College Crosse's Impossibly Early, Definitely Perfect (Sort of), Rock-Solid (Maybe) Fall Ball Top 20: Lehigh (19)

Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

Lehi-dee-high-dee-high-dee-high (sorry).

The 2014 season is months away. Let's punch fate in the face and make wild assumptions about what could be the best 20 teams in the country next year.

Team: Lehigh

Rank: 19

Important People: Matt Poillon (G); Dan Taylor (A); Patrick Corbett (A); Ty Souders (D); Tripp Telesco (D); Dylan O'Shaughnessy (D/LSM); Lukas Mikelinich (D)

Formerly Important People: David DiMaria (A); Dante Fantoni (A); Mike Noone (D); Brian Hess (M); Noah Molnar (SSDM); Kyle Stiefel (M)

Final 2013 Poll Positions: Media: 13; Coaches: 10

2013 Record: 12-5 (6-0, Patriot)

2013 Snapshot: Kaboom!

* * * * *

Nightmare Fuel
It's not just that Lehigh lost Fantoni and DiMaria due to the incurable disease known as "Graduation." Rather, it's that Fantoni and DiMaria aren't around to make amazing things happen with the ball in their crosses and:

  1. The strength of the Patriot League has grown with the addition of Loyola to the mix (not to mention the continued existence of the league's legacy programs);
  2. The value of Fantoni and DiMaria (with respect to distribution, offensive carrying responsibilities, and general upperclass leadership), isn't fully duplicable with Lehigh's offensive returnees;
  3. Their absence is combined with the absence of important midfield contributors in Brian Hess and Kyle Stiefel, creating a vacuum that is unlike what the Lao-Gosneys left in the wake of their graduations; and
  4. Fantoni and DiMaria were consistent pieces to Lehigh's success, alternating hammers that created pressure situations for opposing defenses to heavily focus upon, situations to which Fantoni and DiMaria were expert at destroying.
This is a layered issue to overcome, some of it is within Lehigh's control and some of it is without. Assets remain that are offensively capable (Patrick Corbett and Dan Taylor come to mind, but neither -- at least given their performance in prior campaigns -- are directly similar to the attributes that DiMaria and Fantoni held), but the fact remains that a dark void exists on the offensive end of the field for the Mountain Hawks. Adjusting approach or player role responsibilities often yields growing pains, and Lehigh will need to experience that in an attempt to create stronger balance between the team's offensive and defensive execution. If the Mountain Hawks struggle to find a new offensive identity, it'll likely be attributable to an inability to transition from a DiMaria/Fantoni-focused reality.

A Thousand White Doves
The Mountain Hawks have cemented themselves as one of the stronger defensive teams in the nation over the last few seasons. The anchor of the unit -- and arguably the most valuable player in the nation with respect to his team's reliance on his play -- is Matt Poillon, the junior keeper that has posted 59.7 and 59.6 save percentages in 2012 and 2013, respectively. He's a game-changing soul-eater in the crease, one of the nation's few goalies that changes the function and execution of both the field defense in front of him and opposing offenses. His impact to Lehigh's fortunes are greater than the back-to-back Patriot League Goalie of the Year honors he holds; he is, in large part, the primary cog to the Mountain Hawks' defensive presence (a focus that has driven Lehigh's ceiling over the last two seasons). He'll backstop a defensive unit that loses all-league defensemen Noone, but the cupboard isn't bare: With cats like Souders, Telesco, O'Shaughnessy, Mikelinich (who didn't play in 2013 but is currently listed on Lehigh's 2014 roster), and Jimmy Cahill, Lehigh -- at least right now -- has the assets necessary to make life difficult for opposing offenses, thereby keeping Lehigh in games should the Mountain Hawks struggle to generate a consistent efficiency on the offensive end. This is a solid foundation to build from, and if Lehigh leverages off of this end of the field -- especially if the team can hang around a positive possession margin point, providing Lehigh's offense with extra opportunities and limiting the number of attempts that the opposition have at cracking the Mountain Hawks' defense -- Kevin Cassese could have another iteration of Lehigh lacrosse that hangs around the top of the Patriot League and knocks on the fence of The Big Barbecue.

The Stars, The Moon, Six Feet Under
The Stars: The team finds its offensive focus, getting sustained contributions from the attack and midfield despite early-season struggles; top two finish in the Patriot League and a trip to the NCAA Tournament, wreaking havoc as Notre Dame-lite; one of the strongest defensive teams in the nation doesn't take junk from anybody.

The Moon: Lehigh's defense has a top 10 effort and drags the team into the NCAA Tournament conversation; makes the Patriot League Tournament despite a sputtering offense that is more notable in pieces than in the whole; doesn't get any trophy kills but also doesn't experience any brain farts.

Six Feet Under: Defense is asked to do too much and falters due to overexposure; offense never finds its groove and is committed to a local institution for care; team struggles to make the Patriot League Tournament and The Big Barbecue is a pipe dream; the entire offensive midfield is shot out of a cannon as punishment for failing to be an offensive midfield.

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