BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Following an appearance in the Patriot League Championship Game, the Lehigh women's soccer team has high hopes in 2019. But to return to that point, and take the next step, the Mountain Hawks know they need to focus on winning every moment. That process began on Saturday with the start of preseason, which has seen a strong returning group lead the way for a talented freshman class of seven.
"We don't really set goals. We set expectations, we set habits," said Lehigh head coach Eric Lambinus. "We try to improve our habits and continually get better. We know our expectations and we know our standards. I believe if we continue to follow those, we'll do really well.
"We're always going to be competitive, but it's not about winning and losing. It's about being the best version of ourselves. If we do that throughout the year, the results will take care of themselves."
In 2018, the Mountain Hawks enjoyed a memorable late-season run to become the lowest seed in Patriot League history (No. 5) to ever advance to the league title game. Lehigh picked up three straight thrilling 2-1 wins – in the regular season finale at Holy Cross, vs. Bucknell in the quarterfinals and Colgate in the semifinals – to reach its first championship game since 2010.
That was last year. This year, most of the team is the same, but it's a new season with a new group and a new identity.
"Being a fall sport, you have the spring season to see where the team is without your seniors," said senior Annika Jansa. "Once the freshmen come in, you're really a new team. We're trying people out in different places and we're trying out new formations. Coach is really open to moving people around, seeing where they fit in and what their position is on the team."
So far, Lambinus is seeing a group that put in work over the summer and came back motivated. This season, the Mountain Hawks will be vying for their fourth straight Patriot League Tournament (which would be a program record).
"I see a really motivated group that's working on trying to get better each day," said Lambinus. "They came back energized, positive energy, and in good shape. We're playing good soccer already. We have a lot of things to work on, but they're doing a really good job taking the next challenge and trying to improve every single day.
"We've asked them to the next best thing every day, and they've done it."
Always an important goal of preseason is acclimating the first-year student-athletes.
"For freshmen, you have to be humble, listen and learn, but you still need the self-confidence to show what you can do well," said Lambinus. "A lot of players in that group are doing it exceptionally well. They're humble, they're listening, they're following our upperclassmen but when they get out and play, they're not afraid to do what they do really well. And that's good, because we chose them for a reason and I believe they're really going to help us."
The returnees are doing their best to make the freshmen feel at home.
"We drive the freshmen to practice every day," said Jansa. "We stay in the dorms during preseason and the sophomores buddy up with the freshmen, so those relationships form early on. We also do a lot of things together off the field, which helps. Our culture on this team is 'together.'"
Together, the Mountain Hawks have an eye on their first scrimmage this Sunday at NJIT, with the season opener five days later on Friday, Aug. 23 vs. Delaware at 8 p.m. Between now and then, they know they still have a lot of work to do.
"We want to gain an idea of what each individual does really well and how everyone fits into the way we want to play," said Lambinus. "We want to start figuring out lineup combinations and what each player can bring, so we can formulate our formation and rotations.
"I thought we were pretty deep last year," he continued. "I believe we're deeper this year and have a number of players who all bring special talents. For us, it's about fitting those pieces together to produce for 90 minutes in a game."
Following the season opener vs. Delaware on Friday, Aug. 23, the Mountain Hawks remain home two days later to host Monmouth on Sunday at 4:30 p.m.
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