It seems as though everyone in the Lehigh community knows about the famous game in which coach Brett Reed and the men’s basketball team took down coach Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke Blue Devils in 2012.
Winning a Patriot League title and playing in the annual NCAA Tournament was already a big deal for Lehigh, but to take down a program that has won five national championships, qualified for 16 Final Fours and produced NBA first-round draft picks annually was unimaginable. March 16, 2012, is a date forever ingrained in the history of Lehigh athletics.
It’s a tale that has seemingly been passed down for generations in South Bethlehem, and many would argue it is the most famous game in Lehigh athletics from the past decade.
But games like this happen all the time.
Women’s lacrosse coach Jill Redfern recalls one of the biggest games of her Lehigh coaching career in 2011. The team went to Annapolis, MD, and beat a nationally-ranked Navy team 15-13 on national television. Redfern said winning games against top opponents like Navy establishes legitimacy to the program.
“Doing well against them establishes competitiveness of our program,” Redfern said. “It keeps the players super invested, and it’s just full cycle of what they’re working hard to do come around.”
Men’s soccer coach Dean Koski said his team’s biggest game was its 1-0 win over Lafayette in the Patriot League Championship Game just three weeks ago. Koski says winning a championship game against Lehigh’s biggest rival in front of 1700 fans was really special to him.
A monumental win like that, Koski said, sets a high standard for underclassmen. He wants to ensure that seniors create a winning culture and the program keeps the bar high year in and year out.
Moreover, Koski, who has now been at Lehigh for 28 years, believes his job gives him an opportunity to do more than simply coach soccer.
“My favorite part of the job is being part of a young man’s life, on and off the field, and helping them navigate life,” Koski said. “They come to me as boys, and they leave as men.”
Lehigh athletic director Joe Sterrett said that, in addition to important wins, losses have as much of an impact on athletic programs.
“The championship wins are big ones, in their own right,” Sterrett said. “It’s so hard to win a championship. You have to stay healthy and play well and have to be a little lucky at times. But I remember some of the losses more vividly.”
He pointed to the 150th Rivalry game against Lafayette, which was played in Yankee Stadium and broadcasted on national television. The game resulted in a 27-7 loss for Lehigh; a loss of that magnitude can undoubtedly be detrimental to a program, but it can also be uplifting.
“A lot of times when you lose, you learn a lot about yourself,” Sterrett said. “If you can redirect that energy, there’s a lot of room for growth.”
Big wins, like the victory over Duke, may steal the most headlines, but losses are a force for improvement. There is no shame in defeat.
Lehigh coaches not only take pride in success on gameday, but also in the relationships they create with their players.
Similar to Coach Koski, women’s soccer coach Eric Lambinus said his favorite part of his job is developing players and building solid relationships with them.
“How Lehigh helps prepare them is why I do what I do,” Lambinus said.
Athletics are much more than what is accomplished on a field. Spectators may love wins against big teams like Duke, but there are more games, wins or losses, that also may have a memorable impact on Lehigh’s community.
With 2020 right around the corner, the athletic program hopes for another decade of meaningful games and developing successful student athletes.