Skip to main content

Lady Hawks In Final Showdown with American

Understandably, a lot of the buzz this week is going to be directed towards the men's basketball game on Friday, as they battle "that school in Easton" in a Rivalry-flavored Patriot League Championship game on ESPN2.

But that's not the only nationally-televised championship game being played in the Lehigh Valley this weekend.

The Lady Hawks - who are looking for their second straight Patriot League championship and NCAA tournament appearance - play this Saturday at 6:00 PM at the STAR for their shot at the big dance as well on CBS College Sports.

While the men have the "Rivalry" in their tournament game, the Lady Hawks have something else: record-breaking streaks that head coach Sue Troyan hopes will help carry the Lady Hawks back to the NCAA tournament. (more)



With Lehigh and American having quite a bit of basketball success since the 2001 season - the first season that the Eagles joined the Patriot League - it's surprising to learn that the Lady Hawks and Lady Eagles have only met once before in the Patriot League tournament.  In 2004, American earned a 71-58 victory over Lehigh in what was essentially a home game for the Lady Eagles, played at Upper Marlboro, Maryland.  American is the only current Patriot League school that Lehigh has not beaten in the postseason tournament.

Last year, it seemed like No. 1 seed Lehigh was destined to face No. 2 seed American in the championship game as well - but an improbable 68-66 upset of the Lady Eagles by No. 7 seed Lafayette and a win the next day over No. 3-seeded Navy 62-55 set up a "Rivalry"-themed final last year in the STAR for the Lady Hawks.   That game - actually the second time the Lehigh ladies had faced off against the Lady Leopards for the Patriot League championship - ended up being a battle that Lehigh would ultimately survive 64-56.

This year, though, American and Lehigh didn't do any stumbling in the first rounds of the tournament.  Matter of fact, both teams demonstrated what fans had known all along: that they were head and shoulders above the rest of the league.  The Lady Hawks and Lady Eagles have only lost to one team since January 4th: each other, with the Lady Eagles taking the first game 69-65 in overtime in the District and Lehigh winning at Stabler 53-46.  According to Real Time RPI, both Lehigh and American have RPI's in the top 100 (Lehigh at 58, and American at 97).

In addition Lehigh and American are 1 or 2 in pretty much every statistical category in the Patriot League.  Both have great team defense, good rebounding, and are tough outs no matter how you look at it.

The matchup this Saturday - without a doubt - is a matchup between the best the Patriot League has to offer.

****

The Lady Hawks have to be happy that this game is going to be played at Stabler Arena, since the Lady Hawks have an incredible streak going at the STAR.  They haven't lost a game - regular season or championship game - at home since 2008.

Forget for a moment the incredible achievements of the Lehigh team this year: 27 wins so far - a school record - with hopes for the 28th this Saturday. Forget the 15 straight wins - a Patriot League record - with hopes for the 16th this Saturday.  And forget the fact that Lehigh is 54-10 since the start of last season - only the incredible UConn Lady Huskies (60), Stanford (60), Ohio State (56) and Marist (55) have more wins over that span.

The Lady Hawks last lost at Stabler to Lafayette 59-43 on February 3rd, 2008 - and haven't lost since at home.  And it's not like Lehigh has packed the home schedule with patsies: they scheduled Villanova out of the Big East at home this year (whom they beat 80-65) and 22-9 St. Bonaventure out of the Atlantic 10 (whom they beat - in a close game - 68-66).  The Bonnies are a bubble team in this year's NCAA tournament - and Lehigh's home winning streak went right through them.

Lehigh hopes that home court will work for them once again - and to be undefeated at Stabler for two years running.

****

American though, has a streak of their own to protect.  Eight straight wins - and only one loss since January 4th, to Lehigh - and a perfect record against Lehigh in the Patriot League tournament.

What makes them go?  Junior G/F Michelle Kirk (17.9 ppg, 6 rpg) and junior F Liz Leer (13.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and a frontcourt that can give anybody problems scoring and rebounding.  Add to this mix 6'2 senior C Ohemaa Nyanin (4.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and you have a frontcourt with size and rebounding power, averaging 37 per game.

Their backcourt features a rotation of guards, with sophomore G Raven Harris at the point (3.3 apg) and sophomore G Ebony Edwards (5.3 ppg) or senior G Nicole Ryan (7.1 ppg) spelling her.  While the Lady Eagles do most of their scoring underneath, like Lehigh, it's defense that is their calling card: they are only allowing 53.5 ppg, which is good enough for 10th best in the nation.

Nobody else in the Patriot League boasts this combination of frontcourt strength and shut-down defense.  Maybe that's why in the practice in the run-up to the championship game head coach Sue Troyan has the team wearing shirts that say "Be Great".

*****

Keys to Lehigh victory:
1. Post defense.  Sophomore C Alexa Williams and senior G Tricia Smith have the tough challenge of making sure that Leer and Kirk don't go wild underneath the basket, and that means they will have to continue the great defense they've shown all year.  If they can be limited to, say, 20 points between them, we have a good chance of winning this game.  Their efforts, and a great game from sophomore F Emily Gratch, will be crucial.
2. Outside shooting.  If senior G Alex Ross can get warmed up from 3-point land, that could be a huge extra dimension that could make it difficult for the Lady Eagles to stay with Lehigh.  Junior G Erica Prosser - the consummate playmaker - might do well to find Ross early and often.
3. Free Throws.  One of Lehigh's weaknesses all year have been free throws - 67% on the year.  If this looks to be a close game - and it does - the charity stripe may play a huge role.  Lehigh needs to make those big free points late in the game if they hope to win.

****

Finally, if the men win on Friday at Stabler they may very well become very large fans of the Lady Hawks.

If both the Lehigh men and women win the Patriot League autobid, there is a chance that the NCAA playoff committees may very well try to group both teams together regionally.  This would benefit Lehigh in terms of costs.  For example, why ship the men to Buffalo, NY and the women to Spokane, WA when you could put both the men and women in Tallahassee, FL and Jacksonville, FL and give the student and fan support sections (like the band and cheerleaders) a chance to attend at least two NCAA games?

I don't know if that's the way the NCAA tournament people operate, but it may push the Lehigh men out of the realm of the NCAA play-in game and into a true 16 - or maybe even 15 - seed.

Comments

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…