Lehigh men’s lacrosse coach Kevin Cassese was one of nine people inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame on Sept. 29.
Cassese was shocked to be included in the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2018, but his players were not.
“It was not surprising,” said junior goalkeeper Colin Kirst. “It was only a matter of time for (Cassese) to be inducted. He has done so much for the sport as a player and is currently doing so much as a coach. I am truly honored to say that I play under such a legend.”
Cassese graduated from Duke University, where he won two consecutive league championships, and then went on to play at a professional level. He played professionally for teams located in Rochester, New York, Philadelphia and Boston and also for the United States national team, where he won two gold medals. Cassese said it was truly an honor to win gold medals wearing the red, white and blue.
The experiences and reputation he has in the lacrosse world have not gone unnoticed by Lehigh’s lacrosse players.
“Without a doubt, he’s pretty much seen and done it all when it comes to lacrosse,” said freshman midfielder Michael Monitto. “He’s played on a seriously high level, from playing at Duke to representing our country on the national stage. That comes with a lot of experience, and he definitely relays what he’s learned over the years to us.”
After finishing his career as a player, Cassese knew his next step would be on the sidelines.
“Coaching was always in my blood,” Cassese said. “My father was a high school football coach for 34 years. I always knew I wanted to be involved in athletics, and I realized that coaching was as close as it gets to playing.”
From 2005 to 2007, Cassese held assistant coaching positions at Stony Brook University and Duke University before becoming head coach at Lehigh in 2008.
Although playing and coaching share similarities, successes as a coach can feel different than those achieved as a player. A coach must build a program and an atmosphere that allows players to push themselves and feel comfortable enough to thrive.
That environment, Kirst said, is exactly what Cassese has created here at Lehigh.
“The word that stuck with me after I visited Lehigh for the first time my sophomore year in high school was ‘family,’” Kirst said. “A bunch of young men and coaches that are built for others and willing to do whatever it takes to win. This is all due to the culture that (Cassese) has established here in this program.”
The culture Kirst described has helped bring success to the team.
Since Cassese’s arrival at Lehigh, the men’s lacrosse team has won the Patriot League in 2012 and 2013 and finished as runners-up in 2014 and 2018.
Despite his achievements as a player, winning the Patriot League as Lehigh’s head coach in 2012 — the team’s first Patriot League title since 1999 — is up there with Cassese’s favorite memories.
“Winning the first Patriot League Championship in 2012 was a very special moment,” Cassese said. “There was a lot of hard work put in by a lot of people to help get the program to that point. It was the breakthrough moment for the program after many, many years of blood, sweat, and tears.”