He’s a three-time player, two-time champion, one-time co-captain and now an assistant coach.
Those are the Team USA accolades of Kevin Cassese, the current head coach of the Lehigh men’s lacrosse team. And he doesn’t plan on stopping there.
The 2014 World Lacrosse Championships were this past summer in Denver, Colorado. This tournament is the lacrosse equivalent of the World Cup. It may have been Cassese’s first time participating as a coach, but it has been part of his life since 1998.
“Being able to continue as an assistant coach in 2014 was really special,” Cassese said. “I’ve been involved with U.S. lacrosse and the national team for almost half my life.”
Cassese got involved with the national team in 1998 when he tried out and made the U19 National Team, and he’s been involved in some way ever since. Now, he joins three other college head coaches on the coaching staff for Team USA, serving as an assistant coach.
Cassese was joined by Richie Meade of Furman University, Dave Pietramala of Johns Hopkins University and Jeff Tambroni of Pennsylvania State University. Casses said that he really enjoyed working with such a great group.
“It was fun to work with those guys and share ideas and concepts and things that we do with our programs,” he said.
Cassese stressed that even though he didn’t serve as the head coach for Team USA, he never needed to change his coaching style for a new group of players. He believed that his style was a natural fit and that all players, no matter how talented they are, still want to be led and coached.
His role as an assistant was a bit different in comparison to his role as head coach and program director at Lehigh. This past summer, he mainly focused on the faceoff men, goaltenders, the substitution game and rides and clears.
“I got to work on a pretty personal level with the faceoff men and the goalies,” he said. “And here at Lehigh, I get to work with all the players on a personal level. It’s just a little bit different when you’re the head coach as opposed to the assistant.”
Cassese had the opportunity to work with some of the game’s most well-known players, such as Paul Rabil, Rob Pannell and Ned Crotty, and Cassese recognized the caliber of the group that he was coaching.
He was impressed by their dedication to the sport, especially since many of them are full-time professional lacrosse players. This is a bit of a change from normally coaching players who exclusively play in college.
Cassese said he quickly found out how much different the experience was being a coach instead of a player. He said that it’s actually a lot more low-key as a player because of all the downtime, even though they play so many games in a short period of time.
“On the coaching side of it, there’s no downtime at all,” he said. “You’re always preparing, either for the next opponent or for somebody down the road. There are never really any dull moments as a coach.”
Cassese stands out from the rest of the Team USA staff because of his recent experience as a player for the team. He believed that this experience enabled him to contribute something extra.
“I was able to have some conversations with them that some of the other coaches couldn’t because I had been through it so recently,” he said.
Cassese said his favorite experience of the whole summer was getting to know the players better, which was made easier by them all living together in the dorms at Denver University. He said the personal bonds that were formed allowed him to better know the players outside of a lacrosse setting.
The most important part of this experience was what Cassese took away from it and how he can apply that to Lehigh’s season in the spring. He said he learned about how these elite players train their bodies and prepare for games, a process that has changed over the years.
He also took away a somewhat familiar feeling. After Lehigh finished second in the Patriot League last year and missed the NCAA Tournament, Team USA also finished in second place and failed to win the gold medal.
“The lesson from that is you can have the best players in the world and arguably the best team that has ever been put together, but on any given day, anything can happen,” he said. “You have to bring your ‘A’ game when it matters the most.”
He said that he wishes to continue coaching for Team USA in the future. The Team USA season will start with a US National Training Team that occurs in the gap years between the championships, which only occur every four years. But even though he may have to wait those four years to get a chance to win the gold medal as a coach, the Lehigh season starts now.