2012 Men's Lacrosse Season Preview
Feb. 2, 2012
VILLANOVA, Pa. - With the Wildcats set to embark on their 2012 slate, it's impossible to overlook the accomplishments of six-year Head Coach Mike Corrado, his veteran coaching staff and the recent successes of the Villanova men's lacrosse team.
2011 provided another standout season under Corrado, with the squad earning their first ever at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament and reaching their highest ranking in history at No. 7 in the national polls. The team set an on-campus record with over 6,500 spectators in attendance for a top-10 showdown, while graduating senior Brian Karalunas became the first USILA First Team All-American in Villanova history. While the accomplishments of the 2011 season are plentiful, the 2012 Wildcats are poised for even greater success with boundless talent and experienced upperclassmen.
In addition to a top-flight schedule that includes traditional rivalries, Villanova will reignite competition against powerhouse programs such as Maryland and Princeton in addition to competing against established BIG EAST foes including Syracuse, Notre Dame and Georgetown. 2012 also marks the inaugural year for the BIG EAST Tournament, with the top four teams in round-robin season play earning a chance for an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. With plenty to look forward to this season, it's safe to say Corrado and Co. will continue the tradition of excellence Villanova lacrosse has produced consistently year after year.
The Wildcats return an astounding 12 upperclassmen on offense including all six starters from the 2011 squad. Anchored by senior Kevin Cunningham (Garden City, N.Y./Kellenberg), the 2012 BIG EAST Preseason Offensive Player of the Year and junior Jack Rice (Baltimore, Md./Boys' Latin), a fellow 2011 First Team All-BIG EAST selection, Villanova's attack looks to thrive under Associate Head Coach Simon Connor's offense.
Cunningham sat atop the NCAA rankings for much of the 2011 season, finishing the year 15th in the nation averaging 3.46 points per game despite missing four games to injury. He finished his junior campaign with 24 goals, 21 assists and 45 points and currently ranks 12th all-time at Villanova with 107 career points. Even more impressive, his 59 career assists place him 7th all-time amongst the Wildcat greats.
Rice, perhaps the best non-Canadian crease attackman in the nation, returns after a stellar sophomore year where he tallied 34 goals and three assists, ranking him third in the BIG EAST averaging 2.13 goals per game. Classmate Will Casertano (Millbrook, N.Y./Salisbury) fills the third attack slot to round out the starting line. The Millbrook, N.Y. native collected 18 goals and 17 assists in 2011, placing him just behind Rice for the year in points.
Junior Nick Doherty (Bernardsville, N.J./Delbarton) and sophomore Kevin O'Neil (Cockeysville, Md./Boys' Latin) will add speed and depth to an already solid front line. The duo combined for 14 goals, 13 assists and 27 points last season and will create plenty of problems for opposing defensemen, while junior Paul Mita (Berwyn, Pa./Conestoga) will add strength and size with his 6'4", 230 pound frame.
Freshmen Christian Bennardo (Cutchogue, N.Y./St. Anthony's), Ryan DeSimone (Saint James, N.Y./Smithtown East) and Mike Francia (Wilton, Conn./Wilton) round out Villanova's true attackmen for the year and will adjust to Connor's offense. Bennardo was an all-league selection for St. Anthony's while DeSimone was named a 2011 Under Armour All-American and listed as an Inside Lacrosse Top-50 Rising Senior. Francia will learn to quarterback the Villanova offense after finishing his prep school career as Wilton's all-time leading scorer with 329 points and guiding his team to a Connecticut State Championship.
A seasoned midfield line led by senior co-captains Matt Bell (Severna Park, Md./St. Mary's), a 2012 Preseason All-BIG EAST selection, and Michael Vigilante (Massapequa, N.Y./Massapequa) features a wealth of experience and leadership. Bell, a 2011 Second Team All-BIG EAST pick, paced the team with 18 goals and 11 assists while Vigilante's 23 points via 12 goals and nine assists added plenty of options for Villanova. Vigilante's size at 6'1", 212lbs. adds another gear to the already deep offense while Bell's acumen for speed and grit will be a tremendous help in transition.
Seniors CJ Burke (Pittsburgh, Pa./Central Catholic), C.J. Small (San Diego, Calif./La Costa Canyon) and junior Max Hart (Bethesda, Md./Georgetown Prep) will be interchangeable in the starting lineup after the trio accounted for 50 points in 2011. Small, a 2009 CAA All-Rookie Team selection, made four starts last season while Burke and Hart made huge strides during the previous year. Junior Harte Thompson (Chester Springs, Pa./Malvern Prep) will also look for playing time after recovering from a foot injury in 2011.
Freshmen Graham Maybell (Darien, Conn./Darien), Michael Duffy (McLean, Va./Potomac School) and Eric Gartner (Malvern, Pa./Great Valley) will battle for playing time during their first year on the Main Line. Gartner comes to Villanova after setting a school-record 93 points in a single season and earned all-state accolades in 2011 at Great Valley, while Maybell was named an All-American and all-state selection at Darien. Duffy led the Potomac School to a conference championship as a dual-sport athlete and adds athleticism to the Villanova roster.
