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Sports Weekend, 1/21/2011: The East-West Shrine Game

So you're sitting there reveling in the fact that Lehigh wrestling just knocked off the No. 1 program in the country last night.  You see that Lehigh women's basketball got back on it's winning ways this Wednesday with a dominant win over Colgate, while Lehigh's men's team slipped to 1-3 in the Patriot League with their big slip at Colgate.

It's a big weekend in the Lehigh Valley, with both hoops squads facing off against "that school in Easton".  It's always a big deal to beat the Leopards in all sports, and a sweep this weekend would be particularly gratifying - especially on the men's side.

In a weekend filled with "Rivalry"-themed exploits, though, there's another national showcase for Lehigh Athletics that should not be on the TV - or DVR.  It's the East-West Shrine Game in Orlando, Florida, and - for Lehigh fans - OL Will Rackley will be the focal point of the NFL Network broadcast at 4:00 PM. (more)

Rackley, called "one the best [linemen] Delaware went up against" by Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler after Lehigh's final football game of the 2010 season, has had no shortage of postseason accolades around FCS nation.  That the Patriot League had Rackley on their all-conference team was a given: after all, he'd been a fixture on that team since his sophomore year.  But the Sports Network, College Sporting News, the Associated PressPhil Steele and the ECAC all put them on their all-star teams this year as well - almost all of them first-team honors - giving the Riverdale, Georgia native a whole trophy case of Patriot League exploits.

This offseason, Rackley got another honor: an invite to the East-West Shrine game, a historic collegiate all-star game that raises money for Shriner's Hospitals across the nation.

Aside from raising money for a worthy cause, it's also seen as a great stepping stone to play on Sundays.  Last year, Fordham QB John Skelton played in the game and got drafted by the Arizona Cardinals as a result - and ended up as the starter, winning two games for them.

Since it's an all-star game, the workouts get as much press attention as the all-star game itself.  It acts as an early combine for NFL draft fanatics across the nation.  And the press that Mr. Rackley has been getting in the run-up to the game has been nothing short of stellar.

Lehigh OL Will Rackley displayed some natural body control, fluidity and change of direction skills during one-on-one drills today and what was even more impressive was the fact that he was playing at right tackle — the opposite side where he played his college ball the past four seasons. He looked a bit uncoordinated with his punch and didn’t do a great job really extending his arms and gaining leverage on his target. But, his natural movement skills were impressive in my view and I expect him to continue to get better and better throughout the week. He’s an intriguing small-school guy with some upside who can make a roster and possibly fight for playing time with some development.

...

Rackley was a very competitive blocker Wednesday, using his length and punch to lock on and sustain blocks, particularly in the running game. He doesn’t have the classic size and elite athleticism of an NFL tackle, but he is a coachable player and has the attitude NFL teams covet.

...

Lehigh OT William Rackley is a sleeper to watch in the coming months. He has been solid throughout the week in drills and doesn't look out of place while competing against players from big schools. Although he is better suited to move inside (guard or center) at the next level, his ability to effectively play right tackle this week will certainly push him up draft boards around the league.

Glowing: there's no other words to describe the press on his run-up to the Shrine Game. But the million dollar question is: can he back up the press with an similarly dominant performance tomorrow at 4:00 PM?

The game will be on the NFL Network, and if you're not around and you're a serious football fan, it will be well worth recording to see how Rackley does. I'll be watching and taking notes for sure.

*****


While there isn't a wrestling match this weekend, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention a recap of Lehigh's first-ever dual win over the No. 1 team in the country last night. (Photo and article credit: Gary Blockus and Denise Sanchez of the Morning Call)

Lehigh's Zach Rey, the No. 1 heavyweight in the country, had nothing to say.

That's pretty strange for a man whose major decision proved the final blow in what is believed to be the first time in Lehigh wrestling history that the Brown and White knocked off the No. 1 team in the country.

Rey's decision clinched the 17-15 upset win over No. 1 Cornell (5-1) in front of 3,271 fans at Stabler Arena, whose roars reached rock concert levels with each individual victory.

