Season Preview: Young Mountain Hawks eager to compete in spring season
A lot has changed both on and off the field since the last time the lehigh volleyball program took the floor in a competitive setting. One thing remains constant, however: the will to win a Patriot League championship. That is the goal each of the league’s nine teams wants to achieve this year. For the Mountain Hawks they have escaped a championship title since 1997.
For the first time in program history, Lehigh will play in the spring. But the hunger for success hasn’t changed even without the end of 2019.
The Mountain Hawks look a little different across the list in Spring 2021. Seven players moved on after graduating in May 2020, including Emily Poole, Lauren Bright and Julia Pressly. Three names have been found throughout the record book for their various accomplishments.
With seven names no longer part of the roster, six new faces join the group to have an immediate impact on the team.
While there was a lot to improve on the first weekend of the new campaign for third year head coach Alexa Keckler, the group of girls has worked hard and is determined to move up to the next level after having to compete again in a brand new way of training. With just 10 games separating the Mountain Hawks from any of the four spots in the tournament, there really isn’t much room for error, especially at the start of the season.
“We had really good prospects, the girls have worked extremely hard so far,” said Keckler. “They were excited to be in the gym and they took feedback, applied it, and tried to get the most out of their reps when they were there.
“The hard part is that we didn’t have any out-of-league games to solve the problems and figure out some of our lineups. We didn’t have the full length off-season to really develop our six newbies. So if you think about it, about one Third of the team, that’s a little tricky to get them up to college game pace, fixing things and putting things in they need to know, overall the biggest hurdle was just getting on the pitch and getting together play . “
Mountain Hawks graduate Julia Pressly recorded nearly 900 brown and white kills in her four year career. However, the program returns the All-Patriot League’s two-time picks, Senior Hannah Wright and Senior Sabrina Lancaster for the upcoming season.
“We will rely heavily on these two, they have the most experience,” said Keckler. “They’ve both played since their first year, they both know the Patriot League and they both realize what they need to do to get the job done. In all honesty, I have to say Sabrina has done a really great job helping our younger guys mentoring players. She encouraged them, guided them and helped them on the pitch, that was a really great quality to see how she came out.
“For Hannah, she is not ready to accept anything less than peak performance. You can tell that during the pandemic she spent every minute staying fit, working on her game, and she is definitely one of the top kids. ” Come back to our program, ready to get involved, and I’m so excited that both of you can see what can possibly be the end of their careers here. “
Also outside of Hitter are junior captain Ava Hudson, junior Victoria Jepson and newcomer Lylah Washington returning. Two mid-blockers can also hit, including newbies Sophia Meagher and Sophie Robinson.
If you lose two of the most prolific mid-blockers in program history in Emily Poole and Lauren Bright, they are two student athletes who will become almost irreplaceable. The Mountain Hawks have four roster members in this position with three newcomers in Meagher, Robinson and Alina Smith. Senior Claire Nagelhout is returning for her final season.
“Claire is a very talented middle, and she’s sat behind two exceptional centers for three years, so this is her time to shine,” said Keckler. “But in some ways she’s very similar to the three newbies who haven’t seen a lot of action. I hope she’ll take the opportunity and she definitely has the ability.
“We have the newbies who each have something unique, but we’re working to find ways to bring the whole package out. The speed of the game will be a big adjustment for these players after not having played for almost a year and then We’ve got our hands full, but they definitely work hard, they asked questions, watched movies and were ready to change. All we can ask now is their effort and coaching ability. “
Setter is where the Mountain Hawks are likely to be deepest as they return both junior setters Alina Lam and Sarah Carman. In two seasons, Lam has accumulated over 1,100 career assists, while Carman recorded 659 assists in 2019 while appearing in 29 games. Freshman Sarah Burau will also be added to the mix for the coming season, which makes three very capable players in this particular position group.
“We have depth, so it’s nice to have a large number of setters this year,” said Keckler. “It’s nice to be able to run a 6-2, a 5-1, and a 5-2. We have the experience of Sarah and Alina to understand what needs to happen. Sarah B is certainly more than capable of doing the job do, but again, as a newbie and having four weeks to practice and bring yourself up to date with no problems, there will be a lot to ask. The depth is definitely really great and we are lucky To have them they each have something different, which makes it a little harder to really decide who will be the lead setter right now. “
Last season, it was a combination of Libero / Defensive Specialist’s Jess Donaldson and Allison Garrett who both vied for the opportunity to replace Emily Develle, the program’s front runner. This season with Donaldson gone, Garrett is back with competition from Ally Thaw.
“First and foremost, I want to say that Ali Garrett came to play,” said Keckler. “She took her job really seriously, she worked really hard to improve her game and play with confidence and ease. It was really exciting to see it happen.”
“She worked to take on Ally Thaw. Anyone fighting for a place just has a really strong team mentality with these two. Ally didn’t disappoint, she’s going to be a really, really excellent defender for our program and I think that by the end of their sophomore year they can probably get past half the court with their exertion. This duo is exciting to train. It’s exciting to have two players fighting literally every day to be number one in practice. “
The Mountain Hawks’ staff said goodbye to former assistant Xiomara Ortiz, but returned to Deb Schlosser and brought in Emily Poole as the program’s new assistant, but who will take on the role of assistant coach in place of Ortiz.
“Two years ago when this came to my mind I really thought Emily would be perfect for the role because of all the things she did as a player,” said Keckler. “Her attention to detail, her ability to speak in a way that people would respect and account for without being offensive. She has a great personality and her IQ for the sport is very strong. All of those things coupled with Her knowledge of the Patriot League and Lehigh really made it clear to me why she would be such a good fit for this position.
“She didn’t have much time to relax in position with everything that was going on. She just got into it. She didn’t have much trouble getting in straight. I was really impressed with her skills. She did a good one Feeling for the girls’ wellbeing, their way of thinking and that was a great finding to get the most out of them. “
Every championship team has a common goal on how to navigate a season, and while the Mountain Hawks are a young team this season, they still have plenty of talent to end up being one of those four teams.
“It will take a lot of discipline to realize that in some cases it’s not a sprint but a marathon,” said Keckler. “We have to take care of our bodies and stay healthy. That is the top priority right now, staying COVID-free and putting ourselves in a position where we can compete. And then when we are in the market.” Court, we have to be really good at adjusting and adapting.
“The way this season is formatted is going to have many ups and downs. It is certainly something none of us have seen playing an opponent in two back-to-back games so everyone is in the same boat. Right now It will definitely be who can adapt best and who can be flexible. In some cases the depth only helps through fatigue. But as long as we maintain our team-first mentality which is usually a strength for us we can face any of these obstacles and do our best and put ourselves in a really good position to be successful. “
The Mountain Hawks kick off the Spring 2021 campaign against Colgate on Friday night in Hamilton, NY, with a start at 4 p.m. on ESPN +.
Lehigh Athletics is excited that our volleyball program is returning to competition this semester! It won’t be the same without the cheers from our loyal Lehigh fans from the stands. As we prepare for a season like no other, Mountain Hawk fans still have a chance to make their mark at the Leeman Turner Arena in Grace Hall. Support the Lehigh Athletics program by purchasing a fan cutout today!
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