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Stevenson Lacrosse Comes Long Way In Short Time

May 13, 2011

By Barrett Neale

Jimmy Dailey (right)
(Sabina Moran/PressBox)
The Villa Julie College men's lacrosse program Paul Cantabene agreed to coach in 2004 is barely recognizable as the one he leads today.

The institution he works for is now called Stevenson University, and some of its greatest athletic accomplishments have come since Cantabene's arrival. In each of the past six years, his squads have set a school record for wins.

"Every year we're getting better and our schedule, the competition, gets better," senior defender Evan Douglass said. "Not only are we getting more wins, but it's against better competition, which also says a lot. That just goes to show how he recruits and how he is as a coach and the coaching staff as a whole. They're doing a great job."

The past four years have brought program firsts: win against a ranked team, national ranking, No. 1 ranking, NCAA tournament berth, NCAA tournament win, first televised game and first Capital Athletic Conference championship.

In 2011, the Mustangs finished the regular season 17-2 and have been ranked in the top five all season, earning a No. 1 ranking for a third-straight year. The two losses were to then-No. 1 Tufts on March 23 and then-No. 3 Salisbury a month later in the CAC championship. They earned a first-round bye in the NCAA tournament and hosted the winner of Cabrini-Widener during the second round on May 14.

"I think we're pretty pleased with how it went," senior attackman Jimmy Dailey said of the regular season. "Obviously with the strength of schedule that we had, we knew it was going to be challenging and I think everybody's very excited about where we are, but at the same time, I don't think we're content. We're very motivated going into the playoffs."

That motivation comes from a goal the Mustangs are still chasing -- a national championship. Stevenson needs three wins to eclipse last year's record and four to win a national title. That is how the team wants to say goodbye to its 20-member senior class, which includes CAC Player of the Year Dailey; first-team selections Douglass, midfielder Ray Witte, and attackmen Neal Barthelme and Kyle Moffitt; and second-team selection Kyle Menendez.

"They come to play in every single game," Cantabene said. "They understand what it takes to win on a daily basis … the dedication and hard work that goes into it."

Dailey holds Stevenon's career records in points (324), assists (160) and games played (76). His 2011 points-per-game average (5.95) ranks first among all Division I players. He holds the school single-season points record (113) and is currently tied for the single-season assists record (55). In 2007, he set a single-season record with seven game-winning goals, and has six this season.

Senior attackman Richie Ford is the school's career goals leader (180). He ranks second in career games played (69) and in single-season goals (59 in 2008). Barthelme holds single-season records for goals (67) and man-up goals (12). He ranks fourth nationally with a 3.53 goals-per-game average.

Witte has a program-record 609 career faceoff wins and has collected 321 ground balls during his career, which is 24 shy of the school record. In 2010, he set single-season records in ground balls (168, has 115 in 2011) and faceoff wins (300, has 218 in 2011). Douglass is Stevenson's record holder for career caused turnovers (133) and single-season caused turnovers (56 in 2011).

Another record that could be set this season, but not by a senior, is single-season goals-against average. Junior goalkeeper Ian Bolland finished the regular season with a 6.09 goals-against average, and the current school record is 6.20.

Part of Bolland's success is due to the senior-laden defense he has in front of him -- Douglass, Ian Hart and Kyle Menendez, a St. Paul's graduate who transferred from Division I Virginia to spend his senior year at Stevenson.

"The three of us sort of look at each other and we're like, 'All right, it's time to go,'" Menendez said. "There's an added sense of urgency to it. Whereas in past years, you're like, 'OK, it's not going so great, but this isn't going to define my career,' this really is it, so we're sort of sitting there like, 'We'd better get this going, otherwise we're going home.'"

In addition to the seniors, talented underclassmen have contributed to the Mustangs' success. Freshman defender Ryan Rubenstein, a Boys' Latin graduate, was named CAC Rookie of the Year, and freshman attackman Tony Rossi, a Calvert Hall alumnus, was selected to the All-CAC second team.

"Having the opportunity to come in right away and be able to be on a team like this," he said, "actually get the opportunity to go in the tournament and make a run for it, is really something special. It's just a great opportunity to do that your freshman year and I'm really excited for it."

Cantabene said he hoped to see the team play more consistently during the postseason, but his ultimate goal was to be coaching during the national championship at M&T Bank Stadium on May 29. The past two years, Stevenson has been eliminated during the Final Four.

"I would say we're very battle-tested," Dailey said. "I think everyone's very excited about the schedule we played and I think that's going to be very beneficial moving forward."

Many of the Mustangs' wins this season have been lopsided. They rank second in the
country in scoring offense (17.05 goals per game) and third in scoring margin (10.53). Their only games decided by four goals or fewer were their two losses, a two-goal win against then-No. 4 Cortland March 19 and a four-goal win against Salisbury April 16.

Cantabene said those four games, and the past two NCAA tournament runs, have given the players experience in high-pressure situations. Some players react differently when the stakes are higher or the margin is closer, and he said it would be beneficial for his players to have played in those types of environments.

That experience has also given Stevenson motivation for the postseason.

"Those two semifinal losses, they hurt," Douglass said. "I think a lot of programs would be satisfied making it to the semifinals twice in a row, but with the talent and the team we've had, it's kind of just a shot in the foot. We've already been thinking about how we can overcome that this year."

Issue 161: May 2011