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by Paul Regan

No. 20 Villanova opened its 2014 season on Sunday afternoon with a 7-6 triple overtime loss to No. 17 Lehigh (2-0 overall). The Wildcats fought back from a three-goal deficit and overcame a 20-minute scoring drought to extend the game to overtime, but came up short in the extra periods.

From the 11:21 mark of the fourth quarter to the 0:07 mark of the third overtime period, neither team scored until junior attack Kurtis Kaunas netted the game winner for the Mountain Hawks.

The game, originally scheduled for Saturday but moved to Sunday due to inclement weather, was played at the Ulrich Sports Complex in Bethlehem, Pa.

This was the fourth straight year that Villanova played its season opener against the Mountain Hawks.

Lehigh came into the game with wins over Furman and Marquette. Lehigh has now won two straight and three of the last five against ’Nova.

Villanova finished last season with a 7-8 record overall and 5-1 record in the Big East. The Wildcats, who return 50 percent of the points recorded and 48 percent of the goals scored from last year, were picked to finish third in the Big East pre-season poll.

Senior defender John LoCascio was named the Big East preseason Defensive Player of the Year, and fellow senior defenders Christopher Conroy and Chris Piccirilli were both named to the All-Big East preseason team.

Despite eight penalties called against them in the first quarter, Villanova went into halftime holding onto a 3-1 lead. ’Nova’s goals came from senior midfielder Jimmy Wyatt, junior midfielder Eric Gartner and senior attack Kevin O’Neil.

Villanova’s defense, led by team captain LoCascio, held Lehigh scoreless for the final 22:21 of the first half.

The Mountain Hawks came out firing in the second half, scoring the first of their five unanswered goals just 21 seconds into the third quarter.

Senior midfielder Jimmy Cahill opened the scoring and just over seven minutes later, junior attacker Dan Taylor scored his first goal of the day with an impressive behind the back shot to beat the goalkeeper.

Taylor added another goal just over a minute later and sophomore attacker Reid Weber scored his second goal just 46 seconds after that. Junior defender Dylan O’Shaughnessy rounded out the streak for the Mountain Hawks to give them a 6-3 lead late in the third quarter.

But the Wildcats responded. Freshman midfielder Austin Frederick scored with 1:25 left in the third quarter to cut the deficit to two. Goals from senior midfielder Remington Pope and Frederick early in the fourth quarter knotted the score at six goals each. Frederick’s first goal broke a scoring drought for Villanova that lasted 20 minutes.

The Wildcats let a good opportunity pass when they came up empty on a two-man advantage late in the fourth quarter.

The scoring drought for both teams continued into the extra time until Kaunas beat the goalkeeper low with just seven seconds separating the two teams from a fourth overtime period.

The game was marked by outstanding defense from both teams. With 83 total shots in the game, there were plenty of scoring opportunities that were denied by the defenders and goalkeepers for both sides.

Lehigh caused 17 of Villanova’s 29 turnovers and the Wildcats caused 13 of the Mountain Hawks’ 24.

Lehigh outshot Villanova 46-37 and had slight advantages in ground balls (45-44) and face-offs (10-8).

For the Mountain Hawks, sophomore defender Tripp Telesco had a career-high seven ground balls and seven caused turnovers. Senior defenders Ty Souders (six ground balls and two caused turnovers) and Lukas Mikelinich (five ground balls and one caused turnover) also made important contributions to Lehigh’s defensive effort, which held Villanova to just 1-11 in extra-man opportunities.

Junior goalkeeper Matt Poillon made 12 saves for the Mountain Hawks. Weber and Taylor each scored twice for Lehigh.

For the Wildcats, LoCascio tied a career-high with nine ground balls. The senior captain also recorded five caused turnovers and one assist. Pope scooped up four ground balls and caused two turnovers.

Freshman goalkeeper Dan Willis made 12 stops in his first collegiate performance. Sophomore attack Johnny Gallaway notched two assists on the offensive end.

The Wildcats return to action in search of their first win of the season against city rival Drexel. The game will take place on Feb. 25 in Villanova Stadium at 7 p.m.

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