Season preview: Mountain Hawks eager to start campaign for successful 2022 season

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Winners of four of its last five contests to wrap up the 2021 campaign, Lehigh’s men’s soccer program finished the year with the right to host a Patriot League quarterfinal game.

In 2022, the Mountain Hawks are looking to continue the success with a strong start that eluded them a year prior.

Led by Ingrassia Family Men’s Soccer Head Coach Dean Koski in his 31st season at the helm, Lehigh opens the schedule Thursday at Temple at 7 p.m.

Koski brings 10 freshmen into the fold, joining a team that includes six sophomores, seven juniors and six seniors.

For a time, injuries have been a constant theme for the Mountain Hawks since before the pandemic, but the team is looking to bring an excellent level of fitness to the field in hopes of vying for the Patriot’s fourth championship. League of the program and the first since 2019.

“I think training has gotten off to a good start so far,” Koski said. “The team came back in reasonably good shape which was positive with all of our testing. The mentality, attitude and energy was really good. Having a two day team building event at the start was really helpful for being away from campus and I think that’s really helped the guys get to know each other better. We have a big freshman class coming in, which is a third of our team. So integrating them has become a very important part of our pre-season.

“We’ve been there for a week and a half, we’ve had few scrums and we’ve learned a lot about our players and we’re certainly happy with where we are now. We think the mix of upperclasses and first-years is really solid. for this pre-season point before our first game on Thursday.”

This upcoming season is set to be the most “normal” of the past two following the events of the COVID-19 pandemic. With masks and testing appearing to be on the back burner, the Mountain Hawks are looking to adopt a new mindset to get back to competing for championships.

“We have a junior and senior class here that was really in the thick of the pandemic,” Koski said. “They went through what it was like not to be with each other and what it was like to be trapped in their dorms or apartments for a good part of the year. This experience really makes them appreciate what they may have right now, that sense of normalcy.

“I think it’s inspired renewed energy and a renewed commitment to get back to who we are as a program. We’re a Division I program that wants to be in the top four in the league and compete for championships year after year. and Expectations are serious when they play here and I can now see that mentality coming back into the program Over the past two years that has definitely been lost a bit but the last two weeks have shown me that it feels a lot more normal.”

Local actors Pierre Tichy (Bethlehem, Pennsylvania/Freedom), Matthew Aitchison (Bethlehem, PA/St. Stephen’s Episcopal School) and Gennaro Mazzella (Easton, Pa./Moravian Academy) highlights a 10-person freshman contingency that acclimated as well as you might hope for the start of the season on Thursday.

“I think our first years have done a great job of feeling like part of the program, thanks in large part to the upperclassmen doing a really good job of embracing them and integrating them into everything we try to do” , Koski said. “I’m very proud of the work the seniors and juniors have done to lead the program. They’ve supported and engaged the first years well so they feel just as valued as they do.”

Of the 19 goals scored a year ago, the senior striker Jack Sarkos had eight, including six in the last four contests. Lehigh’s only preseason All-Patriot League selection, Sarkos leads a group of forwards looking to make even more of an impact in the final offensive third.

“We have a core of four or five forwards that we can bring in and out,” Koski said. “Jack is an important part of that as the only proven goalscorer to return to the team. We will find partners for him, be it Perry Kingson, Dominica Flowers Where Gennaro Mazzella. We see that we have enough to have good partnerships with Jack.

“But we’ll have to keep exploring what we want to look like and how we want to play. But right now we’re really focused on finding that extra goalscorer to complement Jack.”

Apart from finding other centre-forwards to partner with Sarkos, the wingers will also provide huge attacking support on the pitch which will once again be a team strength this year.

“We have a lot of depth on both sides of the wings,” Koski said. “We have returning players in Yoni Aidlberg and Austen Carranza who recorded a few minutes. But we also have some first years who have shown promise and who could either compete for a starting position or come off the bench and help us.

“Hopefully between our returning players and the first years, we will have a field of wide midfielders.”

The loss of Stevo Bednarski Graduating after five seasons of quality football in midfield will mean big shoes to fill, but Koski is excited about the players taking on this role.

“We are going to manage a group of five central midfielders and three of those five are first years,” Koski said. “With Hassane Diakho and Nolan Jetter having the most experience in the middle of the park, once they’re healthy and ready to go, then we’ll have some depth there. We feel very confident with our midfield group and are happy with their position.”

On defense, Lehigh had just two shutouts the entire 2021 season and allowed 29 goals, the most given up in at least 20 years. The Mountain Hawks had 25 total shutouts in the previous four years. It’s going to end up being a somewhat new era in terms of centre-backs, but they certainly seem to be up for the task this season, especially with the senior captain. Euan Forest back on the field.

“We see Euan Forest and first year Sam Davis like our anchors back there,” Koski said. ” But Michel Laret and Thatcher Cooper also have the opportunity to play in there. In our wide-back position, we’re pretty solid there as well. We will probably start at least a first year in this outside-back position from the start.

“But we also have a pretty good experience of Luke Briggs, which has logged a lot of minutes over the past two years. We think Thatcher [Cooper] will be more of a utilitarian return for us. We also hope to be able to pick up guys soon who are not in good health at the moment and who will also be competing there. Honestly, we feel good with our full-backs. We would like to have a bit more depth on the left side but we feel pretty good right now.”

There seems to be a lot of talent in the goalkeeper this season with the arrival of the freshman Tommy Chyzowych at home in addition to the proven upper classes jesse ryan and Blake Koskias well as second year Ryan Gross.

“We’re pretty happy with the group of goalkeepers we have here,” Koski said. “We haven’t had a chance to see Blake play yet, he hasn’t been allowed to recover from injury. But Ryan, Tommy and Jesse have all done really well this summer and I think that’s okay. to be very competitive between four talented goalkeepers for the starting place.

“It’s the kind of competition we want and we feel comfortable with any of these goalkeepers.”

Out-of-market play is back on the non-championship schedule as the Mountain Hawks head into 2021 NCAA Tournament Qualifying Penn State and West Virginia this year. Lehigh opens the season with three back-to-back road meets: Temple (August 25), UMBC (August 29) and St. John’s (September 2).

“We’re definitely going to tackle that in the first three games on the road,” Koski said. “Temple, UMBC and St. John’s are three really talented programs, so we have our work cut out for us. But it’s also an opportunity for us to travel with everyone to bond and build relationships. When you step away from campus and play with teams like that, you’re going to be challenged.

“Our first home game is against La Salle, a team that has always been good. Penn State is going to really challenge us, but we’re excited to play them. After that, it’s going to be a mix of league and non-league games. with Delaware and West Virginia being two big games that we like to have.”

Lehigh ended up entering the Patriot League tournament last season as the No. 4 seed with a quarterfinal game at home at Ulrich Sports Complex. Loyola Maryland, which has clinched the Patriot League regular season title for the past four seasons, won its first-ever Patriot League championship in 2021. The league is more stacked than ever as the Mountain Hawks prepare to navigate there after a difficult slate without a conference. .

“I looked at what the pre-season poll looked like in terms of rankings, and I thought that was pretty fair,” Koski said. “Based on where everybody finished last year and who they’re coming back from. I think Lafayette got a bit of a disregard because they have a really good fifth year class coming back. But that is going to be dogfighting throughout the season.

“There are no Patriot League games that are safe. Every league game is going to be competitive and we’re going to have our work cut out just getting into the tournament. We certainly feel like where we’ve been chosen (fifth) is where we deserve to be chosen, but it’s our job to try to improve on that.”

Lehigh’s first home game of the season is scheduled for Sept. 6 against La Salle at 6 p.m.

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