Lehigh sophomore faceoff specialist Conor Gaffney cradles down the field during the men's lacrosse game versus Boston University at the Ulrich Sports Complex April 1, 2017. The Mountain Hawks’ season will begin on Saturday against the New Jersey Institute of Technology at the Ulrich Sports Complex. (Sarah Epstein/ B&W Staff)

Lehigh men’s lacrosse tabbed sixth in Patriot League preseason poll

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The Lehigh men’s lacrosse team kicks off its season Saturday with a home matchup against the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

The Mountain Hawks were picked to finish sixth in the Patriot League preseason poll.

The team is returning from a disappointing finish last season, falling 10-4 to Boston University in the quarterfinals of the Patriot League Tournament.

The Mountain Hawks’ run in the tournament was their seventh straight appearance in the playoffs. Lehigh and Army West Point are the only two Patriot League opponents to qualify for the last seven tournaments.

This season, the team is focusing on competing in its eighth consecutive league tournament. The Mountain Hawks will fight for the berth behind the leadership of fifth-year captain and midfielder Ian Strain.

The team plans to use the leadership and skill present in each class as an advantage over other opponents this season.

Lehigh’s two leading scorers from last year, junior attackmen Andrew Pettit and Tristan Rai, will return this season.

Junior defenders Craig Chick and Eddie Bouhall and sophomore faceoff specialist Conor Gaffney were awarded preseason All-League honors, which was announced earlier this week.

As the season quickly approaches, the team is already looking toward its end-of-season goals: win a Patriot League Championship and then move on to compete for a national title.

Gaffney said the Mountain Hawks expect to be one of the top teams in the league, but they have some work to do first.

“Ever since our loss to BU last season in the playoffs, our main focus has been to just get out on the field and get better,” senior defender JJ Foley said. “We all have had that bitter taste in our mouths since then and have been working on improving individually and as a team.”

The team is especially focused on what each player can do to individually improve. Gaffney said his main focus has been to improve his individual matchups on offense and defense.

“We want to be better at beating our guy on offense and better at man-to-man defense,” he said.

Gaffney said that, as a team, the players have been focusing on winning the ground balls.

Coach Kevin Cassese said positive and consistent energy is also something the team has been focusing on improving everyday.

“The main focuses have been redeveloping a program-defining ‘chip on the shoulder’ that we bring to every training session, practice and game,” he said.

Foley said to reach its ultimate goal, the team needs to focus on achieving day-to-day goals, winning battles and competing with each other on smaller tasks that range from sprints to simple ground ball drills.

Foley is confident the Mountain Hawks will be successful this season if they can work together to compete to their full potential.

Gaffney said the team has a handful of important games this season, so the Mountain Hawks have decided to treat each match the same, especially during Patriot League play.

“My expectations for this team are that they bring passion, selflessness, discipline and toughness every single day,” Cassese said. “If they do that, the scoreboard will take care of the rest.”

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