SPORTS

Lehman locks up title, eyes CUNYAC crown

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Lehman College men’s soccer game against Medgar Evers last week was more of a formality than anything else.

The Lightning’s victory over the College of Staten Island earlier in the week already had given Lehman its second consecutive City University of New York Athletic Conference regular-season championship. But there were still two things the Lightning was hoping to accomplish before the postseason rolled around — finish the conference season unbeaten and not allow any scores.

And that’s exactly what the Lightning managed to do against the Cougars as Salh Alzubidi netted a first-half goal and Mamadou Talla added a second-half tally as Lehman finished the conference season a flawless 8-0 with a 2-0 victory over Medgar Evers.

“I knew I had a good team,” Lehman head coach Toma Gojcevic said. “My biggest worry was how would the new guys fit in, the chemistry on the team, and how was that going to develop.”

Give the Lightning an “A” in chemistry as Lehman newcomer Alzubidi was everything Gojcevic could have hoped for, and more. The 5-foot-10 junior not only led the Lightning in scoring in his first season after transferring from Westchester Community College, but he led the entire CUNYAC as his goal in the victory over Medgar Evers was his 15th of the season.

“Salh has come in and done a great job,” Gojcevic said. “He’s our go-to guy. He’s scored 15 goals and honestly he probably could have had 20. He’s been everything I saw when I was recruiting him. He’s a special kid. A good person and a great teammate.”

Alzubidi was leading Westchester Community in scoring last season while the Lightning was earning its CUNYAC regular-season and tournament crowns. So this unbeaten season and regular-season title are that much more special for Alzubidi.

“We were the champs of CUNY last year, but I wasn’t a part of it, so this is something new for me,” Alzubidi said. “I wanted to go undefeated, and we’re doing everything so far. Now our goal is to win the CUNY tournament and go to the NCAA and win there.”

Going unbeaten in conference play is one thing, but going unscored upon? That’s quite the accomplishment — and a goal the Lightning used as a rallying point.

“As soon as we started winning these games 4-0 and 5-0, everybody was like, ‘You know what? We don’t want to give up any goals,’” Gojcevic said. “So that’s been the mantra: No goals. Keep a clean sheet, and they have really been incredible.

“This team has more depth than last year’s team, and this team is better than last year. We have more scoring depth, we have more midfield depth, and our four defenders with (goalkeeper) Chris Mulholland have been insane. We’ve scored 24 goals and we haven’t given up a goal yet, which is remarkable.”

The Lightning, which finished the season with an 11-4-1 overall record, will now set their sights on repeating as CUNYAC tournament champions with their next match set for Saturday in the conference semifinals against the winner of the Baruch-Staten Island quarterfinal-round winner.

That game will be played at Lehman at noon.

“It’s nice, it’s a great accomplishment, and it’s a testament to the old guard that’s been here and Salh coming in,” Gojcevic said. “All he does is score goals. And Eduardo Victorio, one of our freshmen, has also been unbelievable as a left midfielder. He’s got pace, speed and smarts, and he’s done a wonderful job.”

The Lightning now sit two wins away from a return to the NCAA Tournament and another chance to make some CUNYAC history as no conference member has ever won an NCAA Tournament game. Lehman is looking to be that first team.

“The goal is to try and win this thing again and then get that first win in the NCAA Tournament,” Gojcevic said. “We’ve been saying that since the captain’s practices in late July. But honestly, I don’t feel that pressure anymore. We played the whole season with a target on our backs, but now we’re the conference champs again and we’ve seen what we’re up against.

“John Jay is a very good team, Staten Island is a very good team, and Brooklyn (College) has done a good job. So with the top four or five teams, things could go either way. But I’ll push my team to do the best they can to win this again.”

Or for the first time, in Alzubidi’s case.

“This means a lot,” Alzubidi said. “I wanted to be part of a championship, and now I have a taste of it.”

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