by Matt Sheridan
Heading into its season opener against Lehigh, there was a certain buzz around the men’s lacrosse team.
Coming off a breakout season in which the ’Cats started out strong but then faltered down the stretch, many wondered how this year’s team would be able to replace the graduated seniors and hopefully build upon what was one of the Big East’s top teams.
While last year’s squad opened the season ranked seventh in the country, this year’s has not received as much preseason media hype, starting the year ranked just outside the top 20.
In an opportunity to garner a resumé-boosting win, Villanova opened the season at home on Feb. 16 against the No. 11 Lehigh Mountain Hawks.
In a game full of momentum swings, the Wildcats suffered a hard-fought defeat by a score of 11-9.
The Wildcats got on the scoreboard first, as a shot from senior attack Jack Rice beat the Lehigh goalie with 12:38 remaining in the first quarter.
Villanova kept up the attack and three minutes later Senior midfielder Paul Mita also found the back of the net, making it 2-0 ’Nova.
However, this momentum was quickly squandered as Lehigh midfielder Ryan Snyder won the ensuing faceoff and went the length of the field for the unassisted goal, putting Lehigh on the board.
In the first instance of what would be a recurring theme on the day, the Wildcats did not falter and responded with a goal of their own less than two minutes later from Senior midfielder Max Hart.
Lehigh then took all momentum away from this fast start for ’Nova, and in the remainder of the first quarter went on a 3-0 run to grab a 4-3 Lehigh lead.
This spurt was highlighted by a steal and a coast-to-coast goal from senior attack David DiMaria coming out of a Villanova timeout.
As the second quarter began, both teams increased the intensity and an extremely physical style of lacrosse became the standard.
This physicality reached its pinnacle with 11:55 left in the half when a big hit by Villanova freshman goalie Greg Stamatov drew a questionable penalty.
This led to a Lehigh goal shortly thereafter while on the man advantage.
Two minutes later, Lehigh sophomore attack Dan Taylor beat Stamatov, thus capping off a streak in which Lehigh went on a 5-0 run as well as scoring six out of the last seven goals since Villanova held a 2-0 lead early in the first quarter.
Nonetheless, the Wildcats remained resilient. Two possessions later, following a big stop on defense and a series of crisp passes on offense, Jack Rice once again put the ball in the back of the net, cutting the Lehigh lead to 6-4 and grabbing back some of the all-important momentum.
Although Villanova squandered an opportunity at the end of the first half in which they controlled the ball for the final 3:13, as they headed into the locker room trailing by two goals, there was a feeling at Villanova Stadium that the ’Cats had picked up their level of play and a comeback win was a very real possibility.
Coach Chris Corrado’s Wildcats opened up the scoring at the 12:08 mark in the third quarter as Junior John LoCascio took a feed from fellow Junior Remington Pope and scored a fast-break goal reminiscent of the up-tempo offense that was employed so successfully for much of last season, bringing his team to within one goal.
Over the next eight minutes, play was relatively even with neither team able to get many quality opportunities. This would end with 4:36 remaining in the third, as Lehigh scored to make it 7-5.