Fall Snapshot: Lehigh Mountain Hawks

(Photo Courtesy of Lehigh Athletics)

Welcome to the Fall Snapshot series. Throughout the fall I will be taking an early look at all 75 DI men’s college lacrosse teams and giving a snapshot of where each is heading into the 2023 season.

Head Coach: Kevin Cassese (16th season, 2008-Current)

Lehigh 2022 Record: 8-7 (5-3 Patriot League)

Key Departures: Tommy Schelling (A), Cole Kirst (A), Teddy Leggett (D), Anthony Tangredi (D), Michael Gomez (D), James Spence (G)

Key Returners: Christian Mule’ (A), Scott Cole (A/M), Justin Tiernan (M), Mike Sisselberger (FO), Judah Hicks (LSM)

Transfer Additions: N/A

A year after having arguably its best season in program history, the Mountain Hawks had what could be described as an inconsistent campaign in 2022. Preseason injuries to its top two midfielders put a dent in the offense and led to a much slower start on that end than many would have expected. They also had consecutive losses to Hobart and Cornell to close out February and would end the regular season on a three game losing streak (Colgate, Boston U., Loyola).

Lehigh beat Army West Point 11-10 on March 19th in a game in which they jumped out to an early 4-0 lead. It was arguably the Mountain Hawks’ best performance until the Patriot League quarterfinals, where they throttled Navy 14-8. The Mountain Hawks ended their season with a 13-12 loss against Boston U. in the conference semifinals. That game saw come back from down 11-9 with 9:16 left in the third to force overtime with 4:34 left off a Justin Tiernan goal.

In 2022, the Mountain Hawks had their highs and lows, and certainly showed sings of inconsistency. That was especially true on offense. But they also had one of the best defenses in college lacrosse and one of the best and most dominant faceoff men in the game with Mike Sisselberger taking draws. The latter will still be the case in 2023 despite many questions elsewhere. The expectations, however, should still be for this team to be in the top half of the Patriot League come spring. And if they can be what they were at season’s end, those expectations will be reality.

Burning Questions

What Will The Defense Look Like?

At season’s end this past spring, Lehigh boasted the No. 6 scoring offense in college lacrosse as they allowed 9.80 goals per game. That included holding eight of their 15 opponents to single-digits. Furthermore, the Mountain Hawks had ranked 12th in overall defensive efficiency (24.9%), per LacrosseReference. Now, after that strong season, the Mountain Hawks will be tasked with rebuilding nearly its entire defensive unit.

Four-year All-Patriot League honoree Teddy Leggett (48GB/23CT) has graduated, as well as Anthony Tangredi (11GB/19CT), and Michael Gomez (21GB/14CT). That means the Mountain Hawks entire close defense from a year ago is now gone and that unit will have to be built from the ground up. LSM Judah Hicks (16GB/9CT) is back for a fifth season and is Lehigh’s top returning pole from a season ago. Ryan Niggeman (11GB/9CT) is also back after seeing action in all 15 games last season. Nick Turrini (31GB/5CT) for his junior season after being one of the Mountain Hawks’ top Short-stick defensive midfielders this past spring. All in all, Lehigh’s roster features 13 defensive players; giving this coaching staff plenty of options when rebuilding what was and has been a very solid unit.

In short, Lehigh loses a ton of talent at the close defense position. But with most of its rope unit back, as well as the returning depth, albeit inexperienced, the cupboard is not bare. But how exactly this defense comes together and performs is still very much an area of concern when looking at the Mountain Hawks heading into 2023.

Does The Offense Swing Back Up?

The 2022 version of the Lehigh offense was injury-riddled and therefore was somewhat inconsistent and never at full strength. Lehigh averaged 11.4 goals per game overall and 12 goals per game against Patriot League competition. They averaged 14 goals per game a year earlier in 2021 with much of the same personnel and the same possession advantage at the faceoff dot with Mike Sisselberger.

Midfielder John Sidorski was out for the entire 2022 campaign while his line-mate Justin Tiernan played only the five games and started the last two. In that limited action, he had 11 goals (4 vs Boston U. alone) and also dished out an assist. Attackman Cole Kirst (18G/12A) also missed some time due to injury but did play in 12 games and was the team’s fourth-leading scorer. Kirst, as well as Lehigh’s leading scorer Tommy Schelling (27G/41A) have moved on. Offensive coordinator John Crawley has also exited the program, taking the same job at his alma mater John Hopkins.

Attackman Christina Mule’ (33G/11A) and midfielder Scott Cole (30G/10A) both return after strong campaigns last spring as the leading goal-scorers for the Mountain Hawks. Mule’ and Cole, as well as Quinn Armstrong (18G/3A) and Matt Marker (14G/5A), who returns for a fifth season, form a solid core. Add in a healthy Sidorski and Tiernan, and things are looking even better. Now, with the talent they bring back, can this offense move back closer to its consistency and production of 2021?

Who Replaces James Spence?

Lehigh also loses its defensive anchor from last season with goalie James Spence having exhausted his eligibility. A five-year starter, Spence capped his career in Bethlehem, Pa., with a 2022 campaign that saw him make 169 saves with a 53.8% save percentage. He ranked 1st in the Patriot League and 19th nationally in save percentage.  With Spence’s exit, the Mountain Hawks will be looking to fill that ever-important position. they will have to get that answer from a very young and inexperienced goalie room. And they will have to get that answer from a goalie room that is fairly inexperienced.

Senior Caleb Creasor is the only returning goalie who saw any action last spring. He saw 22:10 minutes of action across seven games and made six saves with a 75.4% save percentage. Juniors Nick Pecora and Will Deskey both saw limited action as freshmen in 2021 and none last spring. Lehigh brought in one freshman at the position in Deerfield (Mass.) product Bryce Pang, who was rated as a three-star recruit by Inside Lacrosse.

Potential Breakout Player

Dakota Eierman, Midfield, Sophomore

Eierman got quite a bit of clock last season as he played in 13 games and saw 11 starts. His production (6G/7A) was scarcer then it could have been. With a season of college lacrosse under his belt thus far, Eierman could very well take a step forward in 2023.

Freshman Class

Lehigh brings in an 12-man freshman class with its 2022 recruiting efforts. The class is headlined by four players rated as four-stars by Inside Lacrosse. That includes attackman Grant Rodny (Air Academy, Colo.) who put on a show at the Adrenaline All-American Game back in July.

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