Lehman’s surprising volley season ends quietly in CUNYAC semifinals

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Lehman volleyball’s magical run is over.

Just one season removed from a forgettable eight-win season, first-year coach Sovanny Ebbesen breathed new life into the program as she helped guide the Lightning to 15 wins, a third-place finish in the City University of New York Athletic Conference, and an appearance in the conference tournament semifinals.

But that’s where the Lightning’s stellar season ended when they lost in straight sets to No. 2 seed Baruch, 25-12, 25-13 and 25-15 at Hunter College last Thursday evening. Lehman finished its season 15-11.  

“Our initial endeavor was to get third place in our conference, so we hit that,” Ebbesen said. “Then we kept upping the ante, so it’s a little disappointing that we didn’t rally a little bit more. But my team plays with heart. They are a very young team. We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores, so they got a lot to work on. It was just hard coming into this with no championship experience.”

Earlier in the week Lehman had little trouble dispatching of the No. 6 seed College of Staten Island in the quarterfinals as they knocked off the Dolphins in straight sets, 25-10, 25-16 and 25-13. The Lightning was so dominant in the match it took just 58 minutes to wrap things up and clinch their spot in the semifinals.

But unlike the match with Staten Island, Lehman could never seem to get on-track against Baruch, which defeated them 3-1 in the regular season. 

Perhaps the tone setter in the match came in the first set when Lehman and Baruch were locked in a 7-7 tie. But the Bearcats powered a 16-4 run that gave them a 23-11 lead, closing out the first set moments later. 

With momentum clearly on Baruch’s side, the Bearcats then rolled through the next two sets to move on to the championship match.

Baruch then lost to defending champion and top-seeded Hunter, 3-1, in the final.

“The fact that we made it to the playoffs is something we should be proud of, plus the fact that we were ranked third” in the tournament, sophomore George Montilla said. “No one can take that away from us. We worked really hard to accomplish that. We made it to the semifinals, and now we know what it takes to get to the finals, and we’ll be working to do that next year.”

Despite the season-ending loss, it was a great ride for the rising program. Ebbesen and her team were generally upbeat after the loss.

“I told them I’m really proud of them and of our season, and proud that they really hit their individual stride and individual goals,” Ebbesen said. “Our team goals are more long-term than this. But I was proud of how far they have come.”

Three Lehman players picked up postseason awards as Roberto Ventura Diaz earned First Team CUNYAC honors with Jose Bautista and Yordy Diaz being tabbed for the Second Team — more evidence of an up-and-coming program.

“It’s a learning process and it’s something that, with time, we will get even better with it,” Montilla said. “We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores on this team so who knows how far we can go next season?”

It’s been quite the turnaround season for the Lightning, and with a roster full of young — and now experienced — players returning next year, the sky is the limit for Lehman. In fact, the Lightning will lose just one player off its roster, senior Emmanuel Ortiz, who Ebbesen called “the godfather of the team.”  

Montilla, for one, is ready to get back to work eight now.

“The culture around the team, it’s a complete 180 (-degree) turn in terms of how the program is run,” Montilla said. “We all love the organization and how coach runs this program. It’s going to inspire a lot of new players to come in, and this program is only going to continue to go up. 

“So we’re going to use this loss to get better. Now we know what it feels like to lose and we don’t want that feeling anymore.”

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