With the departure of four-year starter T.J. O'Donnell and Andrew Henrich to graduation, sophomores Mark Jackson (West Chester, Pa./Malvern Prep) and Jimmy Wyatt (Whitehouse Station, N.J./Hunterdon Central Regional) will be counted on to step up to fill the gaps after earning minutes during their freshman seasons. Combined, the duo collected four ground balls and three caused turnovers while making appearances in all 16 games behind the heels of veteran upperclassmen.
Joe Payne (Rapid City, Mich./Brother Rice) provides senior leadership to the defensive midfield after appearances versus Delaware and Penn State in 2011, while freshman Tyler Holly (Richmond, Va./Collegiate School) will also gain experience after posting 13 goals and 85 ground balls during his senior season at the Collegiate School in Richmond, Va.
Senior Nolan Vihlen (Germantown, Tenn./Christian Brother) returns as the most experienced specialist on the Villanova roster after compiling a .548 win percentage from the X, winning 108 of 197 attempts. His career total stands at a respectable .512 win percentage in addition to collecting 137 ground balls during his previous three seasons on the team.
Sophomore Thomas Croonquist (North Caldwell, N.J./Seton Hall Prep) looks to build upon an outstanding freshman season after being named the Villanova Rookie of the Year and performing as one of the top freshman fogo's in the NCAA. His .600 win percentage places him third on the all-time list at Villanova after winning 81 of 135 attempts in 2011.
Also looking for experience will be freshman Michael Tsiang (Summit, N.J./Summit), who comes to the Main Line after anchoring Summit (N.J.) to two state championships and a 68 game win streak during his prep school career.
LONG STICK MIDFIELD
The biggest challenge the Wildcats will face is replacing First Team All-American Brian Karalunas, who graduated as the most decorated player in program history. The 2010 and 2011 BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year led the NCAA in caused turnovers for the past two seasons, but a highly-capable sophomore in John LoCascio (Fairfield, N.J./West Essex Regional) has all the tools to make an immediate and significant impact on the Villanova roster after appearing in all 16 games during his first year with the team. LoCascio collected 14 ground balls and six caused turnovers in 2011, but the second-year LSM is poised to make a huge impact in 2012 as an aggressive transition player and is perhaps Villanova's best-kept secret.
Joining LoCascio is classmate Remington Pope (Boston, Mass./Governor's Academy) who returns to playing shape after recovering from a knee and lower back injury during his freshman season with the team. A high school standout, Pope was a 2010 U.S. Lacrosse All-American and Top 205 All-Star.
The Wildcats will reload after the graduation of four-year starter Chris Ficke, an on-field leader and co-captain during his junior and senior seasons, but Villanova returns several experienced and talented upperclassmen who will easily adjust in Ficke's absence.
Leading the backfield are seniors Chris Creighton (West Chester, Pa./Malvern Prep) and Ryan McDonagh (Huntington, N.Y./St. Anthony's), both of whom started all 16 games on close defense in 2011. Creighton, a 2012 Preseason All-BIG EAST selection, is regarded as one of the best coverage defensemen in the conference and was named a 2011 Second Team All-BIG EAST honoree. Combined, the duo collected 54 ground balls caused 23 turnovers last year.
Looking to fill the third position are sophomores Chris Piccirilli (Davidsonville, Md./Archbishop Spalding) and Christopher Conroy (Chatham, N.J./Chatham), both of whom gained experience during their freshman seasons and are poised to make big strides in 2012. Piccirilli was selected as one of the best young defensemen in the nation and named to the U.S. Men's National U-19 tryout pool following the conclusion of the 2011 season, while Conroy had a phenomenal offseason and at 6'1", 200lbs, will offer size and quickness to the Villanova backfield.
Corrado and his staff have reliability in juniors Hunter Broome (Richmond, Va./Collegiate School) and Tyler Brennan (East Setauket, N.Y./Ward Melville), while freshmen Christian Kolderup (Darien, Conn./Darien) and Connor Oltmans (Belle Meade, N.J./Montgomery) will transition to the collegiate game after being named a First Team All-State selection and Team MVP in high school, respectively.
Junior Billy Hurley (Morristown, N.J./Delbarton) is now a seasoned veteran after starting all 16 games of his sophomore campaign and looks to continue his presence as a mainstay between the pipes. After posting an 8.33 goals against average and 124 saves in 2011, Hurley currently ranks second all-time at Villanova with a career 8.69 goals against average. His 219 career saves place him 10th overall on the all-time list amongst Wildcat keepers.
Senior Dan Gutierrez (Chevy Chase, Md./Georgetown Prep) will give Hurley stiff competition for the starting role after a successful fall season. The senior has totaled over 330 minutes in cage during the previous three years while making five starts and 41 saves. Junior Peter Metcalf (Sea Girt, N.J./Governor's Academy) will also push for minutes alongside freshman Reed Carlson (Arnold, Md./St. Mary's), who looks to make an impact after a successful prep school career despite battling injuries during his senior year at St. Mary's.