Junior faceoff specialist Matt Ernst, left, and senior midfielder Ian Strain pose together on their home lacrosse field. After graduating from Episcopal Academy just one year apart, the two have continued their legacy at Lehigh. (Allison LaBeau/B&W Staff)

Same face, new place: Matt Ernst and Ian Strain ride “pipeline of talent” to Lehigh lacrosse

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The performance of high school standout athletes tends to shed light on their school’s athletic program.

Senior Ian Strain paved the way for junior Matt Ernst’s commitment to Lehigh men’s lacrosse. The two played together in high school at Episcopal Academy in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania.

Coach Kevin Cassese and his staff recruit a decent amount of kids from the Philadelphia area, where Ernst and Strain are from, but not particularly from their high school. So while Strain was being recruited, Cassese contacted him to ask some questions about Ernst.

“Coach reached out to me and asked about off-the-field things, what (Ernst’s) work ethic was like and if I thought he would be a good fit for our team,” Strain said.

Ernst said he believes that bringing in kids from the same high school is a great way for Lehigh to create a “pipeline of talent” for the program to build from.

Each year, college team dynamics change when the class of seniors graduates and a new class of freshmen comes in. The new players and the old players need to create new chemistry, separate from that of the year before. Bringing in players that have formed a relationship prior to arriving at Lehigh brings pre-existing chemistry to the team that can be beneficial.

“I feel like the more time you play with someone, the easier it becomes,” Strain said. “So when teammates are able to play together in college, the chemistry built in high school tends to come back quickly. The added time together, along with higher-level coaching, can definitely give you an advantage in certain areas.”

Ernst’s recruiting process went quickly. Cassese saw him play at three events in a row and then at an on-campus recruiting event. A week later, Ernst was offered a spot at Lehigh.

Ernst said it definitely helped knowing that one of his high school teammates at the time was already on the roster at Lehigh. They both agree that the relationship they formed in high school has helped ease the transition of playing together now in college. Even though they spent a year apart playing on different teams and at different levels, their chemistry came back to life when they were reunited on the field at Ulrich Sports Complex.

“(Ernst) and I have definitely become closer since we have gotten here,” Strain said. “But because of (Ernst) being a faceoff man, we don’t spend a lot of time on the field together. So when we are, it’s important to be on the same page. (Ernst) and I usually have a pretty good idea what each other want to do before the faceoff happens, so it makes it easier to find that common ground on the field.”

Ernst said in his first two years, Strain helped him out by going on the wing during faceoffs and helping on a few loose balls every game. He added that Strain’s leadership reflected off the field as well.

“It was very nice for me to have a former high school teammate already be on the Lehigh squad,” Ernst said. “(Strain) was kind enough to help me move in my freshman year and show me the ropes right from the moment I set foot on campus.”

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