Posted: 08/22/2012 | Last updated: August 22, 2012 at 11:27 AM
The Lehigh field hockey team showed it could play with the best in the Patriot League last season. Owning a 3-2 league mark for the first time since 2007, the Mountain Hawks earned big wins over Colgate, league finalist Bucknell and Holy Cross. Perhaps their most impressive victory came over Bucknell, the same Bison team which twice defeated perennial power American, who was riding eight straight Patriot League regular season and tournament championships.
In the end, that win alone proved the Mountain Hawks are making strides towards a championship themselves. Not to be forgotten was a big overtime triumph over La Salle (the Explorers went on to advance to the Atlantic 10 Tournament). Lehigh also defeated Penn for the first time in program history and finished 5-4 at home.
Heading into 2012, the excitement around the program continues to be high. The Mountain Hawks welcome 12 talented freshmen, to go along with a strong returning class led by all four of last year’s All-Patriot League performers: senior Kim Eng, juniors Marie Mignogna and Sierra Segear and sophomore Steph Fratoni.
“The team is very excited to be back and we’re looking forward to a positive season,” said head coach Stacey Blue. “We want to win, take each game day-by-day and to learn from our mistakes.”
The Mountain Hawks have taken their schedule up a notch in 2012, facing three preseason NFHCA top-25 teams - Penn State (9), Albany (19) and American (25) - with both the Penn State and American games coming at home. In total, Lehigh will play 10 of its 17 regular season games in the friendly confines.
“Home games are great,” said Blue. “We love protecting our house and having our fans. Our facility is tremendous and the home game atmosphere is always helpful.”
After a slow start last season, the Mountain Hawks won four of their final six regular season games. That momentum and positive feeling continued through the offseason.
“We continued that momentum into the spring, summer and this fall,” said Blue. “We realized some things we could do differently and that has only helped us improve our game.”
Lehigh returns three of its top five scorers from last season. Eng led the way with 24 points (10 goals, four assists) while Fratoni and senior Kelsey Zeswitz each had six (one goal, four assists). The Mountain Hawks did lose 14 goals and eight assists from the trio of Abby Tilton, Caitlin Donnelly and Madison Ingal, but return a strong core of forwards along with talented freshmen who look to contribute.
“They are looking forward to scoring this season,” said Blue. “Kim is a very big threat in the circle while there are many others on the team with tremendous offensive skills. Competing for time is likely.”
Fratoni anchors the midfield after a freshman season which saw her post six points while making five defensive saves. She was stellar all over the field and looks to be the quarterback of the midfield this season.
“Steph has been playing great this preseason and is really working well with her teammates around her,” said Blue. “The entire midfield has been focusing on distributing and is doing very well.”
The back features an experienced group of All-Patriot Leaguer Mignogna, senior Carly Smith and sophomore Abby Sprinkel. Mignogna led the team with eight defensive saves a season ago, as she and the defense pitched the big shutout against Bucknell while allowing just one goal vs. Colgate and one at Holy Cross. Lehigh allowed just 11 goals in Patriot League play, cutting its 2010 total in half, which marked the fewest the team has given up since 2001.
“Our returnees are a really consistent group,” said Blue. “They have great communication as well as patience.”
The Mountain Hawks feature three goalkeepers: Segear (the reigning Patriot League Goalie of the Year), sophomore Sydney Maltinsky-Wilson and freshman Sophie Fitzpatrick. The three have shown tremendous ability and will continue to push each other throughout the season.
“All have different strengths and will be competing for playing time with each game,” said Blue. “They all push each other with every practice.”
There are high hopes for a large freshmen class of 12, which features four from the Lehigh Valley, including two from national power Emmaus: Caitlin Bryan and Zoey Pacheco. In addition, Abigail Bakke is from Bangor High School and Rachel Werley from Lehighton. Amie Diamond played at Lower Dauphin High School and three others reign from nearby New Jersey, including West Jersey Player of the Year Lindsey Schott.
All 12 freshmen have already made an impact. Along with the local products, Erin Ricker, Taylor Mygatt and Alex Beatson have impressed this preseason and are in the mix for significant playing time. Diamond, Kat Kneizys, Katherine Koomar have really pushed the upperclassmen in the backfield, adding significant depth and potential. Not to be forgotten is Fitzpatrick who continues to compete for playing time in goal.
In the end, Lehigh looks to continue where it left off last season and make its third Patriot League Tournament in the last four years, where it hopes to do damage and compete for a league title. The Mountain Hawks have already shown they can play with the Patriot League’s best. The team is eager to continue that positive momentum in 2012.