Mountain Hawks Keep Magic Going, Beat Army
by Michael Blouse | LaxMagazine.com
Freshman goalie Matthew Poillon continued a sensational start to his college career with 13 saves Saturday in Lehigh's 7-6 win over Army.
© Kevin P. Tucker
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- As far as lacrosse captain Roman Lao-Gosney is concerned, Lehigh University, a relatively small private school nestled into the mountains of Bethlehem, is currently the capital of the college sports world.
And really, who could argue?
The Mountain Hawks’ men’s basketball team is in Charlotte, N.C., enjoying the euphoria of slaying hoops giant Duke on Friday night while preparing for Sunday’s third-round NCAA Division I tournament game.
The wrestling team is in St. Louis, Mo., for the NCAA Division I Championships, and the nationally-ranked “Engineers” advanced two into Saturday night’s finals.
Perhaps the best-kept secret among Lehigh’s elite athletic programs is the rapidly emerging lacrosse team, which is now ranked No. 11 in the nation. On a sun-splashed Saturday at the Ulrich Sports Complex, Lao-Gosney and his stick-toting, helmeted crew continued its winning ways by edging Army 7-6 in the Patriot League opener for both schools.
“It’s incredible here right now,” said Lao-Gosney, a senior who contributed a goal to the cause. “It all started with football. Now it’s basketball, wrestling and it’s lacrosse. We’re tremendously prideful at Lehigh … Not a lot of people out there really know who we are, but now they’re finding out in a hurry.”
Against Army, Lehigh was forced to work intensely and smartly for its sixth straight victory.
The Mountain Hawks (7-1 overall, 1-0 league) trailed for much of the first half but tied the score at 2 on Dante Fantoni’s first of three goals with 5:03 remaining before intermission. Lehigh then built its working margin to 6-3 with 10:14 left before the Black Knights responded.
Garrett Thul scored his second goal of the day with 1:05 to play as Army again cut its deficit to one. But the Black Knights (3-5, 0-1) missed on two desperate opportunities to tie the score in the final 30 seconds.
“This game was fiercely contested,” Lehigh coach Kevin Cassese said. “In the first half we didn’t have the ball on offense very much. We were 0-for-6 on face-offs and we didn’t have enough possessions. But give our defense credit. Then, in the second half, we settled in offensively and we got some things going.”
Lao-Gosney credited freshman Dylan O’Shaughnessy’s tally just 10 seconds into the third quarter as the spark.
“That faceoff [to start the second half] was huge. Whenever a long pole scores, it really pumps up the team. That doesn’t happen too often,” said Lao-Gosney, whose twin brother, Cameron, contributed a goal and an assist.
The surprise of the season for Lehigh has been the sensational play of freshman goalkeeper Matthew Poillon. Poillon is a two-time Patriot League Goalkeeper of the Week and entered Saturday’s play ranked ninth nationally with a 60.2 save percentage.
He maintained his high level of play with 13 saves – many of the spectacular variety – against Army.
“Definitely, I’m a little surprised by it all,” Poillon said. “I thought it’d be at least two years before I played because [backups] Griffin [Farha] and Conor [Murphy] can really play. But everything’s worked out. Our defense is playing great. They’re making my job a lot easier.”
Coach and captain both heaped praise upon Poillon.
“He’s been just exceptional,” Cassese said. “I keep waiting, wondering when he’s going to get nervous and play like a freshman. It hasn’t happened yet. I knew coming out of high school he was talented, but I didn’t expect this.”
“He’s been awesome,” Lao-Gosney said. “He’s a freshman who plays like a senior.”
Lehigh’s winning streak started with a 13-0 rout of Manhattan and includes triumphs over three Top 20 teams. The highlight was a 9-8 early-March victory over then-No. 4 North Carolina.
The 7-1 start is the program’s best since 1969.
“Since my freshman year, I knew this time was coming,” Lao-Gosney said. “Coach Cassese has brought in some strong recruiting classes and we’ve been building. It’s a long time coming.
“As a team, we have a long list of goals and one of them was to make it into the Top 20. Now it’s make it to the Top 10. We’ve gone above and beyond – and we want to keep going.”
Right now is the perfect time to be a Lehigh student-athlete.
The lacrosse team plans to gather Sunday to watch the Mountain Hawks play Xavier in the men’s basketball tournament. It will be a continuation of a party that started Friday night.
“You should’ve seen it here last night,” Lao-Gosney said. “It was crazy. We were packed into the streets on campus, celebrating.”
“You better believe the success carries over from program to program,” Cassese said. “We’re just trying to do our small part to continue the success.”
Army 1 1 1 3 – 6
Lehigh 0 2 2 3 – 7
Army goals: Garrett Thul 2, Alex Van Krevel 2, James MacGibbon, John Glesener. Army assists: Devin Lynch 2, MacGibbon.
Lehigh goals: Dante Fantoni 3, David DiMaria, Cameron Lao-Gosney, Roman Lao-Gosney, Dylan O’Shaughnessy. Lehigh assists: DiMaria, C. Lao-Gosney.
Shots: Army 34. Lehigh 30.
Groundballs: Army 20. Lehigh 22.
Saves: Zach Palmieri (A) 8. Matthew Poillon (L) 13.