PHILADELPHIA – Under the direction of eighth-year head coach Taylor Wray, a “new look” Saint Joseph's men's lacrosse team will open the 2019 season on Saturday, February 9, at home against St. Bonaventure at 12:00 p.m., the first of seven home games to be played on Sweeney Field this spring.

Saint Joseph’s returns four starters from a year ago, one in each position, in sophomore attackman Shane Fable, sophomore midfielder Nick Vernacchio, junior close defenseman Tyler Makar, and sophomore goalkeeper Mike Adler, as well as junior long stick midfielder Liam Hare and sophomore face-off specialist Billy Jardeleza.

With the departure of one of the most successful senior classes in program history, Adler, Hare, Vernacchio, and senior close defenseman Thomas Tarleton will captain a roster comprised of 85 percent freshmen and sophomores.

“This is a very youthful group, and with that comes some challenges, but there's also a lot of excitement as new guys look to expand their roles and get more experience on the field,” said Wray. “It’s an eager and coachable group, and the players have worked hard to get themselves ready for the season. It will be fun watching them grow up as the season progresses.”

The Hawks will embark on their sixth year in the Northeast Conference this spring, opening league action at Bryant on Saturday, March 23. SJU is 25-5 in NEC regular-season games since joining the conference five years ago and returns three All-Conference selections from last season in Second Team goalkeeper Adler and All-Rookie picks Adler, Fable, and Vernacchio. Additionally, Inside Lacrosse tabbed Makar a Preseason All-NEC defenseman.

SJU has won four NEC regular-season titles in five seasons with the conference and has advanced to the NEC title game three times during that time. This year, the Hawks have been predicted to finish sixth in the conference, per the NEC’s Preseason Poll, the league office announced on January 29. The 2019 NEC Championship will run on Thursday, May 2 and Saturday, May 4 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.

ATTACKMEN
Sophomore Shane Fable will lead the attack this year after gaining experience as a rookie starter alongside Hawk greats Chris Blewitt and Mike Rastivo last spring. A 2018 Northeast Conference All-Rookie Team selection, Fable went for 20 points (14g, 6a) in 11 starts to lead all SJU rookies in all three major offensive categories. Fable turned in four multi-goal games last year, including a four-goal effort against Sacred Heart.

“Shane will need to carry more of the load for us on attack this season,” said Wray. “He was able to play alongside two quality attackmen as a freshman, and his experience there will hopefully play dividends as he starts to build chemistry with some new faces.”

Fable will be complemented by newcomers Nate Patterson and Ryan Doran. Patterson began his career with the Hawks in 2017 but missed the season due to injury before transferring to Mercer University (Ga.), where he notched 11 points (5g, 6a) in 10 appearances. Doran was a 2017 All-Division and All-League selection as a junior at Half Hollow Hills East High School (N.Y.).

Henry Berg, a sophomore transfer from NEC-rival Mount St. Mary’s University (Md.), will also be in the mix. Berg was a 2018 NEC All-Rookie Team selection last spring where he went for seven goals and 11 helpers with the Mountaineers. A native of local Berwyn, Pa. he was an All-Area, All-Central League, and All-Main Line First Team pick at Conestoga High.

Sophomore Thomas Halm, who saw action in 10 games last year (3g, 1a) and was a key component on the EMO unit and sophomore Matt Tufano also return while freshman Andrew Derasmo, who led Harborfields High School (N.Y.) to the 2018 county title, rounds out SJU’s six-member attacking crew.

MIDFIELDERS
The sophomore trio of captain Nick Vernacchio, Evan Campbell, and Austin Strazzulla will lead a young midfield core. 

After breaking through for a starting spot in the latter half of the season to gain immeasurable experience alongside graduates Kyle Cain and Hayes McGinley last spring, Vernacchio will lead the midfield unit this year. A 2018 Northeast Conference All-Rookie Team selection, Vernacchio went for seven points (4g, 3a) in 12 appearances. He broke through big on March 13, as his first collegiate goal with 26 seconds left in regulation lifted the Hawks to their first over Drexel since 2000.

