Gazda believes that future NCAA tournament berths are possible.
Their paths to Lehigh were different, but sophomores Adam Gazda and Jim Taranto landed in the same spot—in a mosh pit of jubilant teammates, family members, and friends celebrating the team's thrilling NCAA tournament shootout victory over Rhode Island at Lehigh's Ulrich Stadium last November.
The win propelled Lehigh into the Sweet 16, a place it had never been before, and extended a record-setting season for head coach Dean Koski and his 2006 team.
Koski actively recruited both Gazda and Taranto as high schoolers. "When I first saw Adam play, I was immediately impressed with his work rate and commitment to winning," Koski says. "I knew he would bring both attributes to the next level."
Gazda joined the Lehigh program and immediately made an impact. He started all 16 games as a freshman, as Lehigh notched a 10-4-2 record.
"I chose Lehigh because it was as good of a combination of athletics and academics that I would find anywhere," Gazda says. "I knew that I would get a great education."
Taranto, meanwhile, elected to attend the University of Virginia, a storied soccer program from a power conference, the ACC, with a similarly rigorous academic reputation, before transferring to Lehigh.
"My first-year experience at UVa. was not what I imagined," said Taranto. "In high school, I narrowed my college selection down to Lehigh and UVa. and had to make a really tough decision. When UVa. didn't work out, I naturally looked at Lehigh."
Living up to expectations
With Gazda, Taranto, and a host of returning veterans suiting up for Lehigh in 2006, expectations were high and the team did not disappoint. Following a 2-0 loss to Rutgers in September, the Mountain Hawks won their next 17 games. The team was nationally ranked throughout the season, finishing at No. 15 in the NSCAA (National Soccer Coaches Association of America) poll.
Both Gazda and Taranto started all 20 games, and Taranto led the team in scoring with eight goals and four assists, including four game-winning goals. Gazda notched four goals and three assists, including two game-winners. Both were named to the All-Patriot League first team, and Taranto earned first team All-Mid-Atlantic region kudos.
"We had something special this year, where every time we stepped on the field, we played for the person next to us," Taranto says. "One of our mottos this year was from Black Hawk Down
—‘We do it for each other.'"
A Virginia transfer, Taranto led the team in scoring.
A late-season hiccup resulted in a shootout defeat to Bucknell in the Patriot League tournament. But the stellar regular season record not only got Lehigh an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, but a No. 16 seed and a first-round bye. The bye set up arguably the best soccer win in Lehigh history, the come-from-behind victory over Rhode Island before a school-record crowd of 1,271. Trailing 1-0 with just 6:34 remaining, Gazda dodged and weaved his way to the game-tying score, setting up the eventual 5-4 shootout win.
"Winning an NCAA game at home in front of our family and friends was the most memorable moment this season," Gazda says. "Our 'team-first' attitude, great work rate, and willingness to win for each other allowed us to achieve what we did this season."
Though No. 1-ranked Duke ended Lehigh's season in the third round of the NCAAs, the team's final record of 15-2-3 was the best mark in school history. And yet the sophomore pair has no desire to rest on their considerable laurels.
"Winning a Patriot League championship remains on the top of our list, and there's no reason why making the NCAA tournament can't be an annual occurrence," Gazda says.
Lehigh Alumni Bulletin
Photo courtesy of Lehigh Athletic Department