Friday, February 27, 2009

Lehigh Weekend: Men Must Win - And Hope - To Get A Home Game

The men's basketball team has not made things easy for themselves this weekend after their 72-51 embarassment at Sojka Pavillion on Wednesday. With 15 points in the first half in that game against Bucknell - that's not a typo - it's amazing to think that 15-12 Lehigh (Real Time RPI: 243) is still in the running for the No. 4 seed.

But should Lehigh win at 15-13 Holy Cross (Real Time RPI: 177) - and get some help from Navy or Bucknell - Lehigh will be hosting a first-round game for the third straight year.

Think the athletic department is upbeat about Lehigh's chances at 3:30 p.m. at Worcester? Think again:

The Mountain Hawks last win over the Crusaders in Worcester was a 70-69 victory on February 11, 1998. Since then Lehigh has averaged 53 points per game with a high of only 67 in the 1999 meeting. The last time Lehigh defeated the Crusaders in Worcester Justin Maneri was eight years old and the number-one song in America was Celine Dion’s "My Heart Will Go On".

If Lehigh stands a chance in Worcester, it will depend on the play of senior F Phil Anderson, who was owned on Wednseday by Bucknell F Patrick Behan and only scored 2 points and 2 boards. As great as junior F Zahir Carrington is - and he got yet another double-double on Wednesday with 15 points and 12 boards - Lehigh needs help under there if they are to win any more basketball games this year. It may help that Holy Cross has wrapped up the No. 2 seed whatever happens on Saturday - but on "Senior Day", Crusader head coach Ralph Willard certainly won't want to end their regular-season careers with a loss.

If Lehigh wins, they will likely be the No. 4 seed if either Colgate or Army loses. If Lehigh, Colgate and Army all win, Lehigh would be the No. 5 team and travel to Hamilton next Wednesday. But if Lehigh loses, they could finish as low as No. 7 and face a return trip to Worcester next week.

****

The 22-6 Lady Hawks (Real Time RPI: 81), clinched the regular season Patriot League title by virtue of their 69-60 win over Bucknell. That, and the fact that Lehigh is hosting of the first two rounds of the women's Patriot League tourney, means the Lady Hawks have given themselves the best possible chance to head to the Dance - and with a perfect 13-0 record at home this year, this weekend's tilt against 13-15 Holy Cross (Real Time RPI: 184) will not only be for the seniors but for an undefeated regular season at home for the second time in their history.

Congratulations to the Lady Hawks - they sure earned the next two weeks playing at home.

Coach Sue Troyan will be starting the seniors - senior G Tricia Smith, senior G Ryan Ingalls, senior F Haly Crites, and senior C Melissa Rich - but don't be shocked if sophomore G Erica Prosser (14.7 ppg) and junior G Alex Ross (13.2 ppg) make a quick entrance.

All the games will be broadcasting live on lehighsports.com.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Q&A with Coach Coen on Class of 2013

Last week, Lehigh announced the incoming football recruiting class of 2013 of 26 recruits. I interviewed coach Coen last week about this, and here's what he had to say.

Coach Coen: I feel good about it. There were some needs that were more glaring than others - defensive line and wide receivers. My recruiting philosophy since the whole time we've been here is to recruit a solid class and recruit every position.

Traditionally all the Patriot League schools take between 25 and 30 kids a year, so there are big classes every year and I think the smart thing to do is to try to make sure you address every position on the team so you don't get stuck with the situation where you desperately need to recruit a certain number of kids at one position.

LFN: Regarding the names in the incoming class, Schuykill Haven RB Zach Barket certainly jumps off the page in terms of his statistics.

Coen: His statistics are really unbelievable. I watched his tape over and over again just to make sure I was accurate in my evaluation. We don't get to see a lot of kids play live anymore - it's kind of the way it works - but I got an opportunity to watch him play later in the winter in the high school playoffs. I got sold on him watching him play in person. He's a good football player. I was impressed by his toughness.

LFN: Also, we have RB Tony Kablan, the first recruit out of Minnesota that I can remember...

Coen: He was a kid that came out after he made a tour of schools in the springtime. He stopped by Lehigh while he was looking at a whle bunch of places on the East coast and was really impressed with Lehigh. We had a chance to meet him, got his tape and really just stayed in touch with him, and it ended up working out. He looks like a real speed kid.

