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Lehman reloading, not rebuilding, as wins pile up

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The women’s soccer program at Lehman College has been in existence for only seven seasons. But it’s accomplished a lot in its brief history.

The Lightning have qualified for the City University of New York Athletic Conference tournament in five of its six previous seasons. The team has reached the semifinal round four times, and the championship game twice. And along the way, head coach Casey Melilli has earned a pair of CUNYAC coach of the year honors.

But coming into this season, Melilli was concerned she might not have the horses for another memorable run. With 10 players from last year’s title-game now possessing college degrees, and a slew of newbies — as Melilli likes to call them — dotting her roster, a step back for a season could have been expected.

But a possible rebuilding season seems to have morphed into a reloading campaign as the Lightning sit tied atop the CUNYAC standings with a 2-0 mark in conference play, and a 4-1-1 record overall.

So why haven’t the Lightning missed a beat this season? Well for one thing, Melilli’s back line — thought ravaged by graduation — has become a strength for Lehman.

“The new girls that came, they just stepped right into the role and have played very well,” Melilli said.

“They meshed together pretty well and they seemed to click pretty quickly on the back line, and that’s definitely helped.”

That young line, she said, includes the likes of Melanie Siranaula,Micaela Canapa, Makeda Pyles and senior Tawanda Kerr.

And, as a matter of fact, that back line has played so well that Lehman’s first two conference games saw it smoke Medgar Evers 8-0 before blanking York College 6-0.

What’s even better for the Lightnings’ fortunes this season? Melilli thinks there’s plenty of room for growth in her young team.

“To be honest, I don’t think we’ve been playing to our full potential,” Melilli said. “They definitely get along, that’s for sure. And in terms of meshing, it’s been happening a little quicker than I thought. But I don’t think we’re totally there yet.”

While several of the new players have made an early impact, it’s returning senior Daisy Gomez that makes the Lehman engine go. Gomez already has scored four goals, tying Siranaula for the team lead, and has a team-best 10 points.

“She really knows what’s needed and what to do to win,” Melilli said. “She’s a quiet kid, but she’s vocal with the girls and she definitely leads by example. She knows how to score, obviously, but she also knows what to do to make her teammates successful, too.”

While Gomez sees the Lightning as still a bit raw, the potential for success is evident in Lehman’s deep talent pool.

“We have a lot of freshmen, so it’s been a little hard playing together,” said Gomez, the team captain. “But they all have a lot of talent so we just need to work with them a little more. But things are going well. I just think we need to communicate more, and then I think over the next few games we’ll have everything together.”

Which will be just in time for the Lightning’s regular-season match with the College of Staten Island, a program that has been a thorn in the side of Lehman the past several seasons. The Dolphins ended the Lightning’s 2017 season in the CUNYAC championship game, put the brakes to the squad’s 2016 season in the tournament semifinals, and also ousted Lehman during the same round in 2014.

So have the Lightning have chatted about that upcoming affair a little bit?

“They definitely talk about it,” Melilli said. “I think this year they are a lot more aware of what’s going on in the league, and definitely the girls who have been on the team before certainly talk about that game and what it means and what it’s going to be like. They know our history with Staten Island. Our dreaded history.”

That contest is slated for Wednesday, Oct. 10 at Lehman. But as big a game as that will be, Gomez has her eyes set on a bigger prize — like finally getting that elusive CUNYAC tournament victory. Before she graduates.

“This is my last season and I’m trying to make a big impact and do as much as I can so that we can have a successful season,” Gomez said. “And winning the title, it would be amazing and a great end to my senior year.”

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