Season Preview: Believe! Mountain Hawks eager to get back to top of table
BETHLEHEM, Pennsylvania – Like many teams around the country, the Spring 2021 season didn’t go quite right. The Patriot League title defense hoped for by the Lehigh men’s football program resulted in a record of 2-4 with a series of injuries and disagreements.
To be honest, most of the team finished last season without getting up to reach game fitness. However, this fall is a whole different story. The Mountain Hawks believe this is the time to measure up and put this masterful tradition back on track.
The team’s leadership level is at an all-time high: three players, including three-time co-captain Stevo Bednarsky, are returning for their fifth year in the program. Lehigh’s roster includes seven seniors, including co-captain Nick Jennings and former All-American Josh Luchini.
“We weren’t as fit as we would have liked, but after an incredibly challenging year with the pandemic, we weren’t sure what the fitness would be like,” said The Ingrassia Dean Koski, soccer coach for the Herren family. “A lot of our boys didn’t get a chance to play that much. For Division I athletes they have to be active all the time and most of our boys weren’t at that level.
“But their mentality and culture have been excellent. Our entire team has bought into the way they are going to approach what is good this year. We have 10 seniors, seven real and three fifth, so we have significant leadership and “Experience we can rely on. All the positive aspects of our preseason are that we are going in the right direction. “
The goalkeeper core is not lacking in talent, so that senior Noah Sutherland and runner-up Blake Koski as well as runner-up Jesse Ryan and newcomer Ryan Gross are brought back to the team. Sutherland started the season in goal against American, with Koski taking the reins for the remainder of the season, collecting 1.72 goals against the average with 21 saves in five games.
“Of course, Noah emerges as a senior with more experience and more maturity than our starter,” said Koski about the goalkeeping group. “But we also see Blake pushing and challenging him. Both of them will have the opportunity to play for us this fall. Ryan and Jesse are right there and push them too.
“The chemistry between the four goalkeepers is great, they push and work together and support each other. We are fortunate to have four excellent goalkeepers in our program and we may have two starters right now. That’s good for us.” “
After conceding ten goals in six games last season, the defense is trying to pick up the pieces again. This current group of backs is trying to get the job done anchored by the likes of Jennings and sophomore Hassane Diakho. If you put last season in perspective and consider that Lehigh has only allowed barely one goal per game in the previous two seasons, infractions this season should watch out when faced with the typically stingy defense of the Mountain Hawks.
“So far I have been satisfied with everything that I have seen from our back with our core group,” said Koski. “We didn’t have Hassane (who came late from Senegal) with us, but once he’s here he’ll give us even more stability. But we have a lot of depth there. We like what we’ve seen so far and we have that Feeling like we have five really solid center-backs and there are three or four guys who come off the bench and can really help us, and at this stage in the process I feel really good about our defensive core.
“At this point, Nick Jennings has an incredible amount of experience as an All-League player. Euan Forrest will be important to us this year and will give us stability on the left side, the Tyler Dressman replacing our opponent, we feel we can choose from three or four different players. “
Koski is impressed with his group at the center of the park in 2021, and not just with the return of three-time All-Patriot League player Stevo Bednarsky (who remains one of the most formidable players in the Patriot League for the fifth consecutive year). Many of the team’s players act as defenders, making Lehigh one of the most impressive midfielders in the league. They are not afraid to defend themselves and neither are they afraid to attack.
“With his experience, leadership and ability, Stevo will be our anchor in midfield,” said Koski. “We can certainly work him with anyone and he’s fine. They have guys like Michael Tahiru, Patrick Adams, Bratislav Petkovic and Natan Rosen and then Trevor Koski who is returning from injury. We believe we have a lot of key midfielders, that we can. ” Plug and play and that we trust out there.
“If there’s one area on the team this season where we have incredible depth and talent, I’d say it’s the center of the park.”
Lehigh is no stranger to the Patriot League with three consecutive Offensive Player of the Year from 2017 to 2019. 2019 award winner Josh Luchini returns to lead the offensive for his senior season, while Jack Sarkos after an a. strong spring season returns. There are other players, including sophomore Austen Carranza and freshman Perry Kingson, who will make an impression while a few players serve as midfielders (Michael Tahiru and Natan Rosen).
“We are very happy with our strikers and the depth we have,” said Koski. “Josh will be important as our top scorer and will see both Austen Carranza and Jack Sarkos help us too. They both present us with different types of strikers. Natan (Rosen) will help us there too. We have some newbies who are in the Are able to intervene and contribute to the attack.
“We have depth there too and I suspect we’ll be using a group of strikers who can score goals any day and I think guys who come off the bench will have the potential to help us too. “
The Mountain Hawks will play against non-league teams for the first time since 2019, and every program knows that a tough non-league schedule works wonders for a busy conference schedule. Lehigh has many opponents on his schedule this season, including preseason ACC favorite Pitt, who is ranked third in the country by United Soccer Coaches. This will be a rematch of the Mountain Hawks’ NCAA Tournament First Round Matchup in 2019. Big East defending champion Seton Hall is on the agenda, as is Big 10 enemy Rutgers.
“Whenever Ryan Hess and I look for ways to plan teams, we always try to find teams we haven’t seen and try to update our schedule every two years,” said Koski. “With all of our opponents this season it’s a good and competitive schedule and we’re being challenged. But we want to play the most demanding schedule we can play every year.”
Most parities in the Patriot League could be hit in 2021 if the season kicks off this weekend, with all 10 schools having the chance to compete and compete for a Patriot League title. While American competes as the defending champion, Loyola Maryland will run again and was voted a preseason favorite by coaches and sports information directors just a few weeks ago.
“I think it’s going to be really difficult for everyone in the league this year,” said Koski. “I think the league is still improving and if you look at the pre-season poll it becomes clear that the teams that finished in the top four last year deserve to be there earlier this year. I don’t think it will be easy games, but there never will be, I always look forward to competing in the Patriot League, with great respect for all the teams and all the coaches, because every league game is a battle for us and us a fight for the other teams.
“We will have to fight our way back into the tournament this year and we are prepared for it.”
Koski reaches a significant coaching milestone on Friday in Manhattan and officially begins his 30th season as head coach at Lehigh. With 248 career wins, Koski is the most successful trainer in the history of the program.
“Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned in these 30 years is not to take yourself too seriously,” said Koski. “I’m very fortunate to be in a sport and a career that I love. I don’t take that for granted. I love coming to work every day and for 30 years I can say that it’s never difficult was to do something I do. But I know the challenges in today’s world in coaching young men and I am excited about this challenge. I think it makes me not only a better coach but also a better mentor, a better father and a better boss.
“So I think it will be difficult for a lot of coaches in the future to do this and have been part of this program for 30 years and I am very happy to be part of this program.”
With hard work and perseverance, anything is possible. That’s the MO of many teams that have been Patriot League champions over the years, and is certainly the case for the 2000, 2015, and 2019 title-winning seasons. There’s no reason to doubt that the Mountain Hawk roster will hit this in 2021 You can return to level with the same passion and courage.
“The only thing I can think of this season to surround this team, and maybe because I’m so in love with Ted Lasso, is ‘Faith’,” said Koski. “Believing in ourselves, believing in each other, and believing in Lehigh. I think that’s our slogan this season. Just having faith in the things we do and the will to just go out and do it . “
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