WEST POINT, N.Y. – Behind senior Liz Carlos’ team-leading seventh goal of the season and a third straight shutout from goalkeeper Lauren Mains, the Lehigh women’s soccer team pulled out a 1-0 thriller over top-seeded Army on Sunday to win its first Patriot League Championship in school history. With the win, the Mountain Hawks (11-4-4) qualify for their first NCAA Tournament in program history, which kicks off next weekend.
It marked only the sixth time in Patriot League history that a No. 3 seed has won the league tournament.
"It’s absolutely the best way to go out," said senior captain Glynn Fitzer. "There couldn’t be a better way to go out. It means a lot. We put in so much work this whole season and to come out with a win and to achieve the ultimate goal is awesome, just awesome."
"Our senior class is unbelievable," said Lehigh first-year head coach Eric Lambinus. "The team did all the work in the offseason before I was even hired. They were the leaders and the ones who set the tone every day while the underclassmen followed. I’m really proud of this group."
Carlos along with fellow seniors Lena Cannon and Natalie Hojnacki were named to the All-Tournament team while Mains was named Tournament MVP, making 13 saves over the two games while not allowing a goal.
"We’ve worked so hard throughout the years and especially this year," said Mains. "Everyone’s just so happy to finally bring the Patriot League Championship to Lehigh."
Lehigh’s third straight 1-0 shutout snapped Army’s (14-4-3) nine-game unbeaten streak. The Black Knights hadn’t lost since late September while only allowing a single goal over those nine contests.
After dropping a 1-0 heartbreaker at Army in the regular season, the Mountain Hawks closed the year by going unbeaten over their final six league games and winning both games over the weekend.
"We knew they would come out strong," said Lambinus. "We knew they’d give us everything they got, and they did that in the second half. We were happy to withstand their pressure and not give up a goal. I had a feeling we would put the ball in the back of the net [and then] we finished the last 15 minutes in unbelievable fashion."
Army controlled possession early in the game, but it was Lehigh who had the first scoring chance. Set up just outside the box, Carlos took a shot which sailed just wide of the right post.
The Black Knights’ best chance came early in the second half when Erringer Helbling unleashed a rocket from 20 yards out, which hit the right post before bouncing out of harm’s way.
Army continued to pour on the pressure, causing Mains to make two quick saves. Lehigh responded by scoring the game’s only goal at 75:32 when junior Genna Pepe made a cross from the right flank. She found Carlos in front, who didn’t get a good shot off initially, but she capitalized on the second chance to make it 1-0 in favor of Lehigh.
"Genna set me up perfectly for the goal," said Carlos. "She made a beautiful cross and I did the easy part, just finishing it."
The Black Knights continued the pressure in hopes of netting the game-tying goal, and it looked like they would do just that off a corner kick in the 84th minute. Molly McGuigan got a shot off following a scramble in front, but junior Jana Basubas headed the ball off the goal line to preserve Lehigh’s 1-0 advantage.
Mains needed only one more save after that point as the Mountain Hawks held on for the thrilling league championship victory.
Final shots were 15-8 in favor of Army while Lehigh had three corners to one for the Black Knights. Mains finished with five saves for her third straight shutout while Alex Lostetter made three.
"We made great decisions," said Lambinus. "All the things that we’ve worked on and all the adversity we dealt with all year has paid off in these games.
"I also want to thank [former Lehigh coach] Manny Oudin for all his hard work in taking the program to a level that was ready to win the league," he continued. "I hope he is proud of the team and feels a part of this accomplishment."
The Mountain Hawks now await their NCAA Tournament fate, which will be announced on Monday at 4:30 p.m. on ESPNU.