Defense key in home opener victory

Kaitlin Santanna

The Villanova men’s lacrosse team has been selected to finish fourth in the 2006 season in the Colonial Athletic Association as voted by seven head coaches in the association. This ranking was also published in the “Face-Off Lacrosse Yearbook,” presented by InsideLacrosse.

“The Face-Off Lacrosse Yearbook” also marked the senior pair of goalie Joe Canuso and midfielder Matt Starker as key players to watch. The magazine chose Canuso as a preseason All-American honorable mention as well.

In 2005, Canuso was ranked fourth in the country in save percentage and goals against average, while Starker was the Wildcats’ leading scorer with 36 points on the season (25 goals and 11 assists). In addition, Starker was third in the CAA in 2005 in goals per game (1.67).

Along with Canuso and Starker, ‘Nova brings back 23 returnees from last years squad that finished tied for second in the league, as well as a plethora of young offensive talent.

Of the Wildcats, “Face-Off” wrote in its January preview edition, “Villanova has the league’s top goalie in Joe Canuso in addition to dangerous face-off man Chris Colliniates and offensive middie Matt Starker, so expect the ‘Cats to make some noise in the Colonial again this season.”

The ‘Cats started off the 2006 season confirming these predictions in a game on Saturday, Feb. 18 against Air Force. An enthusiastic crowd braved the frigid temperatures in Villanova Stadium to kick off the season. The Wildcats beat out the Falcons by a score of 11-6 through a strong defensive and talented offensive effort.

The ‘Cats took the lead just 0:36 into the game with a man advantage goal from Starker. However, a giveaway in the ‘Nova defensive end quickly tied the game at 1-1.

‘Nova responded by scoring three unanswered goals, putting the lead to 4-1 for a majority of the first period. The first of these three goals was freshman Matthew Fritts’s first collegiate goal at the 11:58 mark. Less than four minutes later, Matt Panneton checked the ball away from an Air Force defender, allowing sophomore Chris McDonald to regain possession of the ball and roll the crease for a goal. The fourth and final goal of the first half came off of an offensive rush. Defenseman Safi Najdawi started an offensive rush by carrying the ball from the defensive end up the field. He then dished the ball off to Panneton, whose shot made it past Flacon goalie Justin Pavoni. A late goal after a penality on ‘Nova by Air Force cut the ‘Cats’ lead in half with 2:04 remaining in the quarter.

The Wildcats dominated play in the second quarter of the game. Penneton’s second goal of the game, scored with 7:58 to go, was the only goal of quarter. His tally started an offensive run of four straight goals for Villanova. Starker’s top right hand corner shot made the score 6-2 at 13:11 into the third quarter, and McDonald scored his second of the game almost four minutes later. Eric Webber assisted on McDonald’s goal. Villanova’s fourth goal came with 4:58 to go in the third off a shot from Starker. Air Force would score with two minutes and change to go in the third, but Villanova still went into the final stanza with a considerable lead of 8-3.

Despite being challenged by the Falcons, Villanova added three more goals onto their score. Freshman Dan Liva’s walk-in goal at 11:28 countered Air Force’s goal two minutes prior. Starker would score his fourth goal of the game and second on the man advantage on a two minute tripping call assessed to the Falcons at 10:20. Mikey Haas fed the ball to Starker, who rolled the crease for the goal. Junior Chris Mercer would score the final goal for the Wildcats on a beautiful shot with 7:47 remaining in the game.

McDonald’s assist on the goal brought the score to 11-4. Air Force’s two goals late in the fourth quarter were not enough to stop the momentum of the ‘Cats. Goalie Canuso led the team’s sound defensive preformance with eight saves in goal. Villanova won their first game of the season at home by a score of 11-6.

Villanova’s next game is Saturday against Duke University at 3 p.m. in Durham, N.C.