PHILADELPHIA – Saint Joseph's ninth-year head coach Taylor Wray has announced the Hawks' 14-game schedule for the 2020 men's lacrosse season. Including their two exhibition games, the Hawks will compete against members of the Patriot League (2), Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (2), Big Ten Conference (1), Colonial Athletic Association (2), Big East Conference (1), and Ivy League (1) before entering into Northeast Conference action on March 14.
“I'm really pleased and excited about the way our 2020 schedule came together,” said Wray. “We play teams from seven of the ten conferences in Division I lacrosse, including preseason match-ups against the Patriot League champions (Army) and finalists (Lehigh). We've added an early-season game against the champions of the Big 10 (Penn State) and continued match-ups with local (Penn, Drexel) and regional (Delaware, Providence, Monmouth) opponents who we've enjoyed building great rivalries with over the years. I believe the schedule will have us well prepared for conference play.”
The Hawks will play their exhibition games on the road, against Army on January 25 and Lehigh on February 1.
“We have the utmost respect for both of these programs,” said Wray. “I was fortunate to have played for Army head coach Joe Alberici in college, and there is no finer person or leader in our game. His Army team will be tough, athletic, and organized and will give a us a great benchmark for where we are in the preseason. I expect the same type of game against Lehigh. Head coach Kevin Cassese and I go back 20 years. He is one of my closest friends in the profession, we were teammates at Duke, and I served on his staff for a number of years up at Lehigh, so I know the way he runs his program. The Mountain Hawks have a very talented roster and a chip on their shoulder, and they will give us another great opportunity to improve before things start to count for real.”
The Hawks' regular-season schedule features six home contests to be played on Sweeney Field, including the home opener against Delaware on Tuesday, February 18. St. Joe's will host three of seven total non-conference games and three of seven NEC games. The non-conference portion of the schedule will run from February 8 through March 8, while regular-season NEC action is set for March 14 through April 25.
Saint Joseph's will open the season at St. Bonaventure (Feb. 8) before returning to Happy Valley for the first time since 2013 to face Penn State the following Saturday (Feb. 15).
“Mental toughness shows itself on the road, and we have two challenging trips over the first two weeks of the season,” said Wray. “We have a long trip up to Allegany, New York to face a much improved St. Bonaventure squad who will be hungry to show how much progress they have made in Year #2. We've seen it with all the new programs; they take a huge step forward in Year #2, and we are certainly not going to overlook Coach Mearns and the program he is building up there. Then we make the trek across the state for a huge match-up in Happy Valley against Penn State, who was ranked #1 in the country for much of the 2019 season and will no doubt be a preseason Top-5 team. Both these contests will test our team early, and we will learn a ton about ourselves from these trips.”
The Hawks will open the home slate in the third week of the season, against Delaware (Feb. 18) and Providence (Feb. 23), and will head to Monmouth the following weekend (Feb. 29).
Saint Joseph's will then return to the City of Brotherly Love to play a hosting role in the second annual Philly 4 Lacrosse Classic, a four-team tournament featuring the city's Division I programs (Saint Joseph's, Drexel, Penn, and Villanova), on Friday, March 6 and Sunday, March 8.
Penn will host the doubleheader on March 6 at Franklin Field, where Saint Joseph's will face Drexel at 5:00 p.m. Sunday's games will be played on Hawk Hill as Saint Joseph's will host Penn at 2:30 p.m.; Drexel and Villanova will face each other at noon.
“It's a really cool thing we have going with the Philly 4 Lacrosse Classic,” said Wray. “There is really nothing else like this in D-I lacrosse: four local teams, competing back-to-back, on two separate occasions, in the same weekend. If you are part of the Philly lacrosse community, this is going to be the biggest event of the spring. We are looking forward to hosting here at SJU, and I hope our fans will come out in droves to support the event.”
The Hawks and Dragons have played each other every year since the start of the SJU men's lacrosse program in 1993 and came away with just its second win in program history and first since 2000 at home in 2018. This spring will mark the 10th consecutive season in which the Hawks and Quakers will meet on the lacrosse field; the Hawks have won two of the last four meetings, both away from Hawk Hill.
Of Saint Joseph's seven non-conference opponents, the Hawks faced six last season in St. Bonaventure, Delaware, Providence, Monmouth, Drexel, and Penn, where the Blue Hens, Dragons, and Quakers all earned national consideration in rankings.
Saint Joseph's will begin its quest toward the 2020 NEC Tournament on March 14, taking on Bryant in Smithfield, R.I. All conference games will be played on Saturdays at 1:00 p.m.
In 2020, the NEC expands to 10 teams, with the addition of Merrimack and LIU, as well as NJIT as an associate. A divisional format will be played over seven weeks in which each team will play their four divisional opponents and three crossover opponents. The conference office will determine the crossover opponents each year.
Saint Joseph's will play in the West Division with Robert Morris, Mount St. Mary's, NJIT, and LIU while the East Division will be comprised of Bryant, Hobart, Sacred Heart, Wagner, and Merrimack.
The Hawks will remain on the road to face new-to-the-NEC Merrimack in North Andover, Mass. (Mar. 21). The Warriors won back-to-back NCAA Division II Men's Lacrosse Championship titles from 2018-19 and embark on their first year in Division I this spring.
“I believe that adding the two-time Division II champions in Merrimack will continue to strengthen our conference,” said Wray. “They have demonstrated the ability to compete at an incredibly high level, and I anticipate they will compete right away at the D-I level. We are excited to play them in their inaugural D-I season.”
Saint Joseph's will return home to host Mount St. Mary's (Mar. 28) before hitting the road to face Robert Morris in Moon Township, Pa. (Apr. 4).
The Hawks will close out the regular season by hosting two of their final three contests. Sacred Heart will come to Sweeney Field (Apr. 11) before the Hawks close out the road slate at new-to-the-NEC NJIT in Newark, N.J. (Apr. 18). After establishing men's lacrosse as a Division I varsity sport in 2013 and beginning competition during the 2014-15 academic year, the Highlanders move from competing independently to competing as a member of the NEC in 2020.
The Crimson and Gray will host new-to-the-NEC LIU in the regular-season finale on April 25. The Sharks embark on their first Division I season this spring.
“It was a busy off-season for our conference,” said Wray. “Adding LIU, NJIT and Merrimack has expanded our league to ten teams, and we are now the largest league in D-I lacrosse. I believe we are also the first D-I conference to split into two divisions, which creates some really interesting scenarios and tons of excitement as we get into the thick of conference play and conference tournament qualifiers. 2020 is going to be historic season for NEC lacrosse.”
SJU is currently 28-8 all-time in NEC regular-season games (six seasons) entering the 2020 campaign.
The 2020 NEC Tournament will expand to five teams. The #5 at #4 game will take place at the #4 campus on Tuesday, April 28. The semis will be played on Thursday, April 30 and the finals will be played on Saturday, May 2 at the highest seed.
Saint Joseph's is expected to return 32 Hawks from a season ago, including 9 starters plus 2019 NEC Rookie of the Year face-off specialist Zach Cole, and welcome a group of 18 talented freshmen plus several new pieces in time for the 2020 campaign.