Sophomore goalkeeper Jacob Gottwald lunges for a ball during practice on Wednesday Sept. 2 at Goodman fields. As a freshman Gottwald started in goal in 11 games with 46 saves all season. (Molly Brooks/ B&W Photo)

Lehigh men’s soccer wins back-to-back games, prepares for upcoming season

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With back-to-back wins over Manhattan College and Monmouth University, the Mountain Hawks have already amassed one-third of their win total from the last two seasons combined. Finishing 4-12-1 in 2012 and 2-14-1 last season, the 2-0 Hawks can only improve.

For junior midfielder Ryan Bertrando, the Hawks’ quick start this season has much to do with the team’s summer regiment.

“We came back to pre-season about two weeks earlier than the NCAA allowed us and held captain practices,” said Bertrando. “They weren’t mandatory, but it gave us an opportunity to get the whole team back together as a way to help us get back in shape. We really worked hard over these last couple weeks and started focusing more on soccer.”

Senior captain and goalkeeper Ciaran Nugent has returned for a fifth year, as an injury kept him out all of the 2013 season. Nugent, who was the 2011 Patriot League Goalie of the Year, is joined by fellow senior captain midfielder Ali Famili and sophomore captain midfielder Danny Gonzalez.

Sophomore forward Stefan Woort-Menker has attributed the Hawks’ success so far to their meticulous scouting of the opponent. For Woort-Menker, demonstrating the same level of preparation for the marquee matchups as well as the smaller contests is where the team is continuing to improve.

“It gives us a huge boost to beat the big teams but we definitely have taken the easier teams a bit too lightly,” Woort-Menker admitted. “Preparation for every game needs to be better.”

In addition to the eight freshmen on the Hawks’ roster, the team welcomes back one of its former stars: junior forward Austin Decker.

Decker left the University to go on a three-year Mormon mission trip, but has returned to Bethlehem for his third collegiate season – his first since 2010. Decker was named to the Second All-Patriot League Team as well as the All-League Academic Honor Roll in 2010. The former Patriot League Rookie of the Week in 2009 picked up right where he left off by scoring a goal in the Hawks’ 2-0 win over Monmouth.

For a team that struggled on the offensive end last season, Bertrando and the Hawks are in desperate need of Decker’s finishing ability.

“He (Decker) was in the Patriot League Player of the Year talks as a sophomore, and now that he’s back he’s really giving us a boost,” said Bertrando.

As the focus remains on winning matches, Woort-Menker and the Hawks know that building a program for the future starts with recruiting. While balancing practice and games, Woort-Menker has taken it upon himself to show perspective recruits what being a Lehigh student-athlete entails.

“We take them out to practices and we show them how serious we are on the field,” said the Rye, New York native. “With Lehigh being such a great academic school, its not too hard reel them in.”

The undefeated Hawks will take on the Stony Brook University Seawolves (0-2-0) on Friday at 7 p.m. in Stony Brook, New York.

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