FAIRFIELD, Conn. – The Sacred Heart men's lacrosse team was picked to finish third in the Northeast Conference Preseason Poll, as announced by the league office on Tuesday. This third place selection is the highest ranking Sacred Heart has ever garnered since the league's founding in 2010.
The Pioneers are coming off a successful 2018 campaign that saw SHU go 7-8 overall and 3-3 in NEC play, clinching a spot in the NEC Tournament in back-to-back seasons for the first time and fourth time overall. The seven-win season is tied for the third-most wins for the Pioneers since SHU joined the Division I ranks in 2000.
SHU stands a great chance at making some noise in the league as the Pioneers return their three-highest scorers from a year ago, led by the high-scoring tandem of senior Max Tuttle and redshirt senior Joe Saggese. Tuttle, the reigning NEC Player of the Year, set the SHU single-season goal record with 46 tallies while matching the single-season program record for points with 64. Already named to the 2019 Inside Lacrosse Preseason All-America Second Team, Tuttle became the first player in program history to earn an All-America nod (USILA Honorable Mention, Inside Lacrosse Honorable Mention) with his historic 2018 campaign. He enters his senior season fourth in program history in career goals (95), ninth in assists (45) and fourth in points (140).
Saggese's presence makes for a lethal top two on attack as the redshirt senior tallied 63 points (41 goals, 22 assists) to sit second in the NEC and 17th in the nation in points per game (4.20). An All-NEC First Team selection in 2018, Saggese turned in the third-highest single-season point total in program history and the second-highest in the program's Division I history (behind only Tuttle's 64-point 2018 season).
On a points per game basis, the tandem of Tuttle and Saggese averaged 8.47 points per game and combined for 127 points which ranks in the Top 10 for highest-scoring duos in the country. Entering the 2019 season, Tuttle (25) and Saggese (24) own the two longest active goal-scoring streak of all players in the nation. In addition, Tuttle (141) and Saggese (130) enter their senior season as the second-highest scoring pair in terms of career points (271) in the nation, trailing only Cornell's pairing of Jeff Teat (171) and Clarke Petterson (110) who have totaled 281 combined in their careers.
Adding even more depth to the attacking unit is sophomore Logan Liljeberg, a 2018 NEC All-Rookie selection who set a SHU freshman single-season record with 16 assists while adding 14 goals for 30 points in 15 games. Liljeberg became the highest-scoring freshman at SHU since Mike Hawdsley '14 tallied 38 points in his rookie campaign back in 2011.
The Pioneers lost a pair of defenders in 2018 All-NEC Second Teamer Matt Caracappa as well as the team's leader in ground balls last season Nick Albanese, but benefit from the return of senior Joseph Cipoletti and junior Austin Pavone. Cipoletti had a breakout 2018 campaign, totaling 24 caused turnovers to lead the team while sitting 21st in the nation in caused turnovers per game (1.53). Cipoletti even contributed six points (one goal, five assists) on the offensive end, a team-high for defenders in 2018. Pavone will shoulder even more responsibility defensively after ranking fourth on the team last season with 14 caused turnovers. The junior saw time in just two games in his freshman campaign but made a huge impact in 2018, starting 13 games and even earning an NEC Defensive Player of the Week award on March 5.
In net, junior Brooks Dutton hopes to continue a career that already stands as one of the best for a goalkeeper in program history. Through two seasons as the team's starter, Dutton has racked up 15 wins (second in program history), 269 saves (sixth) and owns a 10.67 career goals-against average (tied for first). In 2018, Dutton finished with a mark of 7-7 with a 48.9 save percentage and 11.40 goals-against average in 14 games (all starts).
Junior Jake Giaquinto led the team in faceoff wins and attempts last season, going 101-for-222 (45.5 percent) at the X and hopes to return to form after going 52.8 percent (75-for-142) and earning an NEC All-Rookie Team spot in 2017.
The defending NEC Champion Robert Morris were the unanimous selection to repeat in 2019. Bryant, the No. 2 seed in last year's NEC Tournament, was picked second followed by the Pioneers and Hobart. Mount St. Mary's is fifth with Saint Joseph's and Wagner rounding out the preseason poll.
SHU opens the 2018 season at Georgetown on Saturday, Feb 9.
2019 NEC Men's Lacrosse Preseason Poll
1. Robert Morris (6 First-Place Votes)
3. Sacred Heart
5. Mount St. Mary's
6. Saint Joseph's