When Lehigh and Colgate qualified for last year’s NCAA tournament, they became the first Patriot League duo to play in the postseason since 2005 when Navy and Army did.
The Mountain Hawks, who knocked off Colgate for the conference tournament crown, and the Raiders, who advanced to the NCAA tournament quarterfinals, are ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the Patriot League preseason poll and in many publications’ national top 10 polls.
With those rankings, however, come high expectations, which haven’t escaped the attention of Lehigh coach Kevin Cassese, who spoke during the league’s conference call Wednesday.
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“It does set the bar, and now we understand that we can achieve at that level,” he said of his team’s 14-3 record. “But we also understand that this is a new year and even though we’re a veteran team, we have new people. You turn over a good percentage of your team every year, but when you do some things that you haven’t done around here ever – like winning Patriot League championships and going to NCAA tournaments and winning nine games in a row and all of that type of stuff – now you kind of wake up and say, ‘We are capable of doing this. What are we going to do this year and how are we going to try to better ourselves and take the next step with the program.’ And I think that’s what it’s all been about. Certainly the message coming from me to the players and from the players among themselves is, we want to continue to raise that bar, and we’re going to always try to elevate our goals and we’re going to try hard to meet those goals. So I don’t think that changes. We did the same thing from year one to year two, and we’re going to do the same thing from year five to year six. So I think no matter what you do, there’s always room for more, there’s always room to get better, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The Mountain Hawks return a well-stocked roster, including seven starters and four on defense in junior defensemen Ty Souders and Lukas Mikelinich and senior defenseman Mike Noone and sophomore goalkeeper Matthew Poillon.
Colgate is headlined by senior attackman and reigning Tewaaraton Award winner Peter Baum and seven other returning starters. But coach Mike Murphy insisted that his team’s 14-4 mark and regular-season title from 2012 are not pertinent to the conversation in 2013.
“We’ve got to worry about being better every day,” he said. “We can’t worry about the things that we did last year. That was last year. That was last year’s group. [Senior attackman] Peter Baum has got to be better. [Sophomore attackman] Ryan Walsh has got to be better. [Junior attackman] Brendon McCann has got to be better. [Junior defenseman] Bobby Lawrence has got to be better. Because everybody’s working hard. It’s interesting. With social media and those things, you can see what everybody else is doing. So my hope is that my guys are paying attention to some of those things because as much as you think you’re working hard, there are other guys working just as hard and you’ve got to be different. You’ve got to make sure that you’re putting your work. You can’t control what your Feb. 9 opponent is doing. You can control what you do on Jan. 23. If our guys here can just worry about themselves and not worry about what the guys did last year, I think this team will be in pretty good shape. But you have to fight complacency.”