Led By a Young Core, Lafayette Comes Into 2022 With Plenty of Room For Growth

(Photo Courtesy of Lafayette Athletics)

On February 23rd, 2019, the Lafayette Leopards defeated Binghamton, 13-12, at home to complete a four-game winning streak and end the first month of the season on a high note. It’s also the last time the Leopards have enjoyed a win.

Since that one-goal win against Binghamton, the Leopards have lost 27 consecutive contests. That includes a winless, 0-6, shortened season in 2020 and a winless, 0-11, season this past spring in 2021. The streak is both the longest active of its kind in DI lacrosse and the worst in program history. Lafayette is also riding a 31-game conference losing streak with their last Patriot League win coming in 2017 against Navy in mid-March.

While the Leopards’ program hasn’t been on the winning side of the things for over two years, there have been some positives. None are more clearly visible than the decrease in margin of loss over the past few seasons, especially in 2021.

Lafayette fell by an average of 8.27 goals in 2019 and 9.3 goals in the shortened 2020. That number dropped to 6.6 goals per game during the Leopards’ 2021 campaign, which featured a one-goal loss to VMI in the season-opener, a two-goal loss to Fairfield, and three-goal losses to both Holy Cross and a top-10 Lehigh team. The loss to Lehigh was the lowest margin of loss against their arch-rival since 2015 when they fell in a one-goal, 11-10, contest.

Lafayette followed up that three-goal loss to the Mountain Hawks, which was their second game of the weekend against their rival, with an 11-7 loss against Loyola and a 14-10 loss against Navy to end the season. The Leopards came within one goal of Loyola early in the fourth until a three-goal Greyhound run ended things, and were tied with Navy after the first quarter and hung with them for most of the contest.

Coming into 2022, the Leopards return just about all of their production from a season ago, in which Lafayette featured and relied heavily on youth. Four of the Leopards’ top five scorers were freshmen and their defense looked similar with two sophomores and a freshman starting at close. Lafayette will see only two veteran returnees who were full-time starters last season.

The past hasn’t been too bright for Pat Myers’ squad, but with the amount of young talent the Leopards have deployed and depended on in recent years, and the glimpses of success they’ve shown, the future appears to be bright in Easton. And that bright future could very well start this coming spring.

Offense is where the Leopards saw the biggest impact from freshmen in 2021 and struggled the most this past spring. Lafayette ended last season with the 54th-best team in scoring offense, averaging 8.91 goals per game. They also ranked 41st in team shooting percentage (17.09%), 61st in assists per game (4.36), and had the 62nd-best man-up offense in DI with a conversion rate of .189%.

While their offense wasn’t the best last season, any unit dominated by freshmen has the potential to grow. The Lafayette offense is no different, as they return each of their top five scorers from a year ago – four of whom were freshmen in 2021.

Peter Lehman (20G/4A), who was named the Patriot League Rookie of The Year, and Charlie Cunniffe (13G/11A) started every single game at attack and led the Lafayette offense with 24 goals apiece. Additionally, fellow freshmen attackmen Carter Cecil (11G/6A) started eight out of the nine games he saw action in and Kalman Kraham (9G/4A) played in all 11 games with five starters.

At the midfield spot, John Mathes (13G/1A) saw eight starts as a freshman in 2021 while Cole Dutton (8G/7A) and Macklin Fitzpatrick (9G/2A) saw six and eight starts as a junior and sophomore last season. The pair are the oldest returning players on the offensive end this spring for the Leopards.

Things looked very little similar on the defensive end last spring as Lafayette had their fair share of struggles on that end, ranking 58th in scoring defense (14.55 goals allowed per game). However, the Leopards did showcase a bit more experience on the back end last season.

JP Robinson (14GB/11CT) and Tommy McGee (20GB/10CT) led the way as sophomores at close defense. The pair came onto the scene strong as starters in 2020 and kept that status in 2021 as leaders of that Leopards defense. Senior goalie Ryan Ness also returns in cage as a three-year starter. He made 135 saves with a .474% save percentage as a junior during the 2021 season.

While Lafayette does return the two aforementioned juniors and Ness in cage, they do lose Noah Mendoza (23GB/6CT). The Nashville native entered the NCAA Transfer Portal and decided to take his talents to Ohio State following a strong freshman campaign with the Leopards last season where he started all 11 games at close.

Sean Rushton (31GB/10CT) served as the Leopards’ top LSM as a sophomore last spring and could very well bump down and fill that hole left by Mendoza’s transfer. Senior Stephan Sajer (14GB/7CT) could also fill that hole after a 2021 campaign in which he saw action in all 11 games with one start. Sajer has been a top reserve pole for the Leopards for the past three seasons, leading them in caused turnovers in 2019 and being a contributor in 2020 as well as his solid play in 2021.

At the faceoff dot, Lafayette ranked 50th in the nation with a .409% winning percentage. James Turco served as their top option at the dot, going 58-for-122 (47%). Aidan Kelly served as the Leopard’s backup faceoff man, going 35-for-109 (32%). Whether it’s one of the aforementioned two or someone else who earns that starting nod at the dot this coming spring, the Leopards will likely have to step it up at the faceoff dot if they truly want to see the progress they could on both ends, especially considering the strides they could make in early offense.

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