Season Preview: Lehigh looks to rebound in a new-look Patriot League

After making five straight Patriot League Tournaments, the Lehigh women's lacrosse team has fallen a bit short the last two seasons. The Mountain Hawks are out to change that. A young team coupled with a strong junior class and senior Alex Fitzpatrick between the pipes looks primed to make a run towards a tournament berth where it looks to compete for a league championship as part of a new-look Patriot League.
"The team continues to move in a positive direction," said Lehigh head coach Jill Redfern. "We have seen growth in our team speed, communication and overall fitness."Navy has won four straight Patriot League Titles while Loyola and Boston University are new additions, bringing the league total to nine teams. Six teams now make the league tournament with the No. 3 seed hosting the No. 6 and No. 4 hosting the No. 5 in first round games. The surviving teams join the top two seeds in the typical Patriot League Semifinal and Championship Games (played at the venue of the regular season champion).

Lehigh will tackle the new-look schedule with strong team chemistry, led by co-captains Fitzpatrick and junior Kelly Scott.

"Our leadership is solid," said Redfern. "Our senior class is bolstered by a large and highly competitive junior class.  They are all doing a terrific job of representing our team values."

Leading the attack will be junior Carli Sukonik, an All-Patriot League honoree in each of her first two seasons. She scored 25 goals and added three assists in 11 games last season after posting 41 goals and six assists in 16 games as a freshman.

"Carli will quarterback our offense," said Redfern. "It remains a young unit but one with the potential to produce balanced scoring which is a strength of any quality offense."

Also on the attacking unit will be sophomore Megan Paytas, who finished third with 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) last season. Freshman Krista Dampman out of Garden City, New York will be on the unit as well, along with senior Chelsea Retaleato and junior Emily Solenberger.

Sophomores highlight the midfield, led by Kendall Garden who will anchor the unit. She finished last season fourth on the team in scoring with 16 points behind 13 goals and three assists. Kris AbensNicole Isdaner and Lauren Molina are also expected to contribute. Abens had six goals while finishing third on the team with 16 draw controls. Isdaner finished last season with six goals and an assist, while Molina had a goal, two assists and 17 groundballs in 16 games (14 starts).

Juniors Kelsey Yenco and Brianna Buysse are in the mix at midfield, as are freshmen Julianne D'OrazioLauren Beausoleil,Allison LaBeau and Emily May.

Defense is the team's most experienced unit as juniors Lauren WillcoxKelly Scott and Michelle Abramczyk have started every game since their freshman years. Willcox earned All-Patriot League honors last season, posting 20 groundballs and 12 caused turnovers. Scott is a co-captain who led the team in caused turnovers (18) while finishing second in groundballs (18). Abramczyk has enjoyed a strong preseason, coming off a 17 groundball, eight caused turnover season.  Junior Scarlett Nawrocki and sophomore Hannah Street will also vie for minutes.

Fitzpatrick has started from day one between the pipes. She posted an 8.66 GAA and 50.6 save percentage, earning First Team All-Patriot League honors as a freshman. Fitzpatrick was injured early her sophomore season, but came back to start all 16 games her junior year. She finished second in the Patriot League in saves per game, making a season-high 13 saves in consecutive games against Lafayette and Yale.

Backing up Fitzpatrick will be freshman Taylor Tvedt and sophomore Marina Venezia who is returning from an injury.

The Mountain Hawks enjoyed a strong preseason and are improving in many areas.

"Our team speed is better and that should improve our offensive and defensive transition games," said Redfern. "Our defensive end is looking strong. Our draw team is improved as well."

The Mountain Hawks have some experience on the offensive end, but need to continue making strides.

"Offensive production is a major focus for this team," said Redfern. "The Division I game is more physically demanding each year, so staying healthy will be very important."

The season begins on Saturday, Feb. 15 vs. Wagner and the Patriot League opener is set for Mar. 8 against Bucknell. The Mountain Hawks begin with three straight home games as they prepare for the stretch of in league play and a potential postseason run.

"Our biggest goal is to play tough and play together," said Redfern. "We are making great strides in both areas."

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