Lehigh Valley Tempest midfielder Emily Banashefski has led a resurgent squad into the midst of the Keyston Division title race. [Mark Lineberger, MLine Images]
As Lehigh Valley Tempest coach Erik Burnstein began preparing for the 2019 WPSL season, he wanted to see a marked improvement from last season’s campaign.
Last year, Lehigh struggled in a highly competitive Mid-Atlantic Conference, sputtering to a 2-6 record. But now Lehigh is back with a mix of veteran talent and exciting newcomers and Burnstein’s team is playing at an incredibly high level.
After opening up the season with a 1-1 draw against Hershey FC, Lehigh has rattled off consecutive wins, including a dominant 5-0 victory in their rematch against Hershey this past weekend. Burnstein firmly believes that the opening game against Hershey served as a wake-up call for the team.
"During our home match with Hershey, we conceded the equalizer very late in the second half,” Burnstein said. “We were very disappointed with that, and we all felt we had dropped points on the day. In the Keystone Division, every point is crucial.”
The rematch served as Lehigh’s coming out party, scoring five goals, dominating possession and shutting out Hershey in the process. Lehigh’s star offensive duo of Kate Bonshak and Emily Banashefski tallied all five of the team’s goals.
The first three goals of the game all came off of Lehigh set pieces, a clear testament to the extensive work the team has been putting in during training sessions. Burnstein has been pleased with the efforts of both Bonshak and Banashefski throughout the entirety of Lehigh’s campaign.
“Kate Bonshak and Emily Banashefski were just fantastic for us the entire game, as they have been all season so far,” Burnstein said.
The final goal of the game was a truly impressive display of technical skill and sheer will from Bonshak. She dribbled through five defenders to find herself in front of goal before calmly slotting the ball home and providing the final nail in Hershey’s coffin.
The collective performance was especially impressive considering that Lehigh entered the match without their full squad.
"Heading into the Hersey game, the players were aware that we didn’t have our entire first team squad available,” Burnestein said. “To get a result on the road, especially in the manner we went about the game, was a great lift to the players and the organization as a whole. We have started the season well, and we really wanted to keep that momentum going as we head into a very difficult stretch of games to end the season.”
That difficult stretch will begin on Thursday when Lehigh faces off against undefeated Penn Fusion SA. With both clubs yet to lose throughout the early portions of the season, the match could ultimately prove to be a fight for the conference title.
With a duo of quality forwards and an outstanding supporting cast, a win over Penn Fusion could be the first step towards a surprising playoff push for Lehigh. More than anything, though, Burnstein is hoping that this season provides his players with a number of lasting memories and a highly competitive experience.
“As an organization, the Tempest is deeply committed to the player experience. We want every member of the squad to fully enjoy their time with the organization,” Burnstein said. “We truly value the players who commit their time and energy to the Tempest, so we want to make sure they have the best possible experience in training, during games and through our community service efforts.”