By Erika Wentzell | 10/11/12 2:05 PM
We caught up with Kevin Cassese, former MLL player and current Head Coach for Lehigh Men’s Lacrosse, to see where he is now. Cassese had a decorated playing career and is already an extremely accomplished coach. At his Alma Mater Duke University, he was a two time captain, three time All-American, three time All-ACC selection, and 2002 recipient of the Lt. Donald MacLaughlin, Jr. Award as the nation’s top midfielder. Cassese was the 2nd overall selection in the 2003 MLL Collegiate Draft by the Rochester Rattlers where he played for four years before being traded to the Philadelphia Barrage and then the Boston Cannons. He helped lead the Barrage to the 2007 Major League Lacrosse Championship title. Cassese has also had success at the international level with appearances on the 2001, 2006 and 2010 US National teams and is going to be an Assistant Coach for the 2014 team. He started coaching just one year out of college and has been Assistant Coach at Stony Brook, Assistant Coach at Duke, and Head Coach at Lehigh since he began his coaching career. Taken into account that Cassese is only thirty-one years old, his loaded resume is even more impressive. Read below to see how he has gotten where he is and also how much further he hopes to go.
Can you talk about your four years playing lacrosse at Duke University
Playing lacrosse at Duke was an honor; I got a chance to play for Mike Pressler who is a mentor of mine. Also Joe Alberici who is now the head coach at Army and doing a great job there. From a playing perspective I’m really proud of the fact that we won two ACC Championships in 2001 and 2002, those were big achievements for us. We didn’t get to the National Championship but I certainly feel proud that we were able to get the program to a point where shortly there after they were able to play for a National Championship. So I had a great experience, played with a lot of talented players, a lot of good people, tremendous leaders and everything helped me improve my game to be able to move on and play Major League Lacrosse.
You became the assistant coach at Duke only 2 years after graduating from there, can you reflect on your experience coaching for the program you once played in as well as some of the adversity the program faced during your time there
I got into coaching a year removed from college. I started working in the lacrosse industry as a marketing associate at Brine up in Milford, MA. And I was playing professionally for the Rochester Rattlers and doing the commute back and forth. I got into coaching first and foremost at Stony Brook University which is where I grew up. So I was able to get into coaching then and about a year later Coach Pressler hired me back to Duke. I had the opportunity to go back and coach with my mentor and actually coach a group of seniors who were freshman when I was a senior. So it was a great experience for me, and unfortunately we never got to see where that team could go because of all the scandal/ hoax that ensued. Basically the season was shut down, Coach Pressler was fired and I stepped in as the interim head coach and they were very close to cancelling the program. So I had to work with some team leaders, lawyers, parents, everywhere in-between to save the program. Luckily we did because a few years later Duke Lacrosse won a National Champion. My last season working for Duke was 2007 which was the year we lost to Johns Hopkins in the NCAA Championship game. After that I was hired by Lehigh and I was able to continue playing Major League Lacrosse even through all of that. When I took the job at Lehigh I was finishing up my fourth year with the Rochester Rattlers and I was traded that year to the Philadelphia Barrage.
Can you talk about how you managed to wear all of those hats AND play professionally in MLL?
It was a lot of fun being able to play, especially during those trying times at Duke as a coach. I was able to just get out on the field and be a kid for a couple of hours. That was really enjoyable for me; it was very much a release. So I enjoyed doing that, I certainly loved playing the game and I felt like I could still perform at high level. I got traded to the Philadelphia Barrage and in my first year there we actually won the Major League Lacrosse Championship. This all happened as I was transitioning from Duke to Lehigh and it was nice being able to play in Philadelphia right in my own backyard opposed to making the trip from North Carolina up to Rochester, NY. Luckily it all worked out and I was able to play for the Barrage for a couple of years before moving on to the Boston Cannons.
You are now in your 6th season as the Head Coach of Lehigh Men’s Lacrosse and you are coming off an extremely successful season. Your team won the 2012 Patriot League Championship and made their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance, where do you go from here?
It was a great year; it’s been a work in progress. A lot of hard work and elbow grease put into taking the program to an elite level of Division 1 lacrosse. Last year was our coming out party of sorts where we were able to really compete at the highest level of the game. And able to win a Patriot League Championship which was a major goal of ours. And then host an NCAA Playoff game which has never happened here before. A lot of firsts along the way this year. We have a very good returning team this year and obviously we’re hoping to repeat as Patriot League Champions and hopefully continue to push forward on the national level, staying in that top 10 ranking. And ultimately hopefully making it to a Final Four so we can compete for a National Championship. At the end of the day it’s a very exciting time, we were able to put our first two Lehigh players ever into Major League Lacrosse, Cameron and Roman Lao-Gosney, who are now both on the Hamilton Nationals roster. And that’s a tremendous feat for Lehigh lacrosse in general.
Now that Lehigh is in the spotlight, as a coach how do you manage the pressure to maintain your program’s success?
Last year and really every year I’ve been at Lehigh we’ve been the underdog. Even when we were ranked in the top ten last year I couldn’t help but feel like we were still the underdog. Even up until our last game where we were the home team, we were the higher seed against University of Maryland but for them coming out of the ACC we still felt as though we were the underdog. So I think that is going to change this year. Certainly there will be many games we play in this year where we are NOT the underdog and that’s a different way of looking at things. For us we’re still going to try and play with that same chip on our shoulder that we always have. And we are just going to try to outwork our opponents and do it on a daily basis. Not much is going to change; we are still going to roll our sleeves up and get to work every day.
What is your ultimate coaching goal?
That’s a good question; I’ve never received that one. My ultimate coaching goal is to win multiple championships at the highest level. So for Lehigh the highest level is Patriot League Championships and National Championships. My career has also brought me to the international game as well, I’ve played on three US National teams in 2002, 2006, and then 2010 and I’m now and assistant coach for the team that will compete in 2014. So I’d like to continually win Patriot League Championships at Lehigh, National Championships, and International Championships with Team USA.
Is your son Drew going to grow up with a lacrosse stick in his hand?
My son is fifteen months old and he already has about six or seven types of lacrosse sticks. Every morning we wake up and take a couple of face-offs in the living room then go have breakfast. It’s just a way of life around the Cassese household.
About Major League Lacrosse
Major League Lacrosse (MLL), the premier professional outdoor lacrosse league, was founded by Jake Steinfeld and is headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts. Major League Lacrosse commenced play in June of 2001 and will enter its 13th season in 2013. MLL has continued to lead the sport of lacrosse into the mainstream of competitive team sports. The league is made up of eight teams: The Boston Cannons, Charlotte Hounds, Chesapeake Bayhawks, Denver Outlaws, Hamilton Nationals, Long Island Lizards, Ohio Machine and Rochester Rattlers.
The 2013 MLL Collegiate Draft will take place on January 11, 2013 in Philadelphia, PA. The 2013 season will commence on April 27, 2013. More information about the league can be found at www.majorleaguelacrosse.com, Facebook or Twitter @mll_lacrosse.