LFN: Do we have a California connection now, with three recruits from there this year?

Coen: Every year we reach out to kids out there and try to cultivate them, but we did a great job this year. These kids liked the academics, and they wanted to come back East to go to school. We actually had another kid that was committed to us around signing day, but then Princeton decided to offer him a spot and he decided to go there. If he committed here, that would have been four.

LFN: Tell us a bit about the depth you've brought in on the "O" and "D" lines.

Coen: When we got here four years ago, we had some good football players but overall both lines were not in great shape - there was a lack of depth. We knew that we'd have to work hard to catch up with a lot of people, but in the last two years we've made a lot of gains there. It was really good to get guys this year with physicality and athleticism here in this class.

***

LFN: What's your recruiting pitch to a prospective Lehigh student/athlete?

Coen: The one thing you find with a lot of kids we recruit is that they've educated themselves about the kind of school that they want to go to - which is one of the things that makes recruiting in our league very, very competitive, because we're all recruiting the same type of kid, and there aren't as many of these kids around as there used to be.

Obviously academics are important to the kids, so we tell them where we rank nationally. I tell them that we're a little different than the Patriot League in that we're more of a comprehensive university where our competitiors are mostly smaller, liberal arts colleges. We tell them the different programs we have here, and have the recruits spend a lot of time with our current players so they really have a sense about what it's like being not only a football player but a student at Lehigh.

You really end up talking about everything. Specifically, I talk to them about the facilites, the tradition of Lehigh football, and what my expectations are for them once they're here. We want guys here who are competitors, who understand what it means to on a football team, who understand the accountability not only for yourself but hold your teammates accountable, and who are not afraid of being a leader.

LFN: Did you see much of a difference in terms of how you recruited this year in comparision to last year due to the changes in the academic index calculation (or AI for short)?

Coen: Not really, we've always been going after the same kids. There was a little bit more work to put kids into the bands, but as it worked out for our coaches and the admissions office it was pretty much the same at the end of the day. The one thing I like is that everyone was working off the common floor, so if there was a kid that met the AI for the league, we all had opportunities to recruit them.

I think at the end of the day, the academic breakdown of kids is probably going to be similar to what it's been in past years. We actually have a bunch of kids that are in the higher end academically - it's kid of the way it worked out.

LFN: Across the nation, the economic meltdown has really hit familes very hard. Did that affect recruiting in any sort of way?

Coen: The state of the economy, unfortunately, is going to continue to widen the range of students you need to recruit. We did have a lot of kids whose aid packages came back and they wanted to go to Lehigh or another Patriot League school but this year just were not able to afford it and had to look at some other options. And there were some people who didn't qualify for aid who in past years might have made the investment in Lehigh, but now are not going to be able to do it. That makes you keep having to look further and further for recruits.

We're in a situation as a league where our pool of kids continues to shrink. There are more FCS programs than ever giving full scholarships, you still cross over with the Ivy League schools on quite a few kids, and now you throw in that more people are going to need more financial aid - we're in a tough situation. Also if they were not full-need kids, they were a tough get.

LFN: What do you think of public websites like Scout.com and Rivals.com?

Coen: Some of our guys are two stars Rivals guys, which is kind of neat, but we really don't use them. These things have really taken off with all this early commitment stuff. I don't really know what it all means - it seems like it's hype just to keep fans from all the different teams talking football all year round. There's a market for that, certainly, but at our level we don't put a lot of stock into it.

Our recruiting at Lehigh for the past three years has been a concentrated, full-staff effort. When we recruit, we've got to get out and pound the pavement.

***

As an addendum to my interview, with the signing period for Division I athletes extending as far as June, occasionally other names will be added to the recruit list before preseason training camp comes along, and there are at least two unconfirmed names that are in the process of clearing. (I do know the name of one of the incomers - a DB/WR - but I won't release the name until he clears.)

