Skip to main content

Lehigh Is Dancin'!

When my wife and I drove up to Stabler to watch the Rivalry-tinged Patriot League women's basketball championship game yesterday against Lafayette, we saw a sharp-shinned hawk perched on a speed limit sign. Really.

Despite this signal of good fortune, I was still nervous about the championship game.

I know it didn't make much sense if you saw the matchup on paper - the No. 1-seeded Mountain Hawks were 25-6 and undefeated at home, and the No. 7-seeded Leopards were 10-21 and had been crushed by Lehigh in their two regular-season meetings.

But this Lafayette team was different now. They had hit their stride with their two shock wins against American and Navy in front of quasi-home crowds. Now, fueled by "The Rivalry" and a nationally-televised game on ESPNU, the Lady Leopards had nothing to lose, and the Lady Hawks everything.

It was everything a college basketball fan could ask for.

Sure, Lehigh did their best to make the result inevitable early on. After both teams showed their jitters early in the nationally-televised game, junior G Alex Ross exploded. She had the best half shooting for Lehigh women's basketball that I've ever seen - going 6-for-9 from 3-point land en route to 20 points, while sophomore G Erica Prosser happily kept dishing the ball to her. Lehigh jumped out to a 37-27 halftime lead, after a crucial period where Lehigh's defense held the Lady Leopards scoreless for 5 minutes. Senior F Haly Crites dominated the boards and dished out two assists as well during that time.

But this one was far from over.

Sophomore F Elizabeth Virgin, after picking up two quick first-half fouls and spending a long time on the Leopard bench in the first half, knocked down two quick buckets in the second half to cut the deficit. With the Leopards doubling down on Ross in the second half, Lehigh was clearly knocked out of their comfort zone as they made their first move. Senior F Meghan Malone helped get it to within 3 for the Leopards - but then senior C Melissa Rich, as she's done all season, made a big lay-up and two big free-throws to bring the lead back to ten.

With eight minutes to play, sparked by a huge 3 pointer by senior G Jessica Spicer and a big bucket by senior F Emily Garner, the Lady Leopards cut the deficit to 2 - and then 1 with 2 minutes to play, thanks to a heroic defensive stand.

With everything on the line, though, the same defensive machine that stopped Army last weekend kicked into gear for the Lady Hawks. While a multitude of Lady Hawks got them to this point, it was the play of senior G Tricia Smith which got Lehigh the championship in the last four minutes of the game. With Lafayette having a chance to take the lead, Crites' block of Lafayette sophomore F LaKeisha Wright's jumper led to Smith's slashing layup to make it a three-point deficit. Smith would also grab two rebounds and make two final free throws to give the Lehigh women's basketball team their first NCAA tournament berth since the 1990's.

The "Rivalry"-themed crowd, 2,339 strong, was loud and feisty. Brown-clad Lehigh fans and white-clad Lafayette fans laid into the refs, the opposing teams - and even laid into the cheerleaders. (Some of the loudest boos - and cheers - came when the Lehigh and Lafayette cheerleaders and dance teams performed during the media timeouts.) While Lafayette didn't bring a pep band, Lehigh's musicians lit up the student section. Fans stood up during the last two minutes of unbearable tension.

The intensity of "The Rivalry" was definitely in the gym, even at halftime. The basketball shootout - where fans come onto the court and try to be the last shooter standing - came down to a white-clad Lafayette fan and a Brown-clad Lehigh fan (who was actually senior DB Brendan VanAckeren). When VanAckeren made the final jumper from the foul line to win the shoot-out, he was mobbed - even something as innocent as a halftime contest ended with "Rivalry" overtones. (That and the cheers: "Just like football!" - coming from the student section.)

But it was the ladies that actually were able to achieve so much of their "Bucket List" during the season that were the biggest story on the evening. It was their night - once again, a complete team performance earned against a gritty performance by the team that beat "that school in Easton". Even head coach Sue Troyan seemed to sense it - she stepped out of the way of the cameras while watching her team celebrate. This was theirs.

Perfect at home, in front of a raucous brown-shirted mob, after the perfect final against the perfect opponent - and now waiting to see who they'll be matched up against in the NCAA tournament. It's the best of times right now for Lehigh women's basketball.


Popular posts from this blog

Remembering Lehigh's Battles With The Late Tubby Raymond

(Photo Credits: Delaware Online)

When I heard the news Tubby Raymond, legendary Delaware head football coach, died last week at the age of 92, two immediate memories came rushing back to me.

One occurred on October 16th, 1999, when Tubby had made a complaint to the local paper or radio in the run-up to Kevin Higgins' Mountain Hawks beating his Blue Hens on Delaware's homecoming, 42-35.

I have no idea if the quote even actually happened, but my recollection is that Tubby said that Lehigh had "St. Bartholomew's" on their schedule, and hadn't played anybody.  It was a verbal jab that many Delaware fans took with them to the stands to heckle the Mountain Hawk fans that made the short trip to Newark.

Up until that point, I had watched a bunch of Lehigh football games over the years.  I experienced their rise in the 1990s.  I enjoyed wins, and championships, and playoff victories.

But never had I felt a win so viscerally vindicating than the one over Tubby Raymond&…

Lehigh Wrestling Gets Superstar Treatment at PPL Center. Lehigh Football Needs The Same At Murray Goodman.

"We knew it would be nice," Lehigh wrestling head coach Pat Santoro said. "But it was even better than we expected."

Pat was talking about the reception his Lehigh wrestling squad experienced at Allentown's PPL Center this weekend, when a sellout crowd over nearly 10,000 people came to watch No. 1 Penn State grapple with No. 5 Lehigh in a collegiate wrestling event.

It was, by all accounts, something special to behold. 

"I thought it was really cool and an exciting place to wrestle," said Penn State wrestler Nick Nevills. "These fans were really into it, a rowdy bunch. It's a lot more fun as an athlete to wrestle in an environment like this. I'd say it was one of the most exciting times I have had in my career."

The sense of spectacle at the PPL center, though, puts a spotlight on what more can be done at Lehigh itself to make their athletic contests into spectacles.  It requires money to be spent and energy to be expended.  But the…

Troy Pelletier Hasn't Stopped Outworking His Rivals On His Journey To Professional Football

Many Patriot League football fans remember the 153rd meeting between Lehigh and Lafayette, one that ended happily for the Mountain Hawks.

They might remember the MVP performance of QB Brad Mayes, or perhaps the halftime speech by OL Zach Duffy that seemed to spur the Mountain Hawks to victory.

Or perhaps they might remember the spectacular single play of Mayes rolling right and finding WR Gatlin Casey in the end zone to give the Mountain Hawks a lead they didn't relinquish.  It was an incredible play by Mayes, who returns this upcoming year for his senior season, and Casey, who, having exhausted his eligibility at Lehigh, will be playing one more year at Middle Tennessee State.

As great as those individual moments are, though, they are not my biggest takeaway of that game.

Too many Lehigh people forget that Lehigh was down 31-21 at half, and that victory was no sure thing.  And they sometimes forget that so much of that victory came from the grinding of WR Troy Pelletier, deliver…