“Nick is a captain for us this season and, as our most experienced midfielder, we will need him to lead that group both with his play and his voice,” said Wray. “Nick is an intelligent player; he understands the game well and will need to be somewhat of a coach on the field this season.”

Campbell (2g, 1a) and Strazulla (2g, 2a) saw action in nearly all games last season, with Campbell appearing in 14 and Strazzulla in 12 as Wray’s top midfield options off the bench.

“Evan and Austin saw meaningful minutes for us a year ago on our second line,” added Wray. “Now as sophomores, they are both poised for breakout seasons, and I'm excited to see how they develop.”

Freshman Choice Mostellar will be a top look off the bench. A two-time All-State Third Team pick out of Roswell, Georgia, Mostellar led Lassiter High School (Ga.) to the 2017 6A/7A state title as a junior.

Sophomore Sean Cunningham also returns while five freshmen in Calgary, Alberta pair Levi Anderson, a Jr. A Raiders lacrosse alum, and Zach Mantei, the leader of a West Island College program that went 55-13 over his four years, Anthony Perhacs, a 2018 All-State and All-Conference selection at Roxbury High School (N.J.), Cole Peters, a 2018 All-League and All-Section All-Star at Baldwinsville High School (N.Y.), and Kevin Vandegrift, a 2018 National Prep Tournament semifinals participant at Academy of the New Church Boys School (Pa.), will add new faces to SJU’s midfield. 

DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD
After graduating one of the most successful transition units in the county in short stick defensive midfielders Will McNamara and Davis Stoner and two-time Northeast Conference First Team long stick midfielder Austin Smith, the defensive midfield position will see an overhaul in 2019.

Sophomores Jack Anderson (11 games in 2018) and Sean Voelkel will step into the SSDM holes left by the graduations of McNamara and Stoner

Additionally, rookie Andrew Chilson, a four-time All-Conference and All-Division pick at Morristown High School (N.J.), and sophomore Billy Jardeleza, SJU’s primary face-off specialist a year ago, made their preseasons count while Thomas LaRose, one of two seniors on the squad, returns valuable experience.

“I've been pleased with our SSDM group this pre-season,” said Wray. “Drew Chilson looks like someone who will be able to join the sophomores and try to get himself on the field in a role there while Billy has also been on double duty as a SSDM and has proven he can earn minutes in that spot.”

Filling Smith’s shoes will be junior captain Liam Hare. Hare made all 15 appearances as SJU’s second LSM option and integral part of that dominant transition unit last year, causing 20 ground balls, causing eight turnovers, and turning the ball over just twice on the entire season.

“Liam is as talented with his stickwork as any pole we've had in our program,” praised Wray. “He is dangerous in transition and has become a leader for our defense so far this year. Liam's ability to knock passes, pick up ground balls, and handle the ball is going to be essential to our success creating scoring chances in transition.”

Junior Josh Bosher and freshmen Matt Popeck and Robert LoBello are also options in the LSM role. Bosher saw action in 12 games last year while Popeck, who gained international experience to play for the Israeli National Team this past summer, was a 2016 US Lacrosse High School All-American defenseman as a junior at Sherwood High School (Md.). LoBello was a three-time All-Section 3 and All-Onondaga High School League First Team selection at Marcellus High School (N.Y.).

FACE-OFF SPECIALISTS
Freshman Zach Cole looks to be ready to make an impact at the face-off position. Cole was a two-time US Lacrosse High School All-American in his junior and senior seasons and capped his senior campaign with All-State, All-Group 4, All-South Jersey, All-County, and All-Conference First Team laurels as well as Burlington County Times and Courier Post Player of the Year recognition. In that senior season, Cole led the state in face-off percentage at a dominant clip of 90.4 percent and ground balls (280) and went for a combined 54 points (27g, 27a) in his junior and senior seasons.

