May 8, 2013

Lehigh Assistant Compitello Helps Mastermind Mountain Hawks Attack

by Justin Lafleur | Lehigh Sports Media Relations

Lehigh assistant coach Tom Compitello (left) with attackmen Patrick Corbett (42), Dante Fantoni (9), Dan Taylor (41), David DiMaria (1) and the Patriot League championship trophy.
© Lehigh Sports Media Relations

The Lehigh offense hit a lull in March with non-league losses to Penn and UMass by identical 6-4 finals. Head coach Kevin Cassese decided to implement a new system, which has worked wonders; the Mountain Hawks have scored double-figure goals in six straight games, and are Patriot League Champions and NCAA tournament-bound for a second straight season.

One person who goes unrecognized is assistant coach Tom Compitello, who has helped develop the attack into one of the best in the nation.

Lehigh's starting attack of David DiMaria, Dan Taylor and Dante Fantoni has combined for 164 points this season, which is tied for fourth in the nation among starting attackmen. The trio is tied with St. John's and only trailing Albany, North Carolina (the Mountain Hawks' Saturday opponent) and Cornell. All three of Lehigh's starting attackmen have 46 or more points, led by 68 from DiMaria, a Tewaaraton Award nominee and the Patriot League Tournament MVP.

Compitello joined Lehigh's coaching staff fresh out of college from Stony Brook. Ever since he's arrived, all he's done is win championships... literally. In total, Compitello has won three titles in the last four years, which included a run to the national quarterfinals his junior season at Stony Brook.

"Tom is an absolute competitor and an absolute winner," said Cassese. "He outworks his competition, has a tremendous lacrosse mind and knows how to relate to people in such a way that motivates them to be successful."

The Lehigh coaching staff is chalk full of Stony Brook connections. All three assistants played there (also Brendan Callahan and Errol Wilson), while Cassese began his coaching career as an assistant with the Seawolves. Compitello was a freshman when Callahan was a senior, and that connection helped lead to reuniting at Lehigh.

"Brendan was someone who I knew and looked up to," said Compitello. "When I decided to go into coaching, I gave him a call to get his input on the process. He talked to me about the opportunity here. Knowing what the Lehigh coaching staff brings to the table as people, I knew it would be a great opportunity. It's lived up to all the expectations."

"I knew Tom was destined to be a great coach because of his special talents as a player and as a leader," said Cassese. "He was the quarterback of one of the most potent offensive units college lacrosse has seen this decade. He was a balanced player, a game day manager. I also knew a lot about his character and work ethic because I actually recruited him from Hauppauge High School when I was the assistant at Stony Brook in the summer of 2005."

With his experience at attack, Compitello has been the missing piece on the Lehigh coaching staff.

"I was a midfielder in my playing days, so it has always been easy for me to relate to the midfielders," said Cassese. "To be honest, in the past I've had to 'fake it' a little bit with the attackmen. Tom has brought a wealth of knowledge having played that position at such a high level. I have learned so much from him, and so have our players."

Compitello has always been a student of the game, constantly watching film as a player. That has translated to coaching where he breaks down film to give his attackmen every edge possible.

"Seeing top-flight defenses as a player really forced me to get into the film room," he said. "I knew I wasn't the most athletic or the most dynamic, so I figured I had to improve my lacrosse IQ above and beyond to be more successful. Coming into coaching, the film side of things was something I already developed as a player and it has exponentially grown."

"The guy is always watching film," said Fantoni. "He knows what every defenseman is going to do, their tendencies. He really helps us prepare for games. We know everything about our defensemen."

"During the game, he plays the biggest role in helping me make adjustments and see what the defenses are doing," said DiMaria.

Compitello played with several Canadians at Stony Brook, including All-Americans Jordan McBride and Kevin Crowley. That experience has translated to a Lehigh team which features sophomores Dan Taylor and Patrick Corbett. Corbett is a midfielder, but the coaching staff refers to him as a "gunner" who takes every shift as a defacto attackman.

