Friday, January 30, 2009

Lehigh Weekend: Huge Tests for Men's and Women's Hoops

"Unselfish" greets you when you visit Lehighsports.com to preview this weekend's basketball games, starting with a No. 1 versus No. 2 showdown up at the Hart Center in Worcester, MA.

The 16-5 Lady Hawks (Real Time RPI: 111) travel to a place where they haven't won since 2004 and have only won twice in twenty tries - and also playing against the team who beat in the semifinals of the Patriot League tournament last year.

Lehigh enters this game red-hot, winners of six of their last seven games - including their latest victory, a 66-53 win over Bucknell. Sophomore G Erica Prosser "only" had 13 points on the evening, but it's the other two of the guard trio - junior G Alex Ross and senior G Tricia Smith - who would score 10 and 17 points, respectively, to blow past the Lady Bison.

But 7-12 Holy Cross (Real Time RPI: 230) have always given Lehigh problems, and their record is misleading with losses to No. 1 UConn (96-37), Boston College (82-69) and other power teams. A win would put the Crusaders, the preseason favorite to win the Patriot League, back into a first-place tie with Lehigh. Junior G Brianna McFadden (15.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg) will give Prosser a big test from the perimiter, and if junior G Bethany O'Dell is also on the court (11.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg) it will be a challenge for the Lady Hawks in this one. Crucial will be another big game from Smith and Ross - it will be a whale of a game at 1:00 P.M., broadcast on Lehighsports.com.

At the same time, the inconsistent men's basketball team won't be able to nap against the first-placed Crusaders at Stabler Arena at 1:00 P.M. on Saturday. While junior G Marquis Hall provided the three-point buzzer-beater in a 61-59 come-from-behind win over 5-15 Bucknell on Wednesday, the 13-7 Mountain Hawks (Real Time RPI: 221) will have to play better than they did on Wednesday to knock off 10-11 Holy Cross (Real Time RPI: 188). (In their defense, according to the Easton Express-Times Lehigh was not at 100% due to an illness making its way through the team).

In the first half against the Bison, Lehigh only shot 31% from the field to fall behind 30-21, but pull things together in time to get the victory. Junior F Zahir Carrington continued his MVP-type season with 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Mountain Hawks, while sophomore G Rob Keefer scored 10 key points and dished three assists.

Holy Cross looks exactly like the type of team that might give Lehigh problems: deep (as a team, they've outrebounded opponents 36-28, with no player averaging more than 5 rebounds a game, including senior F Colin Cunningham) with balaced scoring (freshman G R.J. Evans leads the team with 13.3 ppg, with a host of players averaging 7-10 ppg). They'll need to play their most complete Patriot League game this year in order to come away with the "W".

The action will be at Stabler at 1:00 P.M., and it should be a great game.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Calvalcade Of Lehigh (And Patriot) Football Recruiting News

The movie Cavalcade, which won three Oscars in another business-challenged year (1933), has pretty much nothing to do with the overload of recruiting news that is flooding the internet these days (it's actually about a British couple's lives from the late 1800s to 1933). But a cavalcade of recruiting news it truly is, and I'll try to make sense of it all in the paragraphs that follow - including some commits I found for other Patriot League football schools as well.

Why so much recruiting news? Because it's only five days from the Super Bowl for football recruiting geeks, National Letter of Intent Day. That's the day when kids sit down in high school auditoriums all across the country and sign pieces of paper (complete with local media members) saying where they plan to go to school next year. It coincides generally with official statements from the colleges and universities themselves listing their "commits" - and allowing folks to drool over the possibilities for their future football squads.

But it's an odd "Super Bowl". First of all, not every Division I school participates in the NLOI program - notably, the schools of the Ivy League and Patriot League, which don't have binding LOI's but instead have "likely letters" (for the Ivy league) and "letters of understanding" (for the Patriot League). Second, they aren't necessarily as "binding" as all that - and recruits can wait up to two months after "signing day" to sign with a school. (For a more exhaustive talk about these, refer to my blog posting last year on the subject.)

Lafayette has traditionally announced their incoming class on LOI day, while Lehigh generally waits one week - probably to allow both Lehigh and Lafayette more coverage of their incoming classes in the local papers. Other Patriot League schools run the gamut - some announcing closer to LOI day, and others waiting well into May to announce their incoming class.

Whether LOI's, LOU's, LLs or M&Ms, the upshot is that recruiting news is coming from all corners. Here's my list of Lehigh players, followed by some other Patriot League commits I've stumbled across. (Will add more if I get them.)

Lehigh:
WR Dan Cintron (Barnegat HS, NJ)
The skinny: Verbally committed to Lehigh. The 5'11 180 lb speedster was listed as "one of the fastest players on the shore" and would seem to fit in well in a big need area for Lehigh with the top three receivers from last year lost to graduation. Shows some pretty good vision in the video on ESPN's recruiting site - and watching him speed past defensive backs on the slant pattern make you think of the possibilities.

