Is a Patriot League Two-Peat on The Horizon For Lehigh?

(Photo Courtesy of Lehigh Athletics)

In both 2018 and 2019 Lehigh reached the Patriot League title, only to fall and see their NCAA Tournament hopes cut short. Following a shortened 2020 season, the Mountain Hawks found themselves back in the Patriot League championship, and while Lehigh grabbed the conference’s NCAA AQ spot as the Patriot League champions it will always be followed by an asterisk due to Loyola having to forfeit.

No matter if a conference title game was played or not, it can’t be denied that the 2021 season was the best in program history for the Mountain Hawks. Kevin Cassese’s squad went 10-2 (8-0 Patriot League), beat Loyola for the first time in program history, and didn’t suffer their first loss of the year until the final week of the regular season when Villanova handed them a 16-8 upset. They ended their season with a 12-5 loss against Rutgers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It was their third trip to the NCAAs in program history and first since 2013.

Digging deeper than their record, Lehigh ended the last spring as a top-10 team in scoring offense (14.08 goals per game) and assists per game (8.58), while leading the nation in faceoff win percentage (.747%) and ground balls per game (41.92). They also were a top-20 defensive team, allowing 10.17 goals per game.

Heading into the 2022 season off the heals of what they accomplished in 2021, the Mountain Hawks are the clear team to beat in the Patriot League. Everyone (especially Loyola) will bring their best against Lehigh this coming spring. But as they will likely be taking hits from all corners for the entire season, Cassese will be leading a roster that could very well run the table in the Patriot League and get back to the NCAA Tournament if they can put all the pieces together.

The biggest are of success for the Mountain Hawks in 2021 looks like it will be just that again in 2022: the faceoff dot. After splitting time with Connor Gaffney as a sophomore during the shortened 2020 season, Mikey Sisselbeger took the spotlight at the dot for Lehigh. The Center Valley, Pa. native put up a truly record-breaking season, going 225-for-283 (.795%) at the dot. His performance not only put up atop the nation, but also atop the record books with the best winning percentage in a season in both Patriot League and NCAA history. His 160 ground balls and 21-ground ball performance against Lafayette broke program and conference records.

Sisselberger, who was named a first team All-American, was the X-factor for this Mountain Hawks squad last season and its hard to see him not, at least, replicating that same success in 2022. He was Lehigh’s most impactful player last year and with him returning, despite what the Mountain Hawks may or may not lose at other positions, they will likely have a chance to challenge for a Patriot League title this coming spring.

Returning that x-factor at the faceoff dot in Sisselberger is huge for this Mountain Hawks squad coming into 2022, but it isn’t the only place where this squad returns that level of talent. Lehigh’s offense, which was the top in the Patriot League last season, returns each of their top five scorers from a year ago.

Tommy Schelling (24G/24A), Christian Mule (31G/14A), and Cole Kirst (26G/8A) look to lead the way at attack this spring after headlining this Mountain Hawks’ offense while putting up gaudy numbers this past spring. The attack trio will be joined again by what should be a pretty solid midfield, despite losing three key players who saw starts last season.

John Sidorski (11G/21A) and Justin Tiernan (19G/4A) were top five point-getters last season and look to headline this Lehigh midfield again in 2022. Cole Scott returns after a freshman campaign that saw play in 12 games with six starts while tallying 13 points off 11G/2A). Matt Marker and Quinn Armstrong are two of the Mountain Hawks’ reserve midfielders from last season who could see increased roles or production. The pair combined for 16 points in 2021.

Lehigh’s offense will certainly be attack-heavy again in 2022, and frankly, that should be enough for them to churn out another season atop the Patriot League, especially with Sisselberger’s ability to consistently give his team an edge in the possession battle. However, how this midfield unit comes together and progresses, particularly at the bottom, will certainly be something to watch within this Mountain Hawks’ offense this spring.

The Mountain Hawks’ defense, which was a top five unit in the conference last season, also returns a majority of their talent from a year ago, which includes a pair of fifth-years in LSM/D Teddy Leggett and goalie James Spence. Leggett led the Mountain Hawks in caused turnovers with 15 and finished the season second on the team in ground balls (43) in 2021. Spence, who is a four-year starter, amassed 142 saves with a 56% save percentage to anchor a Mountain Hawks defense last season.

In addition to the aforementioned fifth-year returnees, the Mountain Hawks will see two full-time starter at close return in Anthony Tangredi (10GB/13CT) and Michael Hagenberger (12GB/1CT). With the graduation of Matt Douglas, Patrick McIlroy (7GB/3CT) is the only other returning pole who saw any starts last season. The senior started in three games with 10 appearances in 2021 and has seen 17 starts in 28 games throughout his college career.

Nick Turrini and Jack Spence are two of the top returning SSDMs for this Mountain Hawks squad, while reserve LSM Ryan Niggeman also returns to highlight this rope unit. The three could very well see their production increase next season. Judah Hicks also returns after not playing last season. Serving primarily as an LSM, he put together solid campaign during the shortened 2020 season.

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