"It's a bit different. I've played midfield and attack before, so it's both combined into one," said Corbett. "I play inside quite a bit, which has a lot to do with cutting. I think it puts my best skill sets together and puts me in the spots to succeed."

Compitello has been just as important to players like DiMaria and Fantoni as the Canadians themselves. With their indoor, box lacrosse skill set, Corbett and Taylor don't need much space to be open and that was one of the biggest adjustments for their Lehigh teammates.

"These guys bring a very different element," said Compitello. "That indoor style is a crazy game. You're getting beat up all the time and the windows are very small. Dan and Pat bring a different dynamic where their window is so tight that they don't need much space at all. They just need half a step... that's open for them. I made a living that way, trusting our guys [at Stony Brook] to make plays for me.

"That was the biggest thing, to tell our guys to trust them. If you think they're open, they probably are and they'll make a play for you. Sometimes you can force a bad ball in there and Dan will do something spectacular, same with Patty."

Corbett and Taylor have developed into two of the team's top offensive threats, including on the extra man unit, while Taylor has displayed several highlight reel moments. Included was a display in the Independence Classic against Penn State when he had a behind-the-back goal followed later by a behind-the-back assist.

The Lehigh offense was up-and-down to begin the season, scoring as many as 18 goals while eclipsing double figures in the first five games. But two 6-4 losses in a four-game stretch was a wake-up call that something needed to change. The Mountain Hawks worked on a new offense after the UMass loss, but fully implemented it for the first time against Navy. Lehigh scored 12 goals and has produced between 11 and 15 goals every game since.

"The new offense we put in place gets everyone involved," said Taylor. "That's a huge part of it. We're playing really unselfishly right now. The coaches did a really good job of making an offense that plays to everyone's strengths."

"We had to look inside and find our identity," said DiMaria. "Coach Comp helped do that. He's played a big role in putting the right players in the right spots. It's a team-oriented offense, but within that offense, players need to go out there and make plays."

"We knew we had guys who could produce," said Compitello. "We had to find a better way to execute and get those guys into spots where they could be the most successful. I felt like we put a lot of pressure on Dave [DiMaria] early in the year to be our guy, to get us wins and get us goals. He's very capable, but when you put that much pressure on one person, the offense can falter.

"We went to a more movement based, fluid offense," Compitello continued. "You get to spots then figure it out from there. It was definitely a needed change; the results speak for themselves. The guys have been great, they bought in. They realized what we were doing wasn't working."

Compitello played a significant role in another way after Lehigh's tough start. Standing at 5-4 after nine games, the season was going down the same path as his senior year at Stony Brook. Much like Lehigh in 2012, the Seawolves had a breakout season the year before. Expectations were through the roof going into the season, but Stony Brook fell short of its goals; the Seawolves made the America East title game before falling to Hartford.

"I spent a lot of time talking to Brian Hess, our captain," said Compitello. "I told him flat out that our captains, including myself, did a bad job of handling the success the year before. I put the blame on us and I'm not going to blame anybody else.

"Once we were headed down that same general path, the seniors heard me a little more. I wanted to make sure their experience was different than mine. The whole senior class has done an incredible job of refocusing themselves and recommitting themselves to the process and not just the end result."

The Mountain Hawks haven't lost since that UMass defeat on March 20 and are NCAA tournament-bound once again. None of the seven games were truly that close. Lehigh has won each by three or more goals and has led by six or more after three quarters on four occasions. Featuring a strong offense coupled with a defense that's allowed seven or fewer goals in eight of its last nine games, Lehigh has the pieces in place for an NCAA Tournament run. With Compitello and the entire Lehigh coaching staff, one thing is for sure; they will put the players in spots to be successful.

"Competing is something that's really important to me," he said. "I wasn't ready to give up the competition aspect of things. Although it might not be on the field, as a coach you're competing in different ways. You're trying to out scheme the other guy, you're trying to figure out what they're going to do before they even know they're going to do it."

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