The Lehigh men’s lacrosse team won back-to-back Patriot League titles in 2012 and 2013, a feat that had never been done before in program history.
Before 2012, the Mountain Hawks had never won a Patriot League Championship. In 2008, Kevin Cassese was hired as the head coach. Throughout those four years, he helped build the program into a winning team.
When Cassese took over in 2008, he said Lehigh needed to have an overall commitment to being tougher, getting bigger and working more cohesively.
Their championship in 2012 solidified that Cassese was doing the right things to build this team to one of the top programs in the country.
“When I started, there was a bit of a culture build that we had to do,” Cassese said. “By 2012, we had a really sound culture and wanted to elevate the status of the program and truly compete for championships.”
In 2012, Lehigh went 12-2 in the regular season, only losing to Villanova and Colgate.
After defeating Army 13-7 in the Patriot League semi-finals, the Mountain Hawks were tasked with their most difficult game of the year. They would have to face Colgate, the only Patriot League team they lost to that season.
With a lot on the line, Lehigh stepped up to the challenge and bested Colgate in Hamilton, New York, 16-14, to capture their first-ever Patriot League Championship.
Despite having home-field advantage in the subsequent NCAA Tournament, Lehigh lost to Maryland 10-9 in the first round.
Some of the key players that helped the team achieve success in 2012 and 2013 were Brian Hess, ‘13, and Dante Fantoni, ‘13.
Hess, a midfielder on the 2012 and 2013 Patriot League Championship team, served as the lone captain in the 2013 season.
He attributed the team’s achievements to strong culture and hard work.
“Everyone was really hungry and put in a lot of work in the offseason,” Hess said. “It was such a close-knit team. For those two years, we were a family.”
Hess said the upperclassmen on the team led by example. They were the first ones to show up for practice and the last ones to leave.
In 2013, Lehigh struggled more in regular-season play, finishing 10-4, but came back strong and went 6-0 in conference play.
In the 2013 Patriot League Championship, the Mountain Hawks mirrored their success from the previous year. They bested Bucknell 11-5 and went on to win their second straight title.
Fantoni, an attackman on the 2012 and 2013 Patriot League Championship teams, said winning the title his senior year — back-to-back — was the best way to cap off his career at Lehigh.
“To win at home in front of all the fans was the feeling that we practiced for every day,” Fantoni said. “All the blood, sweat and tears that we had gone through during my four years was laid out on the field.”
When Cassese reflects on the 2012 and 2013 teams, he remembers most fondly the relationships formed over those years.
“It’s easy to remember the victories and the championship celebrations, but the relationships that I still have today with a lot of those players and those coaches will never go away and are really special,” Cassese said.
Times have changed for the members of the 2012 and 2013 teams, but the memories remain.
“The chemistry we had as a team on and off the field was unmatched,” Fantoni said. “We were a family. We were brothers.”