Top sports stories of 2016

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It was a banner year for Lehman athletics in 2016. Literally. The Lightning women’s basketball program captured the City University of New York Athletic Conference (CUNYAC) championship last spring while the men’s soccer team did the trick this past fall.

But while they may have claimed the only titles I the area, there was no shortage of championship-caliber performances both on the high school and collegiate levels.

So here’s a look at our top sports stories for 2016. 

RKA’s hoops playoff drought ends

The Riverdale Kingsbridge Academy boys’ basketball team came into the 2015-16 season off a two-win campaign and without a playoff appearance in seven years. What’s more, head coach Jason Zulauf announced that he would be stepping down at season’s end. So the Tigers went into full “Win One for the Gipper” mode and when Steven Culpo scored 26 points and William Feldman added 25, the Tigers took down Walton, 68-40, and shocked the Public School Athletic League by earning a victory in their regular–season finale to secure that elusive playoff spot.

Lehman hoops are CUNYAC champs 

Lehman College’s women’s basketball team unleashed their secret weapon on an unsuspecting City University of New York Athletic Conference (CUNYAC) and it paid off handsomely for the Lightning. Head coach Eric Harrison – the all-time leader in wins in CUNYAC women’s basketball history – let secret weapon Amely Del Rosario run his show and all she did was lead the Lightning to the CUNYAC regular-season title. She then followed that up by scoring 30 points in the CUNYAC championship game where the Lightning defeated Brooklyn College, 73-67, in overtime to capture their first conference tournament championship since 2007.

No “Three-Peat” for the Jaspers 

Manhattan was looking to do something only two teams had achieved in the 35-year history of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) – win three straight MAAC tournament championships and move on to the NCAA Tournament. The Jaspers came into last March’s tournament as the two-time defending champions and on a senior-laden team led by Shane Richards and RaShawn Stores, were looking to carve out their own piece of MAAC history. But a second-half rally by Siena spelled the end of that dream for Manhattan as they went down, 89-76, in the MAAC quarterfinals. It marked the end of an incredible run by the Jaspers. “If you told me in April 2011 [when head coach Steve Masiello was hired] that we would go to two NCAA Tournaments, three MAAC championships, three postseason tournaments, and [have the] biggest turnaround in wins in the country, I’m taking it and I’m a very happy man,” Masiello said.

The Bowman Era ends at Manhattan

When Elena Bowman arrived on Manhattan’s campus in the fall of 2013, no one knew the kind of impact she would have on the Manhattan softball program. The senior from San Mateo, California pretty much re-wrote the Manhattan record books during her four years in Riverdale as Bowman was named the MAAC Player of the Week a stunning seven times, was just the fifth player in school history – and the first in 21 seasons - to be named to the Academic All-American Division I team, was selected to two All-MAAC First Teams and one Second Team, helped Manhattan post a 30-win season in 2015-16, the first by a Jaspers team since 1993, and finished her career as Manhattan’s all-time leader in homers with 52. But as she walked off the field for the final time last spring, Bowman was comfortable with the end of her stellar career.

“I’m at peace with it because I know I’ve given this sport everything that I’ve had and given this team everything I’ve had,” Bowman said.

RKA softball and the dominance of Samantha Torres

If ever there was a perfect formula, an “if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t fix-it” scenario, it was Riverdale Kingsbridge Academy softball coach Rob Dicanio’s plan of running senior pitcher Samantha Torres out every game and letting her dominate. Torres would regularly rack up double-digit strikeouts as well as do damage with the bat as RKA rolled to a 14-1 record in the regular season while winning the Bronx ‘B’ Division regular-season title. Torres got the Tigers’ playoff run off to a great start when she struck out nine in a 7-5 win over Van Arsdale in their playoff opener before RKA’s memorable season came to an end with a PSAL quarterfinal round loss to Scholars Academy.

Close not enough for American Studies baseball

In the spring of 2014, the American Studies baseball team saw their dream of winning a PSAL baseball title come up just short when the Senators were knocked off in the city championship game at Yankee Stadium by East Side High School of Manhattan. This past spring, there was East Side standing in the Senators’ way again, this time in the PSAL quarterfinals. It was also going to be Senators coach Howard Blitz’s final season and after coaching for 35 years without a title, it was the last chance for American Studies to deliver some championship hardware for Blitz. But the Senators came up short again as East Side’s Tim Lopez no-hit American Studies in a 4-0 decision.

“This was my 35th season in the PSAL,” Blitz said. “I’m tired and I’ve had enough. I have no regrets about the whole thing. I feel bad for the kids, though. They wanted it badly.”

Lehman men’s soccer wins CUNYAC title

The women’s basketball team wasn’t the only team crowned CUNYAC champs at Lehman this past year. The men’s soccer program earned all kinds of accolades this past season as head coach Toma Gojcevic guided the Lightning to a 10-win season and the CUNYAC championship, a victory which handed the Lightning only their second-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament. Other awards that came Lehman’s way included Gojcevic being named the CUNYAC Coach of the Year while Lehman goal keeper Irvin Barreto was named the conference’s Most Valuable Player.

“All in all, if you look at the big picture, I think it was a great year for the team and it was a great year for me as a coach,” Gojcevic said. “It’s always nice to win the conference championship but being named the conference coach of the year was a great honor as well.”

JFK football perseveres… and prospers 

The Kennedy Knights came into the season having to deal with the sudden departure of former head coach Andy Lancberg, a move which threw assistant coach Augie Tieri into the head coach spotlight. There were also field availability issues which prevented the Knights from practicing on their field early in the season, forcing them to train at Van Cortlandt Park 11 blocks to the north. But Tieri got the Knights to buy into his “Us against the world” mantra and the Knights reeled off four straight wins to close out the regular season which earned them a spot in the PSAL playoffs. Kennedy then defeated Fort Hamilton in a first-round game before losing to eventual PSAL runner-up Erasmus Hall in the PSAL quarterfinals. It was a season that undoubtedly put Kennedy football back on the city football map.

“The future is bright,” Tieri said. “We are back and here to stay.”

Sean Brennan

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