Posted: 08/21/2012 | Last updated: August 21, 2012 at 04:28 PM
Despite finishing short of its goals, the 2011 Lehigh women’s soccer season didn’t lack excitement. One year after winning their first Patriot League Championship, the Mountain Hawks fell just short of the Patriot League Tournament. However, Lehigh was in it until the end, tying eventual league champ Army while defeating finalist Navy. Lehigh proved it could play with the best in the Patriot League.
The focus has turned squarely to 2012 as a young squad looks to build off last season’s positives, while learning from its mistakes, to make this season one to remember.
Near the conclusion of preseason camp, one thing is obvious. The Mountain Hawks are working as hard as ever.
“One of the traits of this team is they bring it every day at practice,” said head coach Eric Lambinus, who’s entering his third year at Lehigh. “They’re really consistent in their work ethic; that allows us to do a lot of different things. They’re fit, ready to go and ready to compete at a high level. We’re hopeful we can take the things we’re doing in practice and translate it into a game.”
The Mountain Hawks struggled in close games last season, going 4-7 in one-goal contests. That included tough one-goal defeats at Bucknell and Colgate, which effectively ended their Patriot League Tournament hopes.
“We have to deal with adversity better,” said Lambinus. “Every year, something happens; there’s always going to be some adversity. Good teams deal with that better. Last year, we didn’t deal with it very well. If we went down a goal, we struggled. If we lost a girl to an injury, we struggled.
“As a coaching staff, it’s up to us to get the team used to it,” Lambinus continued. “We put them in tough situations last spring and this preseason where we knew they’d fail, so we wanted to see how they responded. They reacted really well to it. There are tough moments, so if we react to adversity better, we’ll give ourselves a chance to make the playoffs.”
Lehigh features three strong keepers in goal. Sophomore Ashley Blanks returns after a strong freshman campaign, in which she posted a 1.14 GAA (fifth in school history) and 79.3 save percentage. She posted one shutout streak of 357.29 in the beginning of October, gave one up to Princeton, but promptly put together another streak of 162:33. The Patriot League Goalie of the Week and ECAC Defensive Player of the Week after pitching three shutouts (against Columbia, American and Navy), Blanks wound up with five shutouts for the season.
“We have Ashley back who played the majority of our minutes last year,” said Lambinus. “She made huge progressions through the spring and is an even better keeper this year. She made some mistakes last year, but corrected most of them.”
The Mountain Hawks also have junior Ali Griffin between the pipes, along with freshman Ani Nahapetian. Griffin has started twice in each of her first two seasons, owning two wins, a 1.06 GAA and 69.2 save percentage.
“We have great depth in goal,” said Lambinus. “Ali Griffin’s been with us for two years and Ani will definitely be competing for playing time. We haven’t made a decision who the starting keeper is right now, but they’re all playing really well.”
Junior Heather Camperson and sophomore Danielle Salans anchor the returning players at defense, who “both solidified themselves as starters last year,” according to Lambinus. Camperson played in all 17 games (starting 12) while Salans saw action in 14 contests (including 10 starts).
In addition, sophomore Darby Dustman is moving back to defense from the midfield after playing in 16 games a year ago.
“Heather, Danielle and Darby are three girls who played a lot of minutes for us,” said Lambinus. “We have some other girls, including a couple freshmen coming in, who could compete for playing time. We have six or seven players in the backline who we think could be really solid. We’ve done well the last couple years defensively and this year, we have some experience.”
The midfield may be the most up in the air for the Mountain Hawks, but that might not be a bad thing; it certainly could have the most potential.
“It’s the place where we might have the least amount of experience, but might have the most talent and the most depth,” said Lambinus. “We have eight or nine girls who could play for us.”
After earning 2010 All-Patriot League honors as a defender, Ardyn Olszko struggled last season but is primed for a breakout senior campaign.
“Ardyn is back to good health and high fitness level,” said Lambinus. “She’s probably going to play in our midfield and give us a great presence in there. We’re hoping she returns to 2010 form, which she has so far.”
Reigning First Team All-Patriot League performer Murphee Greeley could also see time as an attacking midfielder, along with her usual forward position… same for senior captain Isabelle Li, who can play both midfield and forward.
A number of freshmen are also in the mix at midfielder, including Madi Morgan and Katie Centeno, who have enjoyed exceptional preseasons thus far.
Leading the way at forward this preseason has been sophomore Darby Wiegand, deemed Lehigh’s “outstanding performer” at camp, according to Coach Lambinus. Wiegand posted a goal and assist as a freshman, playing in all 17 games (including four starts).
In addition to Wiegand, junior Paige Dyrek looks to continue an already strong career in the Brown & White. She’s played in 35 games over her first two years, including all 17 last season, while scoring three goals and adding two assists.
“Paige Dyrek is as fit and strong as she’s ever been,” said Lambinus. “So we think she’s going to have a breakout year. Then Rosie Vitta, who we haven’t had for two years because of injury, has come back fit and fresh and is going to compete for playing time.”
Greeley and Li could also see time at forward, along with attacking midfield. Greeley is one of the most gifted scorers in the Patriot League, entering her junior campaign with 21 career points in 28 games via eight goals and five assists. She led the team with five goals and 11 assists a season ago, including two goals at Quinnipiac and the only goal against league finalist Navy.
“We have a bunch of attacking positions and we’d like to have some fluidity between those positions - our attacking midfield and forward positions,” said Lambinus. “We’ve been working on that as a group, an attacking five who can move in and out. Even Darby and Paige can play in the midfield. One minute, they can be playing as a forward, the other as a midfielder. There is going to be fluidity in the lineup.”
A number of freshmen should make their impact this season. Along with Morgan and Centeno, Paige Elliot has made her mark this preseason.
“She’s come in fit, she’s strong, a great defender and attacking player,” said Lambinus. “She’s fit in right away. A couple of the other girls came in a little bit nicked, but in a couple weeks, will be doing well.”
The team has learned a lot this preseason, which is important for a young team still trying to find its identity.
“The biggest thing we’ve learned is we have some good depth on our team,” said Lambinus. “We have a lot of girls who can play for us. We’re a fit team. Even though they might not play 90 minutes, a lot of the girls could. We’re able to play the style that we want.
“We’ve started to fit the puzzle together, fit the players into positions where they’re going to play and how they’re going to help us,” Lambinus continued. “We have a good idea what our lineup’s going to look like, our formation and playing style. We’re really starting to come together and we’re seeing some great strides in girls starting to play better in certain spots.”
Although the goal is ultimately the Patriot League Tournament then Patriot League Championship, it’s not something that’s talked about too openly.
“We think that’s going to be an outcome of other things,” said Lambinus. “Do what we need to do on a daily basis in training, in the classroom, off the field to prepare ourselves for training and in the games. Take it day by day, continue to improve and everything will take care of itself. We want to win every drill and every game that we play.
“They’ve been really good at concentrating on the moment, performing at their best at that point and let whatever happens happen,” Lambinus continued. “That’s where championships come from.”