Sophomore Billy Jardeleza returns as SJU’s top face-off specialist from a year ago, appearing in all 15 games at the X and taking SJU’s first face-off of the game in 12 contests. Jardeleza won 47.4 percent (90-of-190) of his opportunities last year and earned 38 ground balls, third on the squad only behind two veteran transition players that have since departed.

Junior Garrison Kedda (31.9 percent) rounds out SJU’s FOGO group.

“Zach's been really impressive through the fall and preseason,” said Wray. “He, along with Billy and Garrison, will be a difficult trio to come up against. They are all very different, which we hope will present some match-up issues with our opponents.”

CLOSE DEFENSEMEN
Now in his junior season, Tyler Makar will serve as the anchor of SJU’s defensive unit this spring. Makar made all 15 appearances with 14 starts alongside Nick Buckley and Brendan McNicholas last spring and was a starting member of SJU’s defensive unit that held its non-conference opposition to 8.14 goals per game and NEC opposition to 7.88 goals per game. A 2019 Inside Lacrosse Preseason All-Northeast Conference defenseman, Makar is the only returning starter from a defense that ranked fourth nationally in scoring defense at a clip of 8.00 goals allowed per game last spring and will be expected to bring that experience into the 2019 campaign. 

“Tyler had a breakout sophomore campaign, and he's brought his play to another level so far this preseason,” said Wray. “Last year, playing alongside two seniors, Tyler was able to just play. He didn't have to worry as much about directing traffic. Now that he's the veteran guy back there, he's been taking on more of vocal leadership role and doing a good job with it.”

Seven additional defensemen will be in the mix to make an impact on the back line in senior captain Thomas Tarleton, junior Josh Bosher (12 games played last spring), sophomores Teo Domic, Tate Hutchinson and Timmy Phillips, and freshmen Joe Burnham, Brandon Meyreles, and Matthew Wilson.

A 2018 United State Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association High School All-American and the 2018 Philadelphia Catholic League Most Valuable Player, Burnham was a three-time All-Catholic League standout at the local La Salle College High (Pa.), and expectations are high for the rookie’s career on Hawk Hill.

“Joe is as college ready as any freshman we've had in my time here,” praised Wray. “He's smart and physical with the ball in his stick and off the ground. He's also a natural leader and highly competitive, two assets that will serve well in what is going to be a great career on Hawk Hill.”

Meyreles is a two-time New York state finalist out of Yorktown High School (N.Y.), the same alma mater as Makar and hard-nosed face-off alum Danny Manning ’17, while Wilson was an All-County Second Teamer at Oakdale High School (Md.).

GOALKEEPERS
After turning in one of the most impressive rookie campaigns in Saint Joseph’s men’s lacrosse program history, sophomore captain Mike Adler returns for his sophomore season between the pipes in 2019. Adler made all 14 starts last year to go 10-4 with a 59.6 save percentage and 8.11 goals against average, which ranked third and sixth, respectively, in the nation. Adler backstopped a defensive unit that ranked fourth nationally in scoring defense at a clip of 8.00 goals allowed per game and seventh nationally in man-down defense, at 76.6 percent.

Adler made double-digit saves in 13 games for an average of 11.93 saves per game and held NEC opposition to seven goals or less in five games. A returning NEC Second Team and Rookie Team goalkeeper selection and last year’s squad’s Most Outstanding Performer, Adler will be the one to mind SJU’s net this spring.

“Mike Adler is a difference maker,” said Wray. “I believe he's one of the best goalies in the country, and his leadership so far this year has been outstanding. His competitive spirit is contagious. He loves to play, he loves to compete, and he pushes his teammate to operate at his level on a daily basis."

Sophomore Tucker Almany, a three-time All-Independent Parochial School League selection out of the Saint James School (Md.), returns after seeing live game action against NJIT last year while freshman Dillon Lojeski joins the goalkeeper unit; Lojeski was a three-time All-Conference selection who turned in 20-plus win seasons in 2016 (22-3) and 2018 (20-3) at Upper Dublin High School (Pa.).

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