Era, Inherited Tradition at Johns Hopkins

With new coach Tim McCormack in the fold, Hopkins might have a different feel this year.

Fall Ball Focus: Notre Dame Women Have Good Problems to Sort Through

ND has a four-person goalie competition and a midfield full of breakout candidates.







Twitter Posts