Senior Maddie Peabody looks across the court through defenders in an effort to pass to teammates
Photo Courtesy of Hana Isihara ‘17
Lafayette hopes to dominate Lehigh both on the football field and on the basketball court
Katelyn Arnold ‘17 and Jessica Deutsch ‘15
The Lafayette-Lehigh rivalry is not limited to the football team. It is also deeply rooted with the men’s and women’s basketball team.
On her first day on the job, head women’s basketball coach Dianne Nolan was handed a “Beat Lehigh” pin and was told to wear it if she wanted to make friends. Nolan got it. She had coached at Yale, witnessing the Harvard-Yale rivalry for three years.
“To have an ingrained rival adds to the excitement and camaraderie and the overall athletic experience of being on a team,” Nolan said.
The Lafayette women’s team leads the series record 43-42. That means that each game against Lehigh in the near future holds crucial importance to the rivalry series record. The team has a chance to pull away and create clear dominance.
But the basketball rivalry is different from the football rivalry. The team plays every Patriot League opponent twice through the season. That means two chances to beat Lehigh. Lafayette’s matchup with Lehigh changes every year.
“Every year we’ve went one and one with them,” junior guard Jamie O’Hare said. We’ve crushed them at home and they’ve crushed us away.”
Every year but one. Nolan said that in her first year the Leopards beat the Mountain Hawks on their own turf.
“It was just an awesome time, the camera crew followed us into the locker room, the girls were banging on all the walls we were so elated we hadn’t beaten them in a while,” Nolan said.
Lehigh won the Patriot League in 2009 and 2010, making it even more important to beat them and knock them off the top of the league. Now, the games are more evenly matched.
The game is usually played towards the end of conference games, so the team has a good idea of where they stand in the league. In terms of standings, it’s not a very important game. The rivalry is what gives this game importance.
“It’s one of the greatest feelings to be able to say I’m a part of one of the biggest rivalries to ever exist,” O’Hare said.
On the men’s side, Lafayette holds the series record 138-81. But, in the past ten years, Lehigh holds the advantage 13-11.
The teams first met in the 1901-1902 season, when Lehigh defeated the Leopards. Then, Lafayette and Lehigh played each other three more times until the Leopards found victory, defeating the Mountain Hawks in the 1914-1915 season. It was the beginning of a long rivalry in men’s basketball.
Games against Lehigh are significant for the men’s team, because of the Patriot League.
“A lot of the time when you’re playing these rivalry games, they can make or break your season,” head coach Fran O’Hanlon said. Anytime the Leopards face Lehigh, there is something on the line.
From the freshmen to the seniors, the rivalry is meaningful to all members of the men’s basketball team.
“[They] don’t want to be the team who loses to Lehigh,” senior Dan Trist said.
As a senior, Trist has plenty of experience in games versus Lehigh. His sophomore year the Leopards defeated Lehigh each of the three times they faced them, with the final victory coming in playoff fashion.
“There’s added motivation, there’s history and there’s culture behind the game as well,” he said. “The wins and losses almost matter more.”
There are obvious emotional ties to such a historical rivalry. For veteran players who have lots of experience playing in these games, the history and culture matters. Even the freshmen, who have yet to play Lehigh, have a clear understanding of what these games mean.
“It is a great experience to be a part of,” freshman Matthew Klinewski said. “The atmosphere is electric and its just amazing to be apart of such a historic rivalry.”
He said he is eager to face the Mountain Hawks this season.
After last year’s matches with Lehigh, losing one and winning the other, sophomore point guard Nick Lidner said he is excited about the next game against the Mountain Hawks.
Coach O’Hanlon said that there is an emotional aspect of the rivalry games. He also emphasizes the significance of games against Lehigh to the Lafayette community, especially the alumni.
The Leopards hope to build their victorious record versus the Mountain Hawks when they meet on January 24th and February 22nd. Until then, they look to put themselves in a favorable position to secure a playoff stop.