The great coach Jim Mora once said, “Playoffs — we talking about playoffs?”
For the men’s lacrosse team at Stevenson University, playoffs have become a commonplace. Following their 14-10 win on April 29 over Messiah College, the Mustangs secured the No. 1 seed in the MAC Commonwealth tournament proceeded to cruise past Widener in the semifinal at Mustang Stadium, 18-2.
Four Mustangs recorded a hat trick in the victory over the Pride, including sophomore JT Thelen and seniors Kyle D’Onofrio, Kyle Karsian and Tyler Fuhrman. Senior goalie Ross Dinan totaled eights saves on the night, allowing only two goals in the victory. The two goals allowed are tied for the lowest an opponent has scored against the Mustangs this season.
For head coach Paul Cantabene, the playoffs give him a chance to extend their streak of making the NCAA tournament to eight years. For Cantabene, the expectations are high.
“We have high expectations for our guys. They understand what’s expected of them year in and year out, but we also think we do a great job of recruiting great players,” he said. In his 12 years as the head coach of the Mustangs, he has never lost 10 games in a season. That streak is still alive and well as the Mustangs entered the Commonwealth tournament 11-5 overall.
Beyond conference opponents, the Mustangs like to test themselves in their non-conference schedule. This year they faced all nationally ranked opponents including No. 11 Cabrini and No. 18 Stevens Tech at the end of the season, something Cantabene likes late in the season.
“I think it helps us to have the two tough non-conference games later in the year because our conference schedule is not always the toughest. I think sometimes when you play teams that aren’t as good, you kind of lower your level of play, so we really like having these two tougher games late in the year.”
Coming off a solid year where the Mustangs went unbeaten in conference play. Stevenson improved their regular season record against MAC Commonwealth opponents to 40-0 since joining the league in 2013. Junior Rennie Pettinelli believes, “This team can go as far as it wants, as long as we stay focused on what’s important.”
Cantabene echoed the same sentiment.
“In my eyes, I think we can go all the way. I think the biggest thing for us is, can we handle it mentally? Can we handle it mentally to play well, to win those six straight games to win a national title?”
Pettinelli also says if the Mustangs work on better communication, the team can get the job done when it matters.
“Like I said, we still need to work on our communication on the field, as well as playing a full 60 minutes,” he added.
Stevenson will face off against third-seeded Albright University on Saturday, May 6, at 7 p.m. for the MAC Commonwealth championship and an automatic berth in the NCAA national tournament. Albright upset second-seeded Messiah to advance to the finals.