SOMERSET, N.J. – Saint Joseph's men's lacrosse head coach Taylor Wray was voted the Northeast Conference Coach of the Year for the fourth time in the last five years and the veteran trio of senior attackman Chris Blewitt, senior midfielder Kyle Cain, and senior long stick midfielder Austin Smith were tabbed NEC First Team selections as top-seeded Saint Joseph's saw eight Hawks earn nine conference honors, as voted on by the league's head coaches and revealed at the NEC Men's Lacrosse pre-tournament banquet in Philadelphia on Wednesday evening.
Graduate student attackman Mike Rastivo, senior midfielder Hayes McGinley, and redshirt freshman goalkeeper Mike Adler were named to the All-Conference Second Team while Adler, freshman attackman Shane Fable, and redshirt freshman midfielder Nicholas Vernacchio earned spots on the All-Rookie Team.
The Hawks, who will host the NEC Tournament on Sweeney Field this Thursday, May 3 and Saturday, May 5, were also honored as the 2018 NEC regular-season champions.
After opening the season with three consecutive losses, Wray redirected the Hawks to their first win of the season on March 10 and SJU never looked back, winning its next nine games to close the 2018 regular season at 10-3 overall and a perfect 6-0 in the NEC. After opening the league season with back-to-back road wins over Hobart, 6-5, and Wagner, 12-7, Wray coached the Hawks to three consecutive NEC home wins, over Sacred Heart, 14-12, Bryant, 14-7, and Mount St. Mary's, 14-7.
Wray, the defensive mind behind an SJU back line that has ranked in the nation's top 10 in scoring defense all season, also guided the Crimson and Gray to a pair of wins over nationally-ranked opponents in then-#20/20 Penn and then-#18/20 Robert Morris in two of SJU's final three games of the regular season. When all was said and done, Inside Lacrosse and the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association recognized the Hawks as a Top 20 team, as Wray and SJU made history with the program's first-ever national ranking at No. 20.
Blewitt led the Hawks in points (43), assists (21), shots (71), and shots on goal (42) and tied for the team lead in goals (22) in 12 appearances this spring. The senior co-captain turned in 25 points on 11 goals and 14 helpers through six NEC games, including a six-points efforts against Bryant (3g, 3a) and Mount St. Mary's (2g, 4a) and a five-point performance against Sacred Heart (2g, 3a). Blewitt added a hat trick and an assist at Hobart and scored at then-#18/20 Robert Morris. The only league game in which the two-time NEC Player of the Week was held scoreless was at Wagner, but he contributed with three helpers and four ground balls on the afternoon.
Outside of league play, Blewitt added notable performances at then-#20/20 Penn (4g, 1a) and Monmouth (4g, 1a), the latter of which led the team to its first win of its current 10-game winning streak. Blewitt is now a back-to-back NEC First Team attackman.
Cain led all SJU midfielders in points (32), goals (17), and assists (15) and ranked in the team's top-three in all three categories. In league play, the third-year starting midfielder went for 15 points on five goals and 10 helpers; he tallied four points in back-to-back victories over Sacred Heart (2g, 2a) and Bryant (1g, 3a), added three helpers at Wagner, and led the Hawks in scoring with two goals and one assist at then-#18/20 Robert Morris.
The senior also recorded hat tricks against St. John's and Drexel and hit the back of the net twice against then-#20/20 Penn and Fairfield in non-conference action. Cain is now a two-time NEC First Team midfielder after also earning the recognition in 2016.
Smith led the Hawks in ground balls (40) and caused turnovers (14) to go with four goals and five assists as an integral part of SJU's transition unit this spring. The senior recorded 18 ground balls and nine caused turnovers and turned the ball over just four times through six NEC games. Smith turned in a monster game of six ground balls at Wagner and went for four ground balls and four caused turnovers at then-#18/20 Robert Morris. He added four ground balls and dished out two assists vs. Sacred Heart and went for two ground balls and two caused turnovers apiece against Hobart and Mount St. Mary's.
Outside of league play, Smith went for five ground balls apiece vs. Fairfield and St. John's and added four ground balls vs. Drexel. Smith is now the back-to-back NEC First Team long stick midfielder.
After missing the entirety of the 2017 season due to injury, Rastivo turned in a strong comeback season this spring, matching Blewitt's team-high 22 goals to go with 11 assists for 33 points on the year, which ranked second on the squad. Rastivo registered 17 of the points (11g, 6a) in NEC play, with three consecutive four-point efforts, against Wagner (3g, 1a), Sacred Heart (1g, 3a), and Bryant (4g) and a hat trick against Mount St. Mary's. He had opened the conference season with a pair of helpers at Hobart.
McGinley was part of SJU's 1-2 midfield punch that was truly effective this season, as the senior went for 19 points on 16 goals and a trio of helpers through all 13 starts. 10 of those goals came during NEC play, with hat tricks against Sacred Heart and Mount St. Mary's and a pair of late goals that ultimately made the difference in SJU's one-goal win over then-#18/20 Robert Morris in the regular-season finale. McGinley ranked second on the squad in shots, firing off 55 total for an average of just over four per game.
All-NEC Second Team and All-Rookie Team selection Adler enjoyed the most impressive rookie goalkeeper campaign in recent memory. After redshirting last season, Adler made 146 saves vs. 95 goals allowed in 710:55 total minutes en route to a 60.6 save precentage and 8.02 goals against average, second and eighth nationally, and a 9-3 record (6-0 NEC) Even more impressive, Adler's numbers were higher in NEC play as the redshirt freshman sported a 64.8 save percentage against league foes alongside a 7.30 GAA. Adler made double-digit saves in all six of SJU's league contests and held the opposition to seven goals or below in five of them; he made 15 saves and held the opposition to just five goals allowed against both Hobart and Mount Saint Mary's, turned in a season-high 16 saves against Sacred Heart, and held Wagner, Bryant, and then-#18/20 Robert Morris to just seven goals each.
Fable started five NEC games next to Blewitt and Rastivo on the attack this spring and turned in 13 points on nine goals and four helpers in league play. After missing the Hobart game, Fable tallied three points (2g, 1a) at Wagner before going off for five points (4g, 1a) against Sacred Heart. Fable followed up with a pair of scores against Bryant, a goal against Mount St. Mary's, and a pair of helpers that helped SJU knock off then-#18/20 Robert Morris in the regular-season finale. On the season as a whole, Fable led all SJU rookies in points (18), goals (13), assists (5), shots (27), and shots on goal (19) and all SJU rookie field players in starts (9).
In his first season after redshirting the 2017 campaign, Vernacchio appeared in 10 games with seven starts en route to six points (3g, 3a). Vernacchio made four starts in five NEC appearances, blending in impeccably with veterans Cain and McGinley to round out SJU's starting midfielder unit. Vernacchio scored against both Sacred Heart and Robert Morris and dished out a helper against Bryant. Vernacchio also scored the game-winning goal with 26 seconds left in regulation to lead SJU to its first win over Drexel since 2000; the goal was the first of his collegiate career.
Previous current Hawks to be named to the NEC's All-Rookie squad include Rastivo (2014) and Blewitt (2015 Rookie of the Year).
#20 Saint Joseph's (10-3, 6-0 NEC) is set to host Sacred Heart (7-7, 3-3 NEC) in the NEC semifinals tomorrow, May 3 on Sweeney Field. Opening face-off is set for 1:00 p.m.