BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The No. 3 seeded Lehigh men’s soccer team will take on No. 2 Colgate Friday at 2 p.m. in the semifinals of the Patriot League Tournament in Washington, D.C. It’s the Mountain Hawks’ third-straight Tournament appearance and 10th in the past 12 seasons as they vying for their first Patriot League Tournament Championship since 2000 and first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006.
Lehigh finished the regular season with an 8-4-5 record, 4-2-1 in Patriot League play, while Colgate was 10-4-5 and 4-1-2 in the league – just one point ahead of Lehigh in the standings.
While the Mountain Hawks will be looking for their first Tournament Championship in 10 years, they did advance to the title game from 2002-04 but fell to Holy Cross, Lafayette and American respectively in those seasons.
In Lehigh’s previous two Tournament appearances, it has fallen to American in the semifinals – 2-0 last year and 6-5 in shootouts the year before. It is Lehigh’s 14th Tournament appearance and the last time Lehigh was the No. 3 seed was in 2005 as it fell in the semifinals to Lafayette 4-3 in shootouts.
The Mountain Hawks started off this season with a crucial double-overtime win against the two-time defending champion Bucknell. After a slow start offensively at the beginning of the Patriot League slate scoring just one goal in three matches, the Mountain Hawks picked it up scoring six goals in its next two league games, a 2-0 win over Navy and 4-1 win over Holy Cross.
Lehigh’s postseason fate came down to its final regular season match as the Mountain Hawks hosted Army last Saturday. On Senior Night, Lehigh clinched its Tournament berth behind goals from three seniors en route to a 3-0 win over the Black Knights. Neal Melchionni had the game-winner as he scored on a penalty kick in the 37th minute while Joe Puleo added an insurance goal in the 61st minute and Ayo Olasupo tacked on one in the 79th minute for his first career goal.
Five Lehigh players were honored Tuesday for their strong seasons. Senior Kevin Strunk was named the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive year and sophomore Ciaran Nugent was named the Patriot League Goalkeeper of the year while three other Mountain Hawks were also named to the All-League Team.
Strunk, Nugent and Melchionni were named to the first team while Puleo and junior defender Cameron Omsberg cracked the second team.
The Raiders also had five players honored as All-League members led by senior co-captain Steven Miller who was named the Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year and Jimmy McLaughlin who was named the Patriot League Rookie of the Year.
Colgate is led by Miller who collected 23 points from 11 goals and one assist, which has him sitting at the top of the league in points, points per game, goals and goals per game.
Lehigh will look to stop Miller and the Raiders offense as the Mountain Hawks feature a nationally-ranked defense. Lehigh enters the match rank No. 3 in goals against average (0.43), No. 4 in saves percentage (0.893) and No. 6 in shutout percentage (0.59). The Mountain Hawks have allowed just eight goals and produced 10 shutouts in 1657 minutes of action.
Offensively, Lehigh is led by Puleo’s 10 points (4 goals, 2 assists). Puleo also leads the team with 37 shots and 22 shots on goal. Melchionni is second on the team with nine points (4 goals, 1 assist) as half of his goals are game-winners.
The match will be the 27th meeting between the two schools, with Lehigh trailing the all-time series 9-12-5 since the two first met in 1989.
Lehigh and Colgate played to a 0-0 double-overtime draw on October 1st this season. The Mountain Hawks had six shots for the game, three coming off the foot of Strunk, whose best chance came with 15 minutes to go in the second half when his free kick outside of the 18-yard box was headed right underneath the crossbar but Colgate keeper Grant Reed made his lone save of the match, knocking the ball over the frame. The Raiders finished the match with 10 shots, including two in the double-overtime period.
Colgate’s lone loss in the league came in its league opener on September 24th to American 1-0.
Should the Mountain Hawks win Friday, they would face the winner of No. 1 American vs. No 4 Navy which will be played prior to Lehigh’s match on Friday. The Patriot League Championship Game is set for Sunday at 1 p.m. with the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line. Lehigh fell at American in snowy conditions 1-0 on October 29th on a heartbreaking goal in the 90th minute while The Mountain Hawks defeated Navy 2-0 at the Ulrich Sports Complex on October 15th.
Tickets for the tournament will be available through the American University Box Office. Tickets will be $8 for adults and $5 for senior citizens (65+) and children ages 13-18. All students from the participating schools will be admitted free with a school ID. Gates will open 60 minutes prior to the first game of each day of the tournament.
There will be LIVE stats for the match and it will be broadcast LIVE on Patriot League All-Access.