“We wrestled hard tonight and I’m proud of our guys,” said Lehigh head coach Pat Santoro. “We knew it was a big dual. Cornell was coming off a big win, but seven minutes of wrestling is the only way to win matches. Being at home helped a lot. The energy was great tonight and the guys really responded. The guys were feeding off each other which you need to do in a dual meet.”

Of all the matches, the one that probably secured the upset was at 165, where junior Brandon Hatchett won over third-ranked Justin Kerber, 3-2. Hatchett scored a first period takedown and wrestled a smart tactical match in the final two periods to earn the victory.

It doesn't get any easier for the No. 19-ranked Lehigh wrestlers: next Friday, they travel to Blacksburg, Virginia to take on the No. 3-ranked Hokies of Virginia Tech. After a string of tough defeats, this win undoubtedly will inspire a lot of wrestling fans to make the trip to Tech to see Lehigh try to pull off another big upset.

*****

Incredibly, I didn't even get to the anticipation of basketball "doubleheader" of sorts against "that school in Easton".

And make no mistake, they are pumped up to play the Leopards. Check out the video, "The Rivalry", at Lehighsports.com.

(A must-see - G C.J. McCollum saying, "Please come out, see us get the 'W'".)

Both events are a part of the Mountain Hawk Summit Series, a group of "premium home events aimed at providing the ultimate fan experience", according to the Lehigh Athletics web site.

The festivities get kicked off, though, with a crucial game for the Lehigh men's team at Kirby Field House in Easton.

Losing to American two weekends ago might not have been the best thing that could have happened to the Lehigh basketball team, but at least they could take some comfort in the fact that the Eagles are considered a strong contender for the Patriot League championship. But consecutive losses to 10-8 Army at home (75-72) and 3-15 Colgate in Hamilton (80-79) puts Lehigh at 1-3 in the Patriot League - with a challenging stretch of schedule upcoming.

Billed as the "Championship Rematch" by Lafayette (7-12, 2-2), the Leopards would like nothing better to avenge last year's Championship defeat at Stabler - and get to 3-2 in Patriot League play in the process. Worryingly, six of Lafayette's seven wins came at friendly Kirby Field house - and more worryingly, two of Lafayette's big contributors from last year's near championship team return: G Jim Mower (12.6 ppg, 41% 3-pt shooting) and F Jared "Double" Mintz (16 ppg, 5 rpg). If Lehigh hopes to hang in this always-emotionally-charged game, they'll have to find a way to shut down these guys offensively - not an easy task, especially at Kirby.

Gametime is at 1:00 PM. If you can't make it to Kirby, it will be shown on TV locally in the Lehigh Valley on RCN. Best option: watch the video on RCN, and listen to the "good guys", Matt Kerr and Greg Falkenbach, on AM 1230 and 1320, or listen live at Lehighsports.com.

But it's 7:00PM at Stabler arena, where the Lady Hawks look to extend their dominance over the Lady Leopards and get back into the thick of the Patriot League title chase. Throw out the Lady Leopards record here (7-12, 0-4), they would love nothing better to give Lehigh an embarrassing defeat at home and catch up to the Lady Hawks in the Patriot League standings.

This Wednesday, the Lady Hawks got back on track thanks to their inside play. C Alexa Williams led the way with 15 points and 6 boards, while F Courtney Dentler added 15 points and F Emily Gratch added 14 in a complete performance at home.

This Saturday, they'll face (again) Lady Leopard F LaKeisha Wright, who leads Lafayette with 12.4 points per game. The Lady Leopards have a new inside presence, however: freshman Danielle Fiacco, who is averaging 7.9 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game. Key to the Lady Hawks' chances is to not allow Wright to get warm shooting the ball - and connecting on high-percentage shots.

The game will be at 7:00 PM at Stabler Arena, will be televised by Service Electric 2 (Mike Zambelli and Jim Wills, and will be covered on radio by Matt Markus on 91.3 WLVR in the valley and on Lehighsports.com.

Comments

ngineer said…
Got to see the first half and Rackley did a very nice job. The announcers also noted that he was on a 'short list' of those who "made money" this week during the workouts; meaning that his stock in the draft went up significantly. They were projecting him as a 3rd or 4th round selection, but like to move to guard or center due to his size.

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