The Lehman Lightning men’s volleyball team came into last week’s match with Hunter College as the hottest team in the City University of New York Athletic Conference.
The Lightning were riding the crest of a seven-game winning streak and already had blown past last season’s eight-win total. Now Lehman was taking aim at the defending CUNYAC champion Hawks, who also happened to be the tenth-ranked Division III team in the nation.
The Lehman program, under first-year coach Sovanny Ebbesen, seemingly came out of nowhere to rocket up the CUNYAC standings. Now they were sitting just one victory away from claiming the top seed in the upcoming conference postseason tournament.
Hunter, meanwhile, was the owner of 23 wins already, including victories in nine of its last 10 matches with one of those wins coming over No. 7 NYU. The Hawks’ lone loss? It was to New Paltz, Division III’s No. 2 ranked team.
Yet Lehman gave heavily-favored Hunter all it could handle as the Lightning took the second set — the first time Hunter has lost a set in CUNYAC play all season — and pushed the Hawks to the brink in the fourth set before dropping the match, 3-1, at The Apex. With the win, Hunter clinched the top seed in the CUNYAC tournament with Lehman coming in at No. 3.
“I think everyone knew of Lehman’s (losing) reputation in the past,” Lightning senior Emmanuel Ortiz said. “But now they’re starting to see that this program is progressing. I don’t remember when the last time was when Lehman won even a set against Hunter. But we did that, and now we want one more chance against them.”
After Hunter took the first set, 25-16, it looked like the defending champs were not going to be fazed by upstart Lehman. But the Lightning immediately responded with a 25-19 victory in the second set. One could sense by their stunned looks the Hawks were wondering, “Who are these guys?”
“We had such a good vibe after that second set,” Lehman sophomore George Montilla said. “We were able to connect with our hitters, our passes were on point, and we were making the right decisions when we were setting. We were seeing what their weaknesses were, who their best blocker was, and who their weakest blocker was, and we were targeting that.”
Hunter pulled ahead 2-1 when the Hawks took the third set, 25-17. And when Hunter jumped out to a 19-11 lead in the fourth set, it appeared the Hawks were about to wrap up their 24th victory of the season.
But the Lightning got off the ropes and came back swinging, earning 10 of the next 13 points to pull within, 22-21, and The Apex crowd was at fever pitch.
There’s a reason Hunter is the defending champ, however, closing out the match by logging three of the next four points to secure the win.