In the days and weeks ahead, Casey Melilli’s life is about to get a little more hectic.
Once school begins after Labor Day, Melilli — a math teacher at P.S. 187 in Washington Heights — will have to race out of her day job, hop in her car, and brave the infamous city traffic to get to Lehman College.
There she’ll get ready for her other gig — that of being the Lightning’s head women’s soccer coach.
Stressful? You bet. But for Melilli, the soccer field is an oasis in her frenetic world.
“It gets a little hectic, but I look at it as my release when I come to the soccer field after dealing all day with middle-school kids,” said Melilli, who is beginning her fourth season as the Lightning head coach. “Coming to work with my girls, some of which I’ve been with for four years now, it’s kind of my release. Even though it’s stressful and hectic, it’s relaxing to me.”
It ends up being just stressful and hectic for the rest of the City University of New York Athletic Conference. You see, Melilli has been at the Lehman helm for three seasons, and in that time, she has led the Lightning — now in only its sixth year of existence — to an appearance in the CUNYAC finals two seasons ago, the semifinals last year while piling up a 14-4 league record the past three seasons, and earning a pair of conference coach of the year awards.
Now Melilli is back with a senior-dominated roster, and is looking to take that extra step by winning the program’s first-ever CUNYAC title. And leading that charge will be senior Daisy Gomez.
“Daisy is back this year, and that will definitely help,” said Melilli, who led Lehman to a flawless 6-0 CUNYAC mark in 2015. “She’s a playmaker. She knows where the ball needs to go. She’s one of those players who sees the play before it actually happens, and she can also finish.”
Gomez is joined by the Sanchez sisters, Pamela and Gredia, who also bring senior leadership to the Lightning.
“Pamela holds down the middle of the field for us, and Gredia plays right behind her, so that’s a pretty good tag team right there,” Melilli said. “But we also have a couple of good midfielders returning, and a couple of good defenders returning as well. We’re just going to have to fill in some spots here and there.”
Lehman has knocked on the door of a CUNYAC title for the past two seasons, but was denied each time. That back-to-back disappointment is what will fuel the Lightning this time around, according to Melilli.
“I think we’re on par with the competition this year, and hopefully we can just get over that hump that keeps hitting us in the face every playoffs,” she said. “But I don’t need to motivate the girls. They’re pretty motivated themselves. I have a lot of seniors on the team this year, and all of those girls have gone through the heartbreak of losing in the playoffs and losing in the final, so they know this is their last chance. So that right there is the motivation to drive them.”
Melilli will break in a new goalkeeper in Rebecca Gritz, a player she is high on.
But make no mistake. This season, it’s all about how far the seniors can take this Lightning team. The season kicks off on Sept. 1 when Lehman travels to Centenary University for a season-opening tournament versus the hosts and the Coast Guard Academy.
“That will be a good test for us,” Melilli said. “We’re playing two schools we have never played before, so it will be a good way for us to open the season.
“But our seniors are the key this season. These seniors have been pretty successful in their careers at Lehman so far so they don’t want to let themselves down in their last season. They just want to keep playing and keep winning, and hopefully finish off their senior season on a high note.”