Sports

Lehman men head to NCAA tourney

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The Lehman College men’s and women’s soccer teams were poised to do something no City University of New York Athletic Conference school had ever pulled off — capture their respective conference titles, not only in the same year, but on the same day.

Unfortunately for the Lightning, history will have to wait another day as the women’s team dropped a 2-0 decision to the College of Staten Island before the men’s team made it a repeat with its second straight CUNYAC title through a 3-1 victory over John Jay.

For the Lightning, one out of two isn’t bad.

“I’m elated. I’m happy for the team and happy for the program,” Lehman men’s soccer coach Toma Gojcevic said. “It’s great for the guys, but also for the coaching staff, going out and recruiting and all the hard work. The commitment and all the sacrifices that the whole team made, it’s really rewarding to do this.”

The Lightning men’s team came into the championship game having played a flawless regular season in which they didn’t just go unbeaten at 8-0, but also were not scored upon. And they were determined John Jay would not ruin this run. 

Sophomore Shevante Scott scored a first-half goal off an assist from Salh Alzubidi for a 1-0 lead at the intermission. About four minutes into the second half, Lehman went up 2-0 on a goal from Nabi Ben Bangoura.  

John Jay pulled within a goal in the 85th minute, but Alzubidi — the CUNYAC player of the year — sealed the victory with his team-leading 18th goal of the season. And with that, the Lightning’s second straight CUNYAC title was clinched.

“It’s really special,” Gojcevic said. “I was worried how the team was going to mesh with all the new guys this year. But after a while, the chemistry became even better than last year. Salh was a big part of that. Salh came in and he just fit.  It’s crazy what that kid has done.”

Alzubidi missed 10 minutes of play with an injury to his left leg, but shortly after telling Gojcevic he was good to go back in, he netted the goal that closed out John Jay. With his left leg.

“This is really big for me,” Alzubidi said. “It’s my first season here, and it’s my first time in the NCAA. “My first goal was to win the CUNY, and now it’s to win that first NCAA game. That’s our biggest goal right now.”

No CUNY school has even won an NCAA tournament game, and Lehman will try to be the first one when the team travels to Williamsport, Pennsylvania to take on Lycoming College on Nov. 11.  

“The boys are ready,” Gojcevic said. “They understand what’s at stake.”

Lehman women’s soccer coach Casey Melilli said there was a nice vibe on campus all week leading up to the championship games.

“It was definitely exciting,” Melilli said. “There was definitely a buzz around campus. Everyone was talking about it, and they were all excited for us.”

Unfortunately, they ran into an old adversary in their title game tilt when they faced College of Staten Island. And just as they did in the 2015 championship game when these same two teams met, the Dolphins came out with the victory.

“We’re still trying to figure out how to get by them,” Melilli said.

The score was knotted at 0 at the half, but a pair of Dolphins goals in the second half spelled the end of Lehman’s dream of a first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament. 

The Lehman women’s soccer program has only been around since 2012. But since its inception, it has been a regular participant in the CUNYAC tournament playoffs, and has twice reached the conference title game. Now if they could just solve the College of Staten Island.

“I’m so proud of these girls,” Melilli said. “Our season was a testament to our seniors’ hard work and determination. It’s more frustrating (getting to the title game and losing) than anything else, but I am proud of what they’ve done and getting us to the point we are today with the program.”

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