Before I get to the men's and women's basketball teams, however - who got the better of Lehigh the first Patriot League weekend of the year - it's worth noting that American has something else, too: a squad that head coach Mark Cody took from being on the brink of collapse into one that has produced an NCAA champion (Josh Glenn, in 2007) and has become a Top 25 powerhouse in EIWA as well. The Eagle wrestling program sits at No. 18, while Lehigh sits at No. 11.
That means the path of all three Winter Sports titles this weekend goes through American. And, by definition, through the small, friendly, raucous confines of tiny Grace Hall at 1PM on Sunday. (more)
According to the official release by Lehighsports.com, "American comes into this weekend with a 12-4 dual record and a six match win streak. American has been busy this season, competing at the Pentagon Duals, the Northeast Duals, the National Duals and the Lone Star Duals, plus the Brockport Gold Tournament, the Keystone Classic and the Midlands. American has three wrestlers ranked in the latest Amateur Wrestling News rankings, led by Steve Fittery who is ranked No. 1 at 157 and Ryan Flores who comes in at No. 3 at 285. Six Eagles were ranked in the top 33 of the first NCAA Coaches’ Panel Rankings. In the latest EIWA individual rankings, American has wrestlers ranked in eight weight classes. Fittery is ranked No. 1 at 157, while Flores and Matt Mariacher (141) come in at No. 2 at their respective weight classes.
"The Mountain Hawks have won 24 straight home duals overall and 14 straight duals versus EIWA opponents. Lehigh is 44-1 in home duals against EIWA foes since the start of the 1999-2000 season."
When you look at the match schedule, it's interesting how all but one of the matches feature an unranked wrestler vs. a ranked wrestler, considering that Mountain hawks Frank Cagnina (#13 at 133 lbs), Brandon Hatchett (#13 at 165), Austin Meys (#9 at 174), Robert Hamlin (#5 at 184), and Joe Kennedy (#11 at 197) are all nationally ranked as well.
But the match that everyone will certainly be watching will be the final one of the afternoon, pitting No. 1 (Lehigh's Zach Rey) and No. 3 (American's Ryan Flores). Both almost certainly will be travelling to the NCAA national championships this March in Philadelphia - and could, quite possibly, be facing off against each other to see who the beast heavyweight wrestler in the nation will be.
Not enough excitement in one dual? Add to that the fact that Lehigh coach Pat Santoro is one dual win shy of his 100th dual victory.
There will be no shortage of storylines this Sunday at Grace Hall. It won't be broadcast on live TV, but if you're turned away at the door, you can catch the match on 91.3 WLVR with Steve Lomangino calling the action. If you have the Lehigh broadcast package, there will also be a live video feed as well at Lehighsports.com.
"We're looking forward to playing American this weekend for a little redemption," Lehigh F Kristen Dalton, sporting a black eye, shared this week in her video log on Lehighsports.com. "We had these expectations of ourselves, and after [winning the Patriot League Championship] the past two years, obviously the were high expectations. I think the better approach is... how able we are to adapt to the adversities that we've faced so far. We've been through quite a lot, and the team that handles these the best will be the champions at the end of the year."
While I think Ms. Dalton inadvertently stumbled on a pet peeve of mine - adversity doesn't mean losing games - she does have a good point. With every team in Patriot League women's basketball with at least one league loss, every team seems like they're in the thick of the title race.
Going into their Patriot League home opener vs. American, Lehigh had just wrapped up a fantastic run up until that point. A nine game winning streak, including a Christmas City Classic win over an SEC school, Mississippi State, and a win over near-certain NCAA tournament-bound St. Joe's, 46-40. The losses, to No. 1 UConn, LSU, Villanova and Duquesne, were nothing to be ashamed about. And with American no longer having the services of their top scorer of last year, it seemed like the title was Lehigh's to lose.
Until F Liz Leer and American humbled Lehigh at home - at home! - by a 64-51 margin. "American shot 46.9 percent from the field and were led by Leer’s 25 points. Despite shooting 37.5 percent from the field in the first half, Lehigh struggled to hit shots in the second half, shooting just 21.4 percent and 28.6 percent for the game. Erica Prosser led the way for the Mountain Hawks, scoring 10 points and dishing out seven assists. Senior Courtney Dentler added 11 points and six rebounds, while Dalton had 10 points and six rebounds."
The video recap of the game saw a none-too-pleased Sue Troyan barely hide her frustration at not protecting their home court. "The first half was probably the worst half we've played all year. We'll probably look back on this one and be real disappointed."
"The second time around, we have that chance to do things differently," Dalton said in her video log entry.
One thing they'll need to do differently is to not be beaten in the paint. At Stabler, they were badly out-rebounded by a 43-33 margin and had shots blocked six times. Part of that might have been due to the fact that C Alexa Williams sat a lot of the game in foul trouble.
Furthermore, they allowed the Lady Eagles to shoot 46.9% for the game and 6-12 from 3-point land.
If the Lady Hawks can go down to Washington, DC and beat American in their "Phil Bender" game, it could be the type of game that propels Lehigh back into the thick of the title chase. The Lady Eagles do lot lose often at home, having gone 6-1 this season, but their recent home loss to Navy does show that they are not unbeatable there, either. A win gets the Lady Hawks into the title hunt; a loss probably dooms them to the role of sleeper in the Patriot League tournament.
This crucial game will be carried at 2 PM this Saturday on Patriot League All-Access, with the audio available through Matt Markus on Lehighsports.com.
My family and I will be heading to Stabler Arena this Sunday, however, to watch the men's basketball game that will be carried on CBS College Sports Network and called by John Feinstein and Bob Socci. Like the redemption games in wrestling and women's basketball, this one, too, will feature a taste of revenge of an individual nature.
While basketball is a team game, the game at American weeks ago could be broken down as an incredible individual matchup between Lehigh's G C.J. McCollum and American's F Vlad "The Mad Romanian" Moldoveanu. "The last time they met, [they] put on a show, combining for 72 points in an 82-75 Eagles’ victory," Lehigh's press release boasts. The second half was one for the ages, with Moldoveanu hitting huge shot after huge shot, but McCollum and the Mountain Hawks refusing to concede, cutting the deficit time and again, but ultimately falling in the end.
As a team, American shot a blazing-hot 64% in the second half.
With two all-Patriot League caliber forwards in Moldoveanu and Eagles' F Stephen Lumpkins (12.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg), American has a tough frontcourt to go with a backourt including Georgia transfer G Troy Brewer (10.7 ppg, 36.4% 3-point shooting). But then again, the emergence of F Holden Greiner for Lehigh underneath (6.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg) to go with Gabe Knutson (12.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg) means that the Eagles will be going up against a tougher frontcourt, perhaps, than they did last time.
In the end, though, it's hard to escape the individual matchup between The Mad Romanian and the guy I'm going to call "Hall of Fame" (as he's from Canton, Ohio, home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame).
It should be a great game - but many will be coming to see the show the No. 1 scorer in the Patriot League go up against No. 2. As far as they're concerned, they may as well pitch the tent over Stabler arena. It should be very, very entertaining.
The game starts at 2 PM on Sunday - a perfect Super Sunday appetizer, if you will - and will be covered nationally on CBS College Sports. If you prefer to listen to your friendly neighborhood Lehigh guys instead of those Army/Navy guys (just kidding, John and Bob), you should fire up Lehighsports.com and listen to Matt Kerr and Greg Falkenbach.