October 7, 2012

Colleluori Classic Shows Off New Teams, Identities

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com | Photo Gallery

Lehigh senior attackman Dante Fantoni and the Mountain Hawks' offense looked strong Saturday.
© Kevin P. Tucker

FOLSOM, Pa. – In one of the first major men's tournaments of the fall season, Saturday's sixth annual Nick Colleluori Classic was like the first day of school for eleven NCAA Division I programs.

Teams got their first taste of the new rules at Ridley High School outside Philadelphia. There were new programs, Marquette and High Point, figuring out who they were against D-I opponents for the first time. Second-year program Michigan went through a growth spurt in the offseason and sent out what was basically an entirely new team.

And then there's Lehigh, which showed up with an entirely new identity: that of an emerging big man on campus.

Lehigh's historic 2012, which ended after a program-record 14 wins and a one-goal loss to Maryland in the NCAA tournament, left the Mountain Hawks extremely confident entering the fall season. Maybe too confident.

"They came in and their heads were a little too big," said Lehigh coach Kevin Cassese. "We quickly corrected that. Some leaders on our team quickly corrected that. At the end of the day, the one thing that's good to remind this team is that our season ended in a loss last year. You don't deserve to have a big head if your season doesn't end in a win. We're focused on this year. It's a new year. New players, new numbers, new everything."

On Saturday, Lehigh defeated fellow 2012 NCAA tournament team Hofstra, 10-7, and later fell, 12-11, to Robert Morris.

"We're very vanilla right now," Cassese said. "This is only Day 14 for us. We have another week and a half to go. We're looking for guys to step up. We have some unknowns. But the speed at which our guys played was good."

Lehigh's offense looked particularly strong. Stalwarts like the Lao-Gosney twins have graduated, but plenty of talent remains. Leading scorer Dave DiMaria (24 goals, 23 assists in 2012) racked up points on Saturday, as did Dante Fantoni.

Cassese said he was surprised by how many goals were scored by both Lehigh and its opponents. The 6.82 goals per game allowed by the Mountain Hawks in 2012 was second only to Notre Dame in Division I.

Don't expect those new rules to make it easier to score on Lehigh.

"If anything it helps us," Cassese said. "I think the officials have a tough time determining when a team is stalling as opposed to when they just can't beat us. Sometimes we get the benefit of the doubt because of that and they'll slap a shot clock on when a team's trying to play defense."

Wolverine Evolution

Division I lacrosse returned to Michigan last season and reminded the rest of the country what everyone who saw "American Pie" already knew: the Wolverine State takes its lacrosse seriously.

With an established local lacrosse tradition and a talented incoming class, Michigan is primed to become a premiere program in the Midwest.

The Wolverines sport eight home-state players, but Michigan is a national team. This year's core should be the 20 freshmen who arrived from California to Maryland specifically to play Division I lacrosse for the maize and blue.

"It's mostly East Coast," said Michigan coach John Paul. "We're recruiting very well. We have a lot of confidence in where this program's going. The next two classes are outstanding. This class is very good. But you have to build into these guys learning at this level."

The Wolverines competed with mostly club players in Year One and finished 1-13. After a D-I makeover, they boast tremendous talent, but face a steep learning curve. Despite a clearly improved offense, Michigan fell 16-8 to Mount St. Mary's on Saturday morning.

"When you have all new players, everything is coming at 100 miles an hour," Paul said. "So much of competing at this level is effort and execution and we're not at that point. The effort comes late because they're thinking about what they're doing before they get there and the execution isn't there because they're thinking so much."

Mark It Down, Golden Eagles Are For Real

Marquette beat fellow first-year program High Point, 13-7, and later beat Robert Morris, 12-8, on Saturday at the sixth annual Colleluori Classic. Ty Melnyk (above) scored four goals against High Point.
© Kevin P. Tucker

Before the Big East expanded its borders to include Boise and San Diego, Marquette was the conference's westernmost school, testing the limits of geography, and the word east, on the Southwestern shore of Lake Michigan.

Now, with its Division I lacrosse program, Marquette extends its reach eastward. As a destination for Long Island lacrosse players.

Coach Joe Amplo's first recruiting class includes 14 players from his home island. How did he sell them on a small Jesuit school in Milwaukee?

"It's got the same caliber of work ethic and standards that Long Island stands for," Amplo said. "It's a hardworking community that's going to be a challenging environment that holds them accountable. It's similar to the way kids are raised on Long Island."

Marquette's roster has a transcontinental feel. While 23 players come from New York, New Jersey or Pennsylvania, the Golden Eagles also field players from Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Washington state, and four Canadians.

Two of those Canadians, Matt Melnyk and Andrew Smistad, were high school teammates in Calgary and transferred in after Presbyterian's program folded.

On Saturday, Melynk looked to be an impact acquisition, scoring four goals in their opening victory over High Point. Marquette trailed 3-0 in that game but answered with nine straight goals before winning 13-7. Then they switched fields and beat Robert Morris 12-8.

"It wasn't about the scores to be honest with you," Amplo said. "It was just about making the guys play. If it was 3-0, 7-0, it was about making the next play. The score is irrelevant at this point because we're just starting to build a foundation for work and learn from mistakes."

Marquette, which got its first taste of D-I competition 850 miles from campus, has a fan base waiting at home.

"There is a tremendous buzz," Amplo said. "We've had a ton of youth kids on campus picking up the game. Youth clinics from players. It's growing rapidly. We're trying to capture the Chicago market and grow it northward. The Midwest is growing as fast as any market."

Reaching a High Point

High Point started the first fall game in program history with three straight goals against Marquette, then promptly allowed nine in a row. Afterward coach Jon Torpey tried to balance the happy-to-finally-be-here feeling with the on-field result.

"The one thing we preach all along is to get better every day," Torpey said. "Be better students, better athletes, better people. Bring the constant work ethic to the field. We didn't do that today, unfortunately."

But two years after the program launched, it was a great moment just seeing the team from North Carolina's Piedmont region on the field in its purple and black uniforms.

"Seeing it feels good," Torpey said. "It's a long time coming. There are a lot of kinks. It's just inconsistent right now."

The Panthers roster is entirely composed of freshman and transfers brought in by Torpey after he was hired.

"We hunted guys from all over the country and had some success," Torpey said. "Have some guys from Vegas, Canada, Ohio. The Mid-Atlantic's always going to be good for us. It's an eclectic mix for sure."

Click here for a photo gallery from the Colleluori Classic.

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