WR/DB Ryan Spadola (Freehold Township HS, NJ)
The skinny: Verbally committed to Lehigh. As Cintron is a speedster, the 6'3 181 lb Spadola is seen as a "red zone and possession receiver," according to the video on ESPN's recruiting site. ESPN also calls him a "hard worker" with "excellent hands", and my watch of the video shows a nice second gear. "I didn't get any college offers for track," he told the Asbury Park Press. "Lehigh kept talking to me. They are one of the top eight business schools in the nation and I will major in business."

OL/DL Ryan Weitz (East Lake HS, FL)
The skinny: Verbally commited to Lehigh, there's nothing "skinny" about this 6'2, 300 lb behemoth that looks an awful lot like a very good prospect for Lehigh's "O" line. First team selection for his "O" line play, and has played in several Florida all-star games.

WR/CB James Flynn (Notre Dame HS, CA)
The skinny: Has a Lehigh offer on the table - and it's clear that WR is a priority for this Lehigh coaching staff. The 6'0 175 lb California speedster has a laundry list of football honors, including All Golden State 1st team and LA Times 1st team honors among others. Had 48 catches, 1,112 yards and 19 TDs as a senior - and also competes in track. If the Scouts.com list of schools that he's interested in is any indicator, we might have a really good chance of having him come out East.

QB/DB Zach Ziulli (Perkiomen Valley HS, PA)
The skinny: Lists Lehigh as a school of interest in his Rivals.com profile. At Upper Perk, the 6'2, 172 lb QB ripped appart high school secondaries with 2,541 yards passing and 27 TDs, with a 60% completion percentage and also rushed for 676 yards. Has FBS schools like UConn and Temple sniffing around him, too.

C Reggie Eiland (Brandywine Gwynn Park, MD)
The skinny: A 6'3, 275 lb lineman rumored to be visiting with Colgate and Lehigh, and has video of his performance in high school.

LB/DB Allan Estimable (Royal Palm Beach HS, FL)
The skinny: 5'10, 185 lb outside linebacker reported to have Lehigh on his radar screen. More of a "rover" linebacker in high school, and played some defensive back as seen in his highlight video. Good tackler; would seem to be an intriguing possibility at safety. Also worthy of mention is that he called the defensive plays in two of their games this year.

LB Jeremiah Brutus (Royal Palm Beach HS, FL)
The skinny: The 6'1, 182 lb inside linebacker will be playing QB in the Florida Outback All-Star game. He got an honorable mention at LB on the Palm Beach Post Large School All-Area Teams.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lehigh Football Alumni in the News

Thought I'd take this time to highlight some prominent news regarding Lehigh football alumni (and former staff) today.

You may not have been aware that former linebacker Jason Stokes was named Bloomingdale High (FL) 2008 Coach of the Year and the first-time head coach has started to build a sucessful high school program in Florida, but now you do.

A slew of former Lehigh football assistant coaches just recently made some news at a slew of MAC schools. Start with former Lehigh assistant coach Casey Creehan, who will be coaching the defensive line at Eastern Michigan; former Lehigh assistant coach and recruiting coordinator John Powers, who just recently was promoted to offensive coordinator at Ball State; and former defensive coordinator Shannon Morrison, who left his alma mater at Marshall to become the co-defensive coordinator at Bowling Green - to serve under new head coach (and former Lehigh assistant coach) Dave Clawson.

[UPDATE: The NFL's Minnesota Vikings promoted a former Lehigh coach to the position of special teams coach. Brian Murphy was on head coach Kevin Higgins' staff in 1999. (Higgins is still head coach at The Citadel).]

Also worthy of mention in terms of Lehigh football alumni: it was recently reported that Colts head coach Tony Dungy, who recently was terminated from the Indianapoils Colts, was a true stand-up guy when it comes to "character and class", as Keith Groller from the Morning Call puts it, when it comes to life:

[Jim] Tkach and Dungy share a most unfortunate bond.

Both men lost young sons to suicide.

When Tkach lost his son [Lehigh football alumnus] Bo in the summer of 2007, Dungy called Tkach.

''I don't want to mislead anybody; Tony and I have never sat down and had a beer together,'' Tkach said. ''We haven't met face to face. But we have had five lengthy phone conversations in the year-and-a-half since we lost Bo and on three of those occasions, Tony reached out to me.

''He gives you things you can reference and use. I read his well-done Web site -- http://www.allprodad.com -- every day. Tony is the one who made me realize that every child is a gift from God. And every child's life is to be celebrated. We're just getting to that point now where we're able to celebrate Bo's life and everything he was about.''

