PHILADELPHIA – Under the direction of seventh-year head coach Taylor Wray, the Saint Joseph's men's lacrosse team will open the 2018 season at home against Fairfield this Saturday, February 17, the first of seven home games to be played on Sweeney Field this spring.
Saint Joseph’s returns 18 Hawks, including five starters from a year ago, and welcomes 14 newcomers in 13 true freshmen and a graduate student transfer for the 2018 campaign. Graduate student attackman Mike Rastivo and senior attackman Chris Blewitt will captain the Hawks this year.
“We are thrilled to get on the field for Game One,” said Wray. “It’s been a solid preseason, we’ve been challenged in our scrimmages, and we’re ready to get 2018 started. I like our team, I like our locker room, and I think this group has a lot to prove. We have a really tough first week with two opponents, Fairfield and Providence, that are both considered to be Top-20 caliber teams, and then we face an always tough St. John’s team 10 days later.”
The Hawks will embark on their fifth year in the Northeast Conference this spring, opening league action at Hobart on Saturday, March 24. SJU is 19-5 in the NEC regular season since joining the conference four years ago and returns two All-Conference First Team selections from last season in Blewitt and senior long stick midfielder Austin Smith. Additionally, Inside Lacrosse tabbed Blewitt and Smith Preseason All-NEC selections while Rastivo was selected the publication’s Preseason Player of the Year favorite.
SJU has won three NEC regular-season titles in four seasons with the conference and has advanced to the NEC title game twice during that time. This year, the Hawks have been predicted to finish fourth in the conference, per the NEC’s Preseason Poll, the league office announced on January 30. The 2018 NEC Championship will run on Thursday, May 3 and Saturday, May 5 at the institution of the regular-season champion.
Live streaming of all seven regular-season home games will be available free of charge through NEC Front Row. For system requirements and best streaming practices, please visit: NEC Front Row. Live stats of all home games will also be provided via SJUHawks.com.
Graduate student co-captain Mike Rastivo and senior co-captain Chris Blewitt will lead the Hawks on the offensive end of the field this spring. With the two veterans, who have combined for 174 goals and 94 assists, at the helm, the scoring potential is at a high in 2018.
Rastivo enters his final campaign with 105 career goals and 48 career assists to his name. Prior to missing the 2017 season due to an injury sustained in Fall 2016, Rastivo was a 2016 USILA/Nike All-American Honorable Mention, the 2016 Northeast Conference Player of the Year, a two-time NEC Offensive Player of the Year, and a two-time All-NEC First Team pick. Rastivo totaled 19 multi-goal games over his sophomore and junior seasons, when he led the Hawks in both points and goals.
Coming in off of back-to-back 40-point seasons, including a career-high 45-point junior campaign on a career-high 27 goals and career-high 18 assists, Blewitt enters his senior season as the other half of SJU’s offensive duo threat. SJU's leading scorer as a junior last spring, Blewitt registered six games with five or more points and hit the back of the net twice against then-#2 Maryland in the season opener.
“We know that Mike and Chris will lead our attack group and the offense in general,” said Wray of his co-captains. “It’s great to have them playing together again. They have terrific chemistry, and they are doing a great job mentoring our younger attackmen. It’s a good situation for our younger guys in terms of development, as they won’t be the focus of the opposing defense and will have two great examples to learn from and follow.”
A new face in freshman Thomas Halm will round out SJU’s starting attack. Halm led the Landon School (Md.) to the 2017 national title with a 21-0 record, as well as two Interstate Athletic Conference titles over his high school career.
Freshman Shane Fable, a high school teammate of Blewitt’s, will also be in the mix for significant minutes on SJU’s attack. Fable was a 2017 All-State Third Team selection and two-time New Jersey Under Armour All-American Team choice at Bergen Catholic High School (N.J.).
Transferring in as a junior from Army West Point last spring, Patrick O’Brien saw time in 14 games, totaling seven points on the year, while freshman Matt Tufano, who racked up 178 points at Elwood-John H Glenn High School (N.Y.), including back-to-back, 60-point seasons over his junior and senior campaigns, will add depth to SJU’s attacking unit.
Saint Joseph’s midfield unit will be led by a group of experienced, accomplished veterans in senior Kyle Cain, senior Jason Kelly, senior Hayes McGinley, and graduate student Will McNamara.
Cain and McGinley return from last year’s starting midfield, while Kelly will make the transition to the midfield after making all 14 starts on the attack last spring. Over their last two seasons as starting midfielders for the Crimson and Gray, Cain and McGinley have combined for 58 goals, 38 assists, and 44 ground balls. Kelly, who broke into a starting spot as a junior attackman last year, went for 29 points on 23 goals and six assists and added 16 ground balls, the most by all SJU attackmen.
McNamara arrives on Hawk Hill by way of the University of Virginia, where he enjoyed a three-year, short stick defensive midfield career of 60 ground balls, 18 caused turnovers, and six points through 43 career games with five starts.
