With the Patriot League Tournament rapidly approaching, the Lehigh men’s lacrosse defensive unit has less than a week to turn around the team’s recent shortcomings and find its momentum.
On April 7, the Mountain Hawks (8-5, 5-2 PL) fell to the eighth-seeded team in the country and the third in the league, Loyola. Lehigh’s defense let in 16 goals, the highest amount this season. Going into the game, the defensive unit was ranked sixth in the nation.
A week later, Cornell University forced the same outcome, and the Mountain Hawks let in double-figure goals for the fifth time this year.
Lehigh now sits in 19th place for its defensive efforts, allowing an average of nine goals per game.
Junior defender Eddie Bouhall said both games got away from the team because they were worried about what their opponents were doing, rather than how they were playing.
Junior defender Craig Chick, however, said the back-to-back losses were a learning experience.
“Those losses definitely hurt, but I think they’re vital building blocks for us moving forward,” Chick said. “Both those teams really exploited our weaknesses as a defense, and now we have a ton of film we can watch and learn from in order to improve for a huge playoff push.”
Chick said he gives credit to the scout team — players who replicate upcoming opponents’ styles-of-play in practices to help prepare the team — for the games in which the defense has been able to hold its competition to single-digit points.
The foundation of the Mountain Hawks’ overall success this season stems from the defensive unit’s close-knit relationship.
Coach Kevin Cassese describes the three junior defensive starters — Chick, Bouhall and Matt Rimol — as “teammates, classmates and best friends.”
Bouhall said their relationship allows them to play with a basis of trust, hold each other accountable for mistakes and have the team’s best interests in mind. He said it doesn’t matter who makes the stop or who gets the stat because the defense plays for each other and is selfless, which only fuels the trust they have in one another.
That trust is especially important when it comes to effectively and accurately executing their aggressive style of play.
“We’re aggressive and push out, but we’re not worried, because we’re all there for each other,” Bouhall said. “If one of us gets beat, then we’re recovering, sliding and all helping each other out. Trust is a big thing for the defense, and being so close and tight knit with each other makes it so we’re not worried about someone messing up.”
The defensive unit’s goal for the season is to hold the team’s opponents to eight goals or fewer per game, which they’ve accomplished eight times so far. Keeping the number of goals allowed low, however, is not an easy task.
Constant preparation is meant to keep the Mountain Hawks one step ahead of their competition, especially as they prepare to make a run at the Patriot League title.
“Our team mission is to win the Patriot League Championship,” Cassese said. “We need them to be focused and intense as individuals, and we need them to be on the same page at all times.”
To win the championship game, Bouhall said the team will need to continue working on communication so it’s able to work together.
In their three years at Lehigh, the junior defenders have never made it past the quarterfinals of the Patriot League Tournament. They hope this year is different.
Chick said the growth of the defenders on the field will help make a difference in the team’s performance.
“We have been able to limit our immature mistakes that really hurt us last year,” Chick said. “We still show some youth from time to time but, overall, I think all the experience we had over the years has led to great chemistry.”
As the three junior defenders have grown throughout their Lehigh careers, they’ve gained a better understanding of what it takes to be a successful team.
Bouhall said the Mountain Hawks have to learn they can’t be controlled by their opponents if they want to find success in the tournament.
The defense’s plan for the tournament is to trust the schemes they’re given and play the aggressive game they know they can.
Bouhall said it will take the confidence of knowing they are the better players to score an advantage.
“We’re understanding that it’s more about us than it is about the teams we play,” Bouhall said. “So, we’re trusting ourselves and trusting the process.”