Coached By: Pete Mitchell
To be labeled the youngest anything is no easy task. But for Kevin Cassese, coaching and lacrosse are second nature. The Lehigh University head coach and Long Island native is the second youngest head coach in NCAA lacrosse behind Marist's James Simpson.
The son of Tom Cassese, Suffolk County's all-time winningest high school football coach (Comsewogue, 209 wins), Kevin has always been a natural competitor. From his younger days battling with his older brother Todd, to high school at Comsewogue, and then at Duke, and now at the coaching level, Cassese has always been one for a challenge.
A few constants have mirrored his lacrosse career: he has the ability to lead, will play and coach through adversity and wear his colors strongly on his sleeve, no matter what institution he represents. Those qualities earned him the Enners Award in 1999.
"It's one of the highest honors you can get," he says. "It was a product of the guys around me. The award is about being a leader. I learned about caring for others and service and taking pride in your community."
When Cassese was growing up, Port Jefferson Station was not a lacrosse hot bed yet on Long Island. He played with the Three Village program in fourth grade, and promptly joined the Comsewogue youth team once it formed. Eventually the kids who started with that program rose through the ranks and helped make Comsewogue the power it was in the late 1990's and still is today.
By Cassese's junior season, the Warriors won a New York State championship. He was an All-America selection by the time he graduated.
"We all learned about the game together," he says. "We learned how to play and what lacrosse is all about. It all came to fruition at the end of my high school career."
From Comsewogue, Cassese went to Duke where he had two cups of coffee in the final four and narrowly came close to winning a national championship.
He did, however, pile up a slew of individual accolades. He was a two-time first-team All-America selection and a one-time second-team selection. He won the Weaver-James-Corrigan Award given to a player with outstanding academic and athletic achievement in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).
He was also named ACC Player of the Year in 2001, and won the Lt. Donald McLaughlin Jr. Award as the NCAA's most outstanding midfielder in 2002. He finished his career with 80 goals and 38 assists.
For a brief time, Cassese attempted to work in the business world after college, but lacrosse is what gives him life. He took a job as an assistant coach at Stony Brook University, but the stay was short because former Duke head coach Mike Pressler asked him to join his staff in Durham.
This is where his ability to deal with adversity came in handy. During one of the most trying times in the university's history, Pressler resigned due to allegations that players on his team had raped Crystal Gail Mangum, a student at North Carolina Central University. Cassese stepped in as the interim head coach in the summer of 2006.
Though former Hofstra head coach John Danowski was given the head-coaching job for the 2007 season, Cassese still made sure the program stuck together through the entire ordeal. Duke lost to Johns Hopkins, 11-10, in that year's NCAA title game.
Cassese took the head coaching position at Lehigh in July 2007 and is still currently at the helm of the program. All the while, he was padding his playing career resume by laying for Team USA and in the MLL.
No stranger to donning the Red, White and Blue, Cassese was a member of the US U-19 Men's Team that won the International Lacrosse Foundation's World Championship in 1999 in Adelaide, Australia. Two years later, he won the 2002 World Championship with the US Men's Team in Perth, Australia. In 2006, Cassese was part of the US team that lost to Canada, 15-10, and he will travel to Manchester, England in 2010 to compete at the games once again.
"The pinnacle is being able to represent Team USA on the international level," he says.
He was selected second overall by the Rochester Rattlers in the 2003 MLL draft, was traded to the Philadelphia Barrage in 2007 and won an MLL title the same year.
Cassese is young and focused, which means those championships and accolades will be piling up for years to come.