Senior short stick Davis Stoner will lead the Hawks on the defensive end of the midfield this spring. Stoner owns immeasurable experience, with 42 career games to his name to go with 79 ground balls and 29 caused turnovers.
“We have a veteran group of midfielders leading the charge,” said Wray. “They are all very different, they play unselfishly, and I think they could be a strength for our team this spring. Adding Will McNamara to the group gives us another experienced guy who can play at both ends of the field.”
Adding to the midfield mix will be sophomore Nicholas Vernacchio, who missed his freshman season on Hawk Hill due to injury, and freshman Evan Campbell, Cherry Hill East High School’s record holder for career points (224), goals (141), and assists (83).
Junior Thomas LaRose (9 career games played) and three freshmen in 2017 All-State, All-Morris County, and All-New Jersey Atlantic Conference First Team pick Jack Anderson of West Morris Mendham High School (N.J.), 2017 state champion Sean Cunningham of Chaminade High School (N.Y.). and two-time All-State and All-Region First Team pick Sean Voelkel of Chapel Hill High School (N.C.) will add depth to SJU’s midfield group.
With the graduation of two face-off specialists that went over 50% for their careers in Mike Lanham and Danny Manning, the Hawks will look to a trio of fresh faces to make the difference at the X this spring as sophomore Garrison Kedda and freshmen Tyler Green and William Jardeleza will compete for time in the circle.
Kedda, SJU’s lone returning face-off specialist from a year ago, went 3-of-7 (42.9%) from the X last spring with face-off wins against then-#16 Duke, Manhattan, and Wagner.
Jardeleza was a two-time All-Conference selection while at Loyola Academy (Ill.) while Green competed in the 2017 Under Armour All-Star Game while at Thayer Academy (Mass.)
“The face-off is a place where we lack game experience, but I think our three guys at that position work well together, and we feel comfortable with any one of them stepping in and facing off for us,” said Wray. “It’s going to be a group approach at that position, as each guy brings something different to the table.”
McNicholas was a factor on SJU’s back line last spring, recording 16 ground balls and eight caused turnovers in 13 appearances with 12 of 14 possible starts.
Makar made nine early-season appearances, including starts in the first two games of the season, while Hare came through with eight late-season appearances, including a start in the season finale. Buckley has appeared in 12 games over the last two seasons, six in each.
“While it is a relatively new group on defense, they have built some great chemistry,” said Wray. “We return Brendan as a starter and Nick, who has been the fourth guy for us the last two seasons. Nick has really matured, and he has stepped up big time for us. We have some other great options down low including Tyler, who earned valuable experience as a freshman and is poised to make a big jump as a sophomore. Liam finished last season as a starter and has one of the best sticks on the team. He is an opportunistic defender that can also be dangerous in transition.”
Sophomore Josh Bosher has experience at the primary defense, LSM, and SSDM positions for the Crimson and Gray and will also look to be in SJU’s top defensive rotation.
A veteran-rookie duo of senior Austin Smith and freshman Teo Domic will comprise SJU’s LSM duo. Smith had a career-caliber year as a junior last spring, with eight points (6g, 2a), a career-high 49 ground balls, and a career-high 13 caused turnovers, en route to Northeast Conference First Team accolades. Domic was a 2017 U.S. Lacrosse All-American at West Ranch High School (Calif.) and led his squad to 48 wins over his four-year career. Additionally, Hare, a primary defender, also has the versatility to impact the LSM game.
Junior Thomas Tarleton and sophomore Tate Hutchinson, who both struggled with injuries last season, round out SJU’s defensive returners while 2017 All-State Second Team selection Connor Orzen of Chagrin Falls High School (Ohio) and 2017 NYSCHSAA champion Timmy Phillips of Chaminade High School (N.Y.) will add to SJU’s back line.
The Hawks graduated one of the most accomplished goalkeepers in program history at the end of the last season, but with the departure of T.J. Jones comes new opportunity for success and playing time for SJU’s trio of goalkeepers: senior Pat Dallon, redshirt freshman Mike Adler, and freshman Tucker Almany.
Dallon has seen the most time in net over his first three seasons as the back-up to Jones; the senior has made 18 appearances with two starts to total 166:44 and earned a win over VMI back in 2015.
Adler, who redshirted last season, was a 2016 U.S. Lacrosse All-American First Team goalkeeper selection out of Saint Thomas Aquinas High School, where he went 52-3 over three years, including an undefeated 20-0 senior season.
A three-time All-IPSL and two-time All-MAC and All-County selection while at the Saint James School (Md.), Almany will also be in the mix to compete for minutes in his first year on Hawk Hill.
“I like what I’ve seen from our two returning keepers, and Tucker has been steadily improving all year as well,” said Wray. “Pat has already proven he can come into the game and make an impact while Mike has great presence and command for someone who hasn’t yet been a starter at the college level. Right now, it’s still an open competition in the net, and my hope is that it continues to bring out the best in all three guys. We will continue to evaluate that spot heading into this week.”