Lehigh’s softball team defied the odds when they won back-to-back Patriot League Championships in 2011 and 2012.
Playing with a championship mindset throughout both years, coupled with the camaraderie of both teams, the Mountain Hawks finished on top two years in a row. With a combined record of 73-42 and an in-conference record of 32-7, 2011-2012 represents one of the more dominant stretches in Lehigh softball history.
Catcher Liz Lucas, ‘13, who was a sophomore and junior, respectively, in 2011 and 2012, said it was Lehigh’s mindset that led to its success. Lucas was a First-Team All Patriot League selection both years and started all 105 games during that stretch.
“It was not the thought of making it back, but every game or practice was working toward the championship game,” Lucas said.
Pitcher Rebecca Bliss, ‘13, was also a First-Team All Patriot League selection in 2011 and 2012. Bliss, who had a 2.97 and 2.08 ERA, respectively, in those years, said what carried the team forward was how close they were on and off the field.
Head coach Fran Troyan said when the lights are the brightest, the best are ready to compete.
“Championship mindset starts a year out,” Troyan said. “You have to be able to train your mind and practice it because when you’re in the championship setting, you have already played the game.”
In 2011, the Mountain Hawks defeated Colgate in the Patriot League Championship 14-0. It was a team effort, but Lucas was a significant contributor.
Lucas set a Patriot League record with three home runs in the championship game — which lasted just five innings.
“I can tell you the exact location of the pitch that I got three times,” Lucas said. “It was high and inside that I crushed out of the park three times. It was three different pitchers, the same pitch, and all three of them were sorry.”
Troyan said the experience of that game was surreal. He said Lucas was an incredible leader in all aspects of the game and elevated the whole team through her performance.
“I still am in disbelief Colgate pitched to her,” Troyan said. “The home runs weren’t like they barely made it over the fence. They were absolute bombs, all three of them.”
Troyan said Bliss was one of the difference makers that allowed Lehigh to make the back-to-back run. Named Patriot League Tournament MVP as a sophomore in 2011 after shutting out Colgate two games in a row, Bliss returned the following season to shut out Army in the final game of the 2012 campaign as well, helping Lehigh win 2-0.
The 2011 and 2012 teams were well-balanced, Troyan said. He said they had great pitching, hitting and defense. But the most intangible attribute, he said, is that they loved hanging out with each other and competing.
Bliss said when her class got to Lehigh, the winning culture of the softball program was already embedded, and they were committed to maintaining it. To this day, Bliss said, her teammates are her best friends.
“Our freshman year, we went to the Patriot League Tournament and lost right away,” Bliss said. “There was no reason for us losing and, once as a team we all saw that, it motivated us to switch mindsets. Everything just clicked after that.”
Lucas said, similarly to Troyan, a championship season starts a few weeks after the last one ends. Whether it be in the weight room or on the field early in the year, Lucas said the team always had the season in mind and were always working toward that goal.
“We refused to lose. Every practice and game was working for the championship,” Lucas said. “It wasn’t a question of if, it was a question of when. It’s hard for everyone to buy into that mentality since we hadn’t won recently, but once we did, we were successful.”