Kevin Cassese Inducted into Hall of Fame as Duke 'Pioneer,' Loyal Leader


Kevin Cassese had a decorated career playing for Duke, in Major League Lacrosse and with Team USA, but it's leadership that separates himself from the rest in the Hall of Fame, according to former Duke coach Mike Pressler.

The National Lacrosse Hall of Fame will enshrine nine new inductees — Kevin Cassese, Leigh Buck Friedman, A.J. Haugen, Alex Kahoe, Phyllis Kilgour, David Morrow, Ryan Powell, Denise Wescott and Tami Worley Kirby — in a ceremony Sept. 29 at The Grand Lodge in Hunt Valley, Md. Tickets are available for purchase until Sept. 21.

As a senior in 2003, Kevin Cassese knew his Duke Blue Devils needed to beat Maryland in the ACC semifinals to keep hopes alive for an NCAA tournament berth.

After falling to the Terrapins 13-7 in the regular season, Cassese knew he — and his team — had to rise to the occasion.

“Kevin brought everyone together and said, ‘Follow me,’ which is something I’ll never forget,” said former Duke head coach Mike Pressler, currently head coach at Bryant. “He put the entire team on his back and basically beat Maryland by himself.”

Cassese’s message had to do with how hard and tough the Blue Devils needed to play, and coach, in order to win. If anyone ever questioned what it would take, follow Cassese and he would show the way.

He did just that, scoring three goals in the 7-6 victory while winning six-of-nine faceoffs with a game-high six ground balls.

Cassese racked up his fair share of numbers over his decorated playing career in college, Major League Lacrosse and Team USA, but even more importantly, he was as good a leader as the sport has produced.

“Kevin Cassese is without question the greatest leader on the lacrosse field I have ever been around,” said Pressler, who has coached college lacrosse for 35 years and had two stints on the Team USA coaching staff.

“Kevin was a strong leader, but not in an overbearing sort of way,” said former Duke teammate Taylor Wray, currently head coach at Saint Joseph’s. “He spoke up when needed, led by example, and was universally respected by his teammates because he did things the right way academically, socially and athletically.”

Son of legendary Long Island high school football coach Tom Cassese, Kevin was one of the nation’s top high school recruits who had his choice of college destination, and sport.

In the end, Cassese chose an ACC program in Duke that, at the time, wasn’t the established program it is today. When Cassese committed to Duke, the Blue Devils had reached one final four (1997). Since then, they have advanced to 10.

“Without question, Kevin is a pioneer,” said Pressler. “He came to Duke when it wasn’t necessarily fashionable. He was an Ivy student who could have gone to any Ivy League or ACC school.

“Kevin chose Duke to give the young head coach (me) a chance,” Pressler continued. “The sense of loyalty between us is second to none.”

That loyalty paid off. A defensive midfielder as a freshman, Cassese never took anything for granted. He saw Dan Chemotti staying after practice for extra work, so he did the same. 

“We would do a drill where we would dump the bucket of balls at the top of the box, pick up a ball, dodge down the ally, shoot on the run, run around the crease, etcetera. It was shooting and conditioning at the same time, one right after another,” said Chemotti, who was a sophomore when Cassese was a freshman.


Now the head coach at Richmond, Chemotti helped instill the value of extra work into Cassese, who went on to be named the ACC player of the year as a sophomore. A three-time All-American, Cassese was Duke’s first-ever Tewaaraton Award finalist, in 2002 and 2003, while being named the Lt. Donald MacLaughlin National Midfielder of the Year in 2002.

“Kevin’s combination of athleticism, competitive nature and the ability to do so many things well made Kevin distinct,” said Wray. “He was one of the top faceoff guys in the country. When he didn’t face off, he took the wings and played both man-up and man-down. At a time when everyone else was specializing, Kevin Cassese was a do-it-all midfielder that you just don’t see anymore.”

Cassese has done it all within the lacrosse world. He played for Team USA in 2002, 2006 and 2010, being voted captain in 2010 as the red, white and blue took home gold at the World Championships. Cassese was an assistant for the U.S. in 2014. He just finished his 11th season as head coach at Lehigh, where he has helped the Mountain Hawks advance to the NCAA tournament twice, including the first trip in program history.

Cassese’s competitive fire as a player, and now coach, fuels him while simultaneously rubbing off on everyone around him.

“You would be hard-pressed to find anybody more competitive than Kevin,” said Chemotti. “There were many times he literally put us on his back. Whether we needed a faceoff win, a big goal scored, a ground ball or some leadership, he was not afraid to be that guy.”

“From the freshman walk-on to his fellow All-American, Kevin knew how to bring people together,” said Pressler. “I believe leadership separates Kevin from some of the greatest players who have ever been inducted to the Hall of Fame.”

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