Season Preview: Lehigh’s on the relentless pursuit to ‘Do Right’
BETHLEHEM, Pennsylvania – It’s a new era for the Lehigh volleyball program in 2021 after one of the toughest overall seasons in history.
With the curtailed spring season officially behind them, with the Mountain Hawks winning only three out of nine games, Lehigh is back on the pitch trying to get back on track to battle for a Patriot League title, the first since 1997.
Lehigh missed the Patriot League tournament last season after qualifying by eliminating the quarter-finals in 2019. In Alexa Keckler’s fourth season as head coach of the team, she sees the team in a great position to be successful after a strong preseason.
“It was really unbelievable to have a preseason, it was two years ago and we missed that last year,” said Keckler. “We missed the connectivity, the little things. We had to change the way we taught last season. This preseason was really great to break things down and dig a little deeper into our questions.”
The Mountain Hawks get a final year with two players in their fifth year who made a significant impact on the program when Sabrina Lancaster and Hannah Wright return to the field. As a combined three All-Patriot League selections between the two, Lehigh’s underdogs have never been stronger.
“We are very happy to have our fifth year with us again,” said Keckler. “They have so much experience in this prep process. The freshmen and sophomores didn’t have that. It was great to have Sabrina and Hannah back as leaders and to establish our culture and be a part of it.”
Fitness is an important aspect of any team competing for a championship, and this Mountain Hawk roster went as fit and as good as possible into the preseason before embarking on a grueling hunt for gold in the Patriot League.
“It was really great that the newcomer is part of our team this season,” said Keckler. “They are extremely focused and focused on getting better and doing what we ask of them.
“From the team’s point of view, the energy and mood are completely different. It was exciting to see how they can crowd around each other, laugh at things and encourage each other. Our girls are ready to fight.”
As mentioned earlier, Sabrina Lancaster and Hannah Wright remain two of the Mountain Hawks’ top options as outside hitters. But there are other key players who hope to have a lasting impact on the pitch over the coming year.
“First and foremost, I am pleased with our depth in this position,” said Keckler. “I think this is the first time since I’ve been here that we are deep enough in any position to be able to make movements and fill in rotations. Sabrina brings great maturity and experience to improve her game after a promising first year. Hannah has played for us on both the outside and the right so she can add a lot. Ava Hudson fought and fought for what we want.
“If you look at our newbies, Megan Schulte has a lot of power and a big blanket to grow into. They all push and challenge each other. From this perspective alone in our gym, the level is raised because we have stronger players to push them. “
In the middle, the Mountain Hawks stay young, with their returnees Sophia Meagher, Alina Smith, and Sophie Robinson. Emily Stewart comes to Lehigh for the first time in search of an early character on a young team. Traditionally, Lehigh had some of the more talented mid-blockers in the Patriot League and 2021 couldn’t be any different with the group’s potential.
“We’re really excited to have Emily in the gym,” said Keckler. “She took everyone else to a new level. Sophia Meagher is extremely impressive at the moment. She has come back as a completely different player than last year. She has come back fully focused on the task and is extremely coachable.”
“We lost Alina to an injury very early last year. We have to keep her healthy from the start, but she has made great strides in her game.”
The Mountain Hawks have a deep class of setters, with returning seniors Alina Lam and Sarah Carman and second Sarah Burau. Freshman Makena Smith is eager to make her debut with the brown and whites as all four could make an impact throughout the season.
“We have four setters who can go on the pitch at any time and lead the offensive,” said Keckler. “Sarah Burau has experience from last season and is more confident in her game and more connected to the players. When Makena can figure the pace of the game and the tactics, she has all the tools to excel in the Patriot League. Us are really excited to see what it could become later. “
It’s been a while since the program had a consistent libero / defensive specialist starting at Grace Hall and with this current list there are two names that are sure to share in 2021. After graduating from Allison Garrett, the Second Ally Thaw had an impressive first run around in the Patriot League this spring, while Bethlehem native Kyleigh Brown has all the skills to be a spectacular addition to the team.
“Oh, it’s been great to coach these two so far,” said Keckler. “We have two phenomenal sweepers. We have two great passers-by and we challenge each other every day. They are relentless on defense and have literally raised the level of the game. They allow us to play our middle more often than ball control is in the gym something that we as employees have really pushed to improve, but also to recruit these types of players. “
Lehigh opens the new season on Friday with a tournament at Virginia Tech, a program that only ran 6-11 a year ago. Playing outside the league for the first time since 2019, the Mountain Hawks hope the schedule for this fall will prepare them well for the tough competition in the Patriot League.
“I think every time we watch the games outside of the league we want to be challenged and find out where we are strong and where we are weak,” said Keckler. “Our opponents will do that on all three weekends at the start of the season. For me the biggest advantage is to find out what is in these areas and what we can and cannot do. It also shows us how we have to apply each one.” Practice week to fix these things, but also to see who is on good terms with each other on the pitch.
“I’m looking forward to traveling as much as the competition. It’s also a great opportunity for our girls to connect and gain experiences that bring them together. We didn’t have those opportunities in the spring that were necessary for the development of our team are crucial. ” . All of these parts will be critical to our preparation when we step onto the pitch. “
The Patriot League is tough, as evidenced by the recent dominance of Colgate, a worthy defending champion at Army West Point and traditional American rule. But Lehigh knows what to do to keep up and keep up with the best.
“I really think there is a question mark over what to expect from the Patriot League this season,” said Keckler. “We didn’t even see half of the teams in person last year. To even know how they felt or looked last year, we’re not even sure if they’ll be the same this year. It’ll be the fifth year “Still being great performers in the league, or others will be promoted. I don’t know what to expect unless I know every team that goes out and plays to win.”
“For us, the mindset is to go out and be better than the day before. We want to prepare as best we can and do homework, but that starts in our gym. The level of expectations in the gym needs to keep rising in order for us to be ready to compete against these teams. We want to go out and fight every single game and give ourselves the chance to win and be a contender for the Patriot League championship. That’s all I can really ask of our players. “
Lehigh kicks off the 2021 season against Virginia Tech on Friday afternoon. This game will be streamed live on ACC Network Extra via ESPN +. The Mountain Hawks will also meet Elon on Friday at 5pm, followed by a matchup with Toledo on Saturday at 1pm
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