One fact I was able to confirm, however, was that WR Travis Artim, a freshman in 2007 with 9 catches for 124 yards, has returned to the team. The Whitehall High School product will have three years of eligibility left. He should be welcomed back with open arms after Lehigh's top three receivers from last year - WRs Sekou Yansane, Mike Fitzgerald, and Nick Johnson - graduate.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Weekend Wrapup: Wrestlers Close Dual Season With Big Win

Of all the ation this weekend, it was the match that didn't make ESPNU - the Lehigh grapplers' final home wrestling dual before the EIWA championships in two weeks - that was the story of thw weekend.

The Mountain Hawk wrestlers ended their historic dual season in style with a 24-12 win, giving them a perfect dual record against EIWA foes and also set a school record for dual wrestling wins in a season (23). Tied going into the final three matches, it was junior 184 lb David Craig, freshman 197 lb Joe Kennedy and freshman heavyweight Zach Rey who swept the last three bouts to secure the historic win at home.

Probably the best match of the afternoon came with senior 149 ln Trevor Chinn, wrestling for the last time in Leeman-Turner arena:

Once again the Lehigh fans were on their feet after No. 15 Trevor Chinn earned a tight 3-1 victory over No. 11 Cesar Grajales at 149. Each wrestler earned an escape to start the second and third periods, and with less than one minute remaining the match appeared to be heading for overtime. With 40 seconds left, Chinn scored the only takedown of the bout, grabbing Grajales ankle at the edge of the mat and slipping around for the points as the grapplers went out of bounds. After Chinn held off a Grajales attempt at a reversal, the Leeman-Turner Arena crowd rose to give the senior a standing ovation as he walked off the mat for the final time in Grace Hall.

Lehigh's grapplers get a well-deserved rest before the EIWA championships in two weeks, followed shortly thereafter by the NCAA's.

****

As good as the Lady Hawks have been this year, they've had another item on their bucket list they've been unable to check off until now: beating "that school in Easton" at Kirby Field House, something Lehigh hasn't been able to do since 2005. But this year's 21-6 women's basketball team was able to cross off another goal off their checklist as they disposed of the Leopards 73-58.
In what must be demoralizing for the Lady Leopards, four Lady Hawks hit double figures scoring, and all are underclassmen (underclasswomen?): junior G Alex Ross (16 points), sophomore G Erica Prosser (15 points, 4 steals), junior G Kristen Dalton (10 points) and freshman F Emily Gratch (15 points, 9 rebounds).

Now at 21-6, Lehigh (Real Time RPI: 84) is in the driver's seat for home court advantage throughout the playoffs (since Lehigh is hosting the first two rounds of the Patriot League women's tourney). Thanks to Holy Cross' 58-55 win over American, if Lehigh can manage to beat 15-10 Bucknell (Real Time RPI: 182) at home the Wednesday, they will clinch the regular-season Patriot League title and should they win two games in the tourney the final will be broadcast from Stabler as a Lady Hawks home game.

*****

The Lady Hawks might want to hope that the game is blocked out on ESPNU, however. Lehigh sports teams have been 0-2 on "El Ocho" this year - the latest an extremely disappointing 68-66 loss to Lafayette on Sunday. It seems like this Lehigh team cannot win a close game when it counts this year in Patriot League play - one time losing with six men on the court in the final seconds, two others on late-game collapses - and the latest one with an errant in-bounds pass in the closing seconds.

Senior F Phil Anderson had a great game in what could be his home finale as a Mountain Hawk with 8 points and 9 boards, while junior G Marquis Hall (12 points, 6 rebounds), junior F Zahir Carrington (15 points, 5 rebounds), sophomore G Prentice Small (10 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists) and junior G Dave Buchburger (10 points, 4 rebounds) had good games. But free throws were a killer - the Thud Hawks hit a dismal 12-of-23 from the charity stripe - as was a defense that gave up 50% shooting to the Leopards.

15-11 Lehigh (Real Time RPI: 238) right now is in a dogfight for the No. 4 seed in the Patriot League tournament with 9-17 Colgate (Real Time RPI: 291). In order to get the No. 4 seed and a home game in Stabler, a win this Wednesday at Sojka against 6-21 Bucknell (Real Time RPI: 296) would go a long way towards getting that goal. But the Bison, unfortunately, are showing signs of seriously hitting their stride after beating Holy Cross a week ago in Worcester and playing Delware very tough in a "Bracket Buster" game this past weekend. Their depth will not make this an easy game at all.
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