Lehigh men’s lacrosse takes on Rutgers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, May 15 at 2:30 pm on ESPNU at Klockner Stadium in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The Mountain Hawks earned the Patriot League automatic qualifying spot after Loyola withdrew from the Patriot League Championship due to a positive COVID-19 test within their Tier 1 personnel.
“It’s very bittersweet,” said head coach Kevin Cassese. ”I met with the team this morning at 8:00 when the Patriot League let out their statement, and I just went around the room listening and getting the pulse of the players. Some guys were excited because we get to move on to the NCAA Tournament, and a lot of guys were disappointed because we don’t get to go through the experience of playing in the Patriot League Championship.”
This is the first time Lehigh has made the NCAA tournament since 2013 when they lost to North Carolina 16-7 in the opening round. The Mountain Hawks secured the eighth overall seed after finishing 10-1 on the year, going a perfect 8-0 in the Patriot League. Lehigh had a perfect record before facing Villanova in the last regular-season game, where they fell 18-6 to the Wildcats.
“I think for anyone in a season that has really high level of success, you have to stumble a little, and we just did that recently,” Cassese said. “We got humbled, and I think that was a really important moment for us.”
The last time Lehigh played Rutgers, the Mountain Hawks won 13-10. While the two haven’t played since 2019, some players are already familiar with the team.
Junior attacker Cole Kirst, who is one of five boys, has two brothers on Rutgers. Colin and Connor Kirst are both graduate students. Colin is the starting goalie and is a transfer from Lehigh, while Connor is a starting midfielder and a transfer from Villanova.
‘I think the scouting reports on all three brothers are going to be very well known,” Cassese said. “There’s going to be no secrets out there, and that’s just the way it goes with that, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be about what team performs better and who can play better as a unit.”
While Lehigh is the higher seed, they know how good of a team Rutgers is. They have an overall record of 8-3.
“They like to play a fast style,” Cassese said. “They definitely have shown that in the last couple of years. We’ve scrimmaged them a few times, and we played them a couple of years ago at their place in 2018 and 2019… They like to run in transition, and they have a really good offense. Their top six on offense are just very complimentary of each other, very talented and some of the best in the country.”