Season preview: Lehigh is relentlessly chasing ‘Do Right’
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – It’s a new era for Lehigh’s volleyball program in 2021 after one of the toughest overall seasons in history.
With the officially curtailed spring season behind them which has only seen the Mountain Hawks win three of nine games, Lehigh is back on the pitch and looking to get back on track to compete for a Patriot League title, the first since 1997.
Lehigh missed the Patriot League tournament last season after qualifying in 2019 with a quarterfinal outing. In what will be Alexa keckler‘s fourth season as the team’s head coach, she believes the team is in an excellent position to succeed after a strong performance in the preseason.
“It’s honestly amazing to be able to have a preseason, it’s been two years and we missed it last year,” said Keckler. “We missed the connectivity, the little things. We had to change the way we taught last season. This preseason has been really great to break things down, to dive a little deeper into what we’re asking for.”
The Mountain Hawks get a final year with two fifth-year players who have had a significant impact on the program, as Sabrina lancaster and Hannah wright come back to the field. With a combined three All-Patriot League pick in between, Lehigh’s outside hitters have never been stronger.
“We are really excited to be back with us in our fifth year,” said Keckler. “They have so much experience in this preseason process. The freshmen and sophomores haven’t had that. It’s great to have Sabrina and Hannah back from a leadership standpoint and to establish and be a part of our culture. “
Fitness is an important aspect of every team aspiring to compete for a championship and this Mountain Hawk roster has entered the preseason as fit and as acquired as they can get ahead of a grueling hunt for Patriot League gold.
“It’s really great to have the rookie on our team this season,” said Keckler. “They are extremely focused and convinced to improve and apply what we ask of them.
“From a team perspective, the energy and the vibe are totally different. It was exciting to see them come together, to be able to laugh at things and to be able to cheer each other up. Our girls arrived ready to go. to beat.”
As previously mentioned, Sabrina lancaster and Hannah wright remain two of the Mountain Hawks’ best out-hitting options. But there are other major players who hope to have a continued impact on the court for the year to come.
“First and foremost, I’m excited about our depth in this position,” Keckler said. “I think this is the first time since I’ve been here that we’ve gotten this deep into every position to be able to perform moves and complete rotations. Sabrina brings great maturity and experience. Lylah Washington arrives ready to step up her game after a promising freshman year. Hannah has played both away and on the right for us so she has a lot to contribute. Ava hudson fought and is fighting, that’s what we want.
“Looking at our freshmen, Megan Schulte has a ton of power and a great cap to grow taller on. And Gracie kiser has been a joy to coach so far with a ton of potential. So I think this season will be really cool to see how they all push and challenge each other. From that point of view alone in our gym, the standard is high because we have stronger players to push them. “
In the middle, the Mountain Hawks stay young with the return of sophomores Sophie meagher, Alina smith and Sophie robinson. Looking to make an early mark in a young team, freshman Emily stewart comes to Lehigh for the first time. Traditionally, Lehigh has had some of the most talented middle blockers in the Patriot League and 2021 couldn’t be any different with the potential surrounding the squad.
“We’re very happy to have Emily in the gym,” Keckler said. “She took everyone to a new level. Sophie meagher is extremely impressive at the moment. She came back a totally different player than last year. She came back completely focused on the task at hand and is extremely coachable.
“We lost Alina very early in the season last year to injury. We have to keep her healthy to start, but she has made major progress in her game.”
Mountain Hawks have a deep class of setters, with returning seniors Alina lam and Sarah carman, as well as in the second year Sarah burau. First-year student Makena smith is eager to debut with the brown and white as the four could make an impact throughout the season.
“We have four passers who can go out on the pitch at any time and execute the attack,” Keckler said. “Sarah burau gained the experience of last season and is more confident in his game, more connected to the players. When Makena sets the pace of the game and determines the tactics, she has all the tools to be an outstanding performer in the Patriot League. We are really excited about what she might become later. “
It’s been a while since the program had a consistent libero / defensive specialist making her Grace Hall debut, and with this current roster there are two names that are sure to go their separate ways in 2021. After graduation of the diploma of Allison garrett, second year Ally thaw had an impressive first go-around in the Patriot League in the spring as the Bethlehem native Kyleigh Brown has all the skills to be a spectacular addition to the team.
“Oh, it’s been great training these two so far,” Keckler said. “We have two liberos who are phenomenal. We have two great passers and we challenge each other every day. They are relentless on defense and have literally increased the level of play. They allow us to run our midfielders more often than in the past. Ball control in the gym is something that we have really pushed as staff to improve, but also to recruit these kinds of players. “
Lehigh opens the new season Friday with a tournament at Virginia Tech, a schedule that only lasted 6-11 a year ago. Playing out of the league for the first time since 2019, the Mountain Hawks hope this fall’s schedule will prepare them well for tough Patriot League competition.
“I think every time we take a look at non-league games we want to be able to be challenged and allow ourselves to determine where we are strong and where we are weak,” Keckler said. “Our opponents the three opening weekends of the season are going to do it. For me the biggest takeaway is figuring out what’s in these areas and what we can and can’t do. It also shows us how we each have to apply each week of training to fix these issues, but also to see who is connecting well to each other on the pitch.
“I’m excited to travel as much as the competition. It’s also a great opportunity for our daughters to bond and have experiences that bring them together. We didn’t have those opportunities in the spring, which are crucial for the development of our team. All of these pieces will be vital in our preparation as we enter the field. “
The Patriot League is tough, as evidenced by the recent dominance of Colgate, a worthy defending champion at Army West Point, and the traditional reign of the Americans. But Lehigh knows what he needs to do to compete and compete with the best.
“I really think there is a question mark as to what to expect from the Patriot League this season,” Keckler said. “We didn’t even see half of the teams in person last year. To even know what they looked or looked like last year, we don’t even know if they will be the same this year. in the league I don’t know what to expect other than I know every team that comes out and plays is going to win.
“For us, the mindset is to go out and be better than the day before. We want to do as much preparation and homework as possible, but it starts in our gym. The level of expectation in the gym must continue to rise so that we are ready to face these teams. We want to fight every game and give ourselves a chance to win and the chance to be a contender for the Patriot League Championship. is all I can really ask our players. “
Lehigh kicks off the 2021 season Friday at noon against Virginia Tech. This game will be broadcast live on ACC Network Extra via ESPN +. The Mountain Hawks will also face Elon at 5 p.m. Friday followed by a clash with Toledo on Saturday at 1 p.m.
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