Stevenson University head men’s lacrosse coach Paul Cantabene has seen it all during his 17 years with the Mustangs. His lacrosse resume is among the best in the sport, with 12 years of experience as a player professionally to go along with his 227 wins as a coach at Stevenson. He’s made 11 NCAA Division III Tournament appearances, four of which resulted in semifinal runs and one of which resulted in a national title (2013).
But this season presents challenges that are unprecedented for Cantabene and his fellow coaches in the college lacrosse world. The pandemic put a question mark on the Mustangs’ season until recently, but they will kick off the season March 6 when they take on Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J.
“You know, every day is uncertain,” Cantabene said on Glenn Clark Radio March 2. “… It’s a lot that goes into it and it’s stressful and it’s hard for everybody.”
The Middle Atlantic Conference announced Feb. 18 that spring sports in the league would proceed. Stevenson is scheduled to play 13 games this spring, including eight conference tilts. Cantabene believes his team is prepared to hit the ground running when its season starts March 6.
“I think we’re definitely ready for the start of the season. There’s no doubt,” Cantabene said. “… The guys are playing hard each day and really respect their opportunity they get each and every day, that’s for sure.”
The Mustangs are coming off a disappointing, pandemic-shortened season in which Cantabene’s crew went 1-3, losing two games by one goal. The Mustangs shot 26.3 percent from the field, a step down from its 28.9 percent shooting percentage the year prior. Stevenson (13-8, 8-0) reached the third round of the NCAA Division III Tournament in 2019.
With the start of its season delayed, Stevenson has had the opportunity to get in a lot of practice time, a luxury that many other teams didn’t have. It is something Cantabene believes will help his team tremendously.
“We’ve been lucky to get out there a little bit more than most,” Cantabene said. “I think we’re ready to play. We’re happy about that. But we’re also very blessed to get the time that we have … because it could end any day.”
The Mustangs have some firepower returning to the team this year in Jacob Tatum and Ryan Coleman, who scored 11 and six goals, respectively, as the team’s top goal-scorers in 2020. Tatum, a senior, totaled 78 goals during his first three years at Stevenson.
Add in transfers and up-and-coming players like Connor Nelson — a rising sophomore who posted two goals and an assist during his rookie campaign — and Cantabene is feeling confident entering the season.
“Connor Nelson’s a kid who was in and out of the lineup. He’s going to see a lot more time. He’s greatly improved from a year ago,” Cantabene said. “I think you see a kid like Taylor Funke, who transferred in from Furman, and a guy like Ryan Quinn transferring from Muhlenberg to add to a big, strong defense, that [is] going to help us a lot.”
Sophomores Funke and Quinn will help beef up a defense that allowed 48 goals in four games last year. Those transfers will try to provide support for senior goalies Mark Poust and Sam Ross, both of whom Cantabene believes will be big parts of the team’s success this season.
“We’re really happy with our goalie depth,” Cantabene said. “And I think that the continuity coming back is that we’ve got most of our defense back, which is really, really good. … I think that the goalies are going to have hopefully an easier time this year with defense playing so much better in front of them.”
For more from Cantabene, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Stevenson Athletics