In this file photo, senior defender Alyssa Riporti charges down the field during the Patriot League Tournament Quarterfinal game against Lafayette on Nov. 1, 2016 at the Ulrich Sports Complex. This season, the team holds a 3-2-1 record and will begin Patriot League play against Army at 7 p.m. on Satuday, Sep. 16, 2017, at West Point. (Annie Henry/B&W Staff)

Lehigh women’s soccer in search of identity before Patriot League play begins

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After notching its first winning season last year since 2010, the Lehigh women’s soccer team is looking to take the next step in its program turnaround.

Coach Eric Lambinus said this year the Mountain Hawks are at a level to compete in the Patriot League and are playing a more challenging schedule than last year to prepare themselves for conference play.

The team started the 2016 season with an eight-game unbeaten streak (7-0-1), the best start in school history, but it then lost two of its first three Patriot League matchups.

“Last year, we weren’t really challenged until we got into the league and then we struggled a little bit,” Lambinus said. “We want to have a better sense of who we are by the time we get into the league.”

Senior captain Alyssa Riporti said playing a more challenging schedule is good exposure for the team, and its goal this year is to use this competition to finish in the top three teams of the conference.

The Mountain Hawks (4-2-1) kicked off this season 2-0-1 with a 2-1 win over Temple University, however, they dropped two out of their next three games before defeating St. John’s University 2-1.

Last season, the Mountain Hawks gave up zero goals in the first six games after putting then-freshman Sam Miller into goal, breaking the school’s consecutive shut-out record. This season, Miller has already garnered two Patriot League Goalkeeper of the Week honors after surrendering only one goal in her first three matches.

Riporti said the team prides itself on defense, but this year the team decided to focus more on the attack.

The Mountain Hawks have adopted a new formation this season. Instead of having four defenders, they are playing with three so they can send another player up the field.

“Knowing that Sam (Miller) is great in goal gives us extra confidence,” Riporti said. “Also knowing that the team is very successful in defense lets us have the ability to take those risks on offense.”

Lambinus said they are trying to create more offensive opportunities this season.

“We want to have the ball more,” Lambinus said. “We want to play more of an attacking style and give ourselves more opportunities.”

Coach Lambinus said the new formation plays into each player’s strength, but the girls are still adapting.

Miller said losing a defender has caused them to give up more goals, but that is not necessarily a bad thing because the team’s offense is benefiting from another player in attack.

Junior goalkeeper Lidia Breen agreed the new formation has given the team confidence that they will be able to bounce back, even if they are scored on.

The new formation, which puts every player in transition, fosters more creativity. The team’s practices have been centered around cohesiveness between the players.

Riporti said the team has focused on playing with the same personnel around it in hopes that building team chemistry will ensure the Mountain Hawks always execute in the final third.

Along with the new formation, Lehigh also switched its schedule. The team is now playing a Friday/Sunday schedule, which mimics that of the Patriot League. The Mountain Hawks will kick off the Patriot League portion of their schedule Saturday against Army.

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