In a tri-match with City University of New York Athletic Conference foes Baruch and John Jay two weeks ago, the Lehman Lightning was sure having some fun.
There was lots of singing and dancing along with a generous helping of exuberance throughout the two contests for the Lightning. But the celebrations ground to a halt at the end of the day when the then-unbeaten Lehman teams eventually lost both matches.
So senior Jose Bautista thought it prudent to gather his team together early last week and discuss some changes going forward.
“That was stressful and it had us all thinking about it,” Bautista said. “Then we all came to an agreement to just focus more on our game, because at the end of the day, we lost those games due to our mistakes. It wasn’t anything they were doing to us. So we just needed to stop joking around, because that’s what’s been our downfall..”
There was decidedly less singing and dancing last week, which may be out of character for this Lightning team. But it translated into a four-game winning streak for Lehman, rolling off straight-set victories over Brooklyn, Medgar Evers, Wilkes University and Staten Island, before a non-conference loss to Cairn University ended the impressive run.
However, it was enough to convince Bautista that Lehman (13-9 overall, 3-2 CUNYAC) had turned the corner and righted its ship.
“If we can keep doing what we’re doing now, we’re definitely going to be in good shape,” said Bautista, who logged 25 assists in the home win over Medgar Evers. “I’m definitely excited for the rest of the season because we’re playing really great right now.”
There were outstanding performances from all over the roster last week as Lehman coasted in each of its victories.
Against Brooklyn, Bautista logged 24 assists while Roberto Ventura Diaz recorded 16 kills in the 25-14, 25-21, 25-16 sweep.
Against Medgar Evers, Yaw Eshun registered 11 kills with Ventura Diaz chipping in nine digs in the 25-11, 25-11, 25-14 rout.
When Wilkes was swept 25-12, 25-13, 25-22, it was the George Montilla show as the junior piled up 31 assists in the win.
And in the 25-13, 25-16, 25-15 sweep of Staten Island, Eshun was back with 14 kills while freshman Felipe Velandia added 12 kills, and fellow first-year player Juan Carlos Santos picked up 16 digs.
Sophomore Peter Veljovic also turned in strong performances all week, and tallying 14 kills, five blocks and three aces in the four wins.
Lehman ended the week with a straight-set loss to Cairn, a school out of Langhorne, Pennsylvania, 25-20, 25-21, 25-19. But all in all, a solid bounce back week for the Lightning.
“We’ve been slowly progressing and working on the minutiae of the game,” head coach Sovanny Ebbesen said. “Little by little, in every practice, we work on our defense, and our blocking is getting much better. All season we’ve been playing top-rated teams, and every game we learn something new. And their confidence is growing.”
The victories over Medgar Evers and Wilkes marked the final home games of the season for the Lightning, who now have nine games remaining — three of those conference games. The first of those was at York College on March 21, starting a week in which the Lightning also face Springfield College on March 24 as part of a tri-match. Springfield is ranked No. 1 in the nation in Division III.
“We have (nine) games left and we still have to play Springfield, and that is going to be a good game for us,” Ebbesen said. “We’ve already played the No. 2 and No. 4 teams in the nation (Kean and Stevens Institute) earlier this year, so now we’ll see how we stack up against other teams of their caliber.”
But whatever success the Lightning have between now and tournament time in April will all take place away from Lehman’s home, The Apex.
“Yeah, and we’re undefeated at home,” Ebbesen said, laughing. “We play better at home, but we’re going to have to adjust to being on the road all the time now.”
Not a problem, says Bautista.
“I’m actually excited because teams definitely don’t want to play against us because of the threat that we are now,” Bautista said. “But every game from here on is going to be very important.”