It's a tragic story, but it's worth repeating how coach Dungy is a man of true class.

[UPDATE: In the run-up to the Super Bowl, how did I miss this? The Morning Call's Keith Groller had an update on former Lehigh TE Adam Bergen, the former Arizona Cardinal who started his NFL career catching passes from Kurt Warner, and who is now entering Denver Broncos mini-camp.]

Monday, January 26, 2009

Weekend Wrapup: Lehigh Sweeps Opponents In Wrestling and Basketball

I'm trying to remember the last time that Lehigh won five different sporting events on the same weekend. I can't think of any time it's ever happened... and if it has, it's doubtful if it involved not one, but two sweeps of "that school in Easton".

I'm also trying to remember the last time the Lehigh men's and women's basketball teams all competed in front of crowds more than 1,000 strong. With 1,748 packing into Stabler to see the Lady Hawks, over 3,000 in Easton to see the Lehigh men beat "that school in Easton", and an average of over 1,700 fans in Leeman-Turner Arena at Grace Hall for three wrestling duals on campus - that's got to be some sort of record.

Start with the wrestling trifecta this weekend - and while it's not totally unexpected that the Lehigh grapplers beat Drexel, Harvard and Brown on Friday and Saturday, the way they did it - with only six defeats in twenty-seven matches - has to leave smiles with Lehigh wrestling fans. Specifically, it was a perfect 9-0 record in 133, 141 and 149: Junior 133 lb Matt Fisk, with one major decision; junior 141 lb Seth Ciasulli, with two falls; and senior 149 lb Trevor Chinn, with one technical fall and one regular fall. With the amount of bonus points this trio racked up, look for No. 16 Fisk and No. 14 Chinn to climb up the national rankings - and possibly see Ciasulli as well break into the rankings too, by the time Lehigh faces Bucknell at home in a couple weeks.

The party didn't stop there, as the men's basketball team held off pesky Lafayette 60-57 at Kirby Sports Center in Easton. While junior G Marquis Hall was the lead story, scoring his 1,000th point en route to an 18 point, 5 rebound, 3 steal day, it would really be free throws that would determine the winner here - and junior F Zahir Carrington's draining of two free throws with four seconds left to seal the victory. Carrington, senior F Phil Anderson and junior G Dave Buchburger had a great day on the boards, totalling 24 boards between the three of them.

Still, head coach Brett Reed, with the loss on Wednesday to Colgate still undoubtedly fresh on his mind, wasn't exactly pleased: “We didn’t necessarily play smart for the entire game, and down the stretch we were fortunate rather than good, but nonetheless we were able to make some free throws and play very tough defense to secure the victory. I guess we like to make it entertaining.”

The 12-7 Mountain Hawks (Real Time RPI: 225) won't have too much time to celebrate with 5-14 Bucknell (Real Time RPI: 264) coming to town. While the Bison have struggled with a brutal out-of-conference schedule, they have won their last two against Colgate and Lafayette and always seem to beat Lehigh year in and year out. Sophmore G G.W. Boon has emerged in the past few games as a bona-fide starter in league play, averaging 11.3 ppg in Bucknell's extraordinarily balanced offense. Crucial to Lehigh's chances will be defending the arc: as a team, the Bison are shooting 34% from 3-point range, and will certainly have to hold them below their average if they hope to come away with the "W". They will be playing at 7:00 P.M. at Stabler this Wednesday.

Completing the historic weekend was a 73-51 drubbing of the Lady Leopards at Stabler on Saturday by the Lady Hawks, paced by - who else - sophomore G Erica Prosser, with 24 points, 5 assists, and 4 steals - and seven of the first eleven points in the second half to make a four point halftime lead into an insurmountable 15 point mountain. (Unsurprisingly, she won her fourth Patriot League Player of the Week honors for her performance.) Head coach Sue Troyan also went to her bench to get production: senior F Haly Crites and freshman F Emily Gratch both led the team with 4 rebounds apiece, and junior G Kristen Dalton came off the bench and added 10 points.

Another Patriot League test awaits on Wednesday for the 14-5 Lady Hawks (Real Time RPI: 116) as they travel to Lewisburg to face the 10-8 Bison (Real Time RPI: 225). Bucknell reversed a three game skid on Saturday by pulverizing hapless Colgate 86-54 - their biggest scoring total on the year. Like Lehigh, the Lady Bison have their own superstar to deal with: senior G Amanda Brown, averaging 15.3 ppg with a 3-point percentage of 38%. Not far behind is senior F Lauren Schoeber, with 9.7 ppg and 35% from the 3-point arc.

Prosser vs. Brown on Wednesday? Should be fascinating - and may be a tough battle for the Lady Hawks.
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