In the week leading up to the Lehigh-Lafayette football game, it was the men’s soccer team that shared some of the attention.
Lehigh (13-6-3, 4-3-2 Patriot) won the Patriot League Championship on Nov. 15 for the first time since 2000, winning its three tournament games in convincing fashion. The team started slowly, with just one win in its first four conference games, but went undefeated in its last five to close out the regular season positively.
According to junior defender and co-captain Justin Worley, the team had made a definitive change after the third loss to get its season kick-started.
“In the beginning of the season we were 1-3 in the Patriot League, which really upset us because we had very high expectations for the season,” Worley said. “And there was a point when we played Loyola that I think everyone started to commit to this defending mentality that we were sick of losing.”
Despite the slow start, junior midfielder and co-captain Danny Gonzalez said the team never wavered in their belief that they would be the last ones standing.
“We started the season off a little bit slow, but ultimately we were able to pick it up and get some momentum going in the playoffs and win a Patriot League title,” Gonzalez said. “A lot of teams didn’t think we could do it, but we thought we could win the whole time.”
Starting with its game against Loyola University (Maryland) and ending with the championship victory, the Hawks went undefeated, winning seven of its nine games during that period.
Worley maintained that this was due more to a change in mentality than to anything else. He said that everyone started playing for each other and didn’t want to let anyone down.
The turning point of the season, at least according to Gonzalez, happened in the midst of the streak, when Lehigh took down then-first place Boston University in overtime.
“It was kind of an eye-opening experience and we thought to ourselves, ‘We can definitely make the playoffs. We beat the best team in the league, why not be able to win a Patriot League championship?’” Gonzalez said.
This win gave Lehigh its first Patriot League Championship in 15 years and its second under Dean Koski’s run as head coach. This time, he was able to fully appreciate the victory.
“I was able to stand back in the moment when the final whistle blew to enjoy how much it meant to the players,” Koski wrote in an email. “They invest so much of their college lives into this program and winning the championship is a capstone to being a student-athlete at Lehigh.”
After a two-win season his freshman year, Gonzalez wasn’t sure if he would ever be here. He said the team just had to continue to work and lift each other up.
Lehigh played its first game in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, losing 2-1 in overtime at Hofstra University. The loss eliminated the Mountain Hawks, but Worley is confident that the team can come back stronger next year.
“You can’t replace the seniors we have right now, they’re a great group of guys,” Worley said. “But I think with the experience and the talent that we have coming in, we’re going to be really good next year.”