The Stevenson University men's lacrosse team opened its season with a loss against Ursinus Feb. 16, and its early-season schedule does not get much easier.
The Mustangs' next three opponents -- Denison, Gettysburg and Salisbury -- all made it to the 2018 NCAA Division III Tournament. Gettysburg made it to the semifinals and Salisbury, the finals. Stevenson head coach Paul Cantabene,
now in his 15th season as the Mustangs' head coach, relishes the opportunity to play such a difficult slate of non-conference games.
"We like playing the best," Cantabene said on
Glenn Clark Radio
Feb. 15. "We can win 20 games every year if we wanted, …. but we want to play the best teams in the country."
That mentality has certainly paid off for Cantabene, as Stevenson has won every MAC Commonwealth championship since joining the conference in 2013. They have made the NCAA Tournament 10 years in a row (winning the championship in 2013), and Cantabene knows that both streaks are on the line this spring.
"We want to play the best and put ourselves in position for conference play. That schedule always helps us for conference play, to get ourselves ready for that," Cantabene said, noting the improving strength of the MAC Commonwealth and teams like Messiah and Widener. "It helps our guys understand how to turn it up when it really matters and to win close games, and that's what we've always been able to do. The schedule that we play has helped us in conference play and it's really helped us focus for NCAA play."
After its showdown with Salisbury March 9, Stevenson will host the annual Mustang Classic. This year's two-day tournament features 10 teams, including newcomers Middlebury and Wesleyan, the defending national champions.
"I think that's a no-brainer to add a national champion into the tournament," Cantabene said. "It's going to be a tremendous weekend for Division III lacrosse. If you want to see good lacrosse, some of the best players in the country: Mustang Stadium, March 15 and 16, is going to be the place to be."
Cantabene also mentioned the praise he received from other coaches regarding the quality of play in the annual classic.
"It's really unlike anything else and it's so fun; and no matter what happens, at the end of the day, all the teams say, 'We're better off for playing in the tournament,' and that's what really matters... I think the quality of play you get here is unmatched anywhere else. You wouldn't be able to get two games like this in two days anywhere else."
Cantabene's own team will receive a boost this season from transfer Will Smith, who joins an attack led by senior JT Thelen, who scored 99 points for the team in 2018. However, those two weren't the only ones that Cantabene mentioned when talking about the Mustangs' offensive potential in 2019.
"Jacob Tatum being a year older, switching from midfielder to being primarily attack all year has helped," Cantabene said. "Jacob's come back bigger, stronger, he shoots the ball so well and he's such a talented stick. It's going to really help."
"Luckily, we've been able to move Ethan Christensen back to midfield now," he added. "I think our attack is one of the slicker attacks you'll see in the country, you'll see some really nice goals scored by them."
Stevenson will be back in action at Denison University Feb. 23.
For more from Cantabene, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Sabina Moran/Stevenson Athletics