Lightning strikes twice, burning Staten Island and Sarah Lawrence

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When Sovanny Ebbesen arrived at Lehman College as the Lightning’s new head volleyball coach back in January, it was a bit of a daunting experience for the native of North Pole, Alaska.

“I was a little intimidated because I didn’t know what I was going to come into,” Ebbesen said. “But it took just a half hour after meeting these guys that I knew we were going to do a lot of good things.”

The Lightning has indeed done a lot of good things so far this season, and Lehman’s straight-set victory over York College last Thursday night — as well as sweeping matches versus the College of Staten Island and Sarah Lawrence over the weekend — are just the latest examples for the surging program.

After dominating the Cardinals in the first two sets, winning 25-11 and 25-14, the Lightning rebounded from a 9-3 hole in the third set to rally for a 25-23 victory. 

The Lightning was then barely tested vs. Sarah Lawrence on Saturday as they rolled to a straight-set victory, 25-5, 25-14 and 25-15, before dispatching Staten Island, 25-17, 25-23 and 25-20 in Saturday’s nightcap of the tri-match. That ran their overall record to 13-9 on the season and 5-1 in the City University of New York Athletic Conference. Lehman now sits just a half game behind both Hunter and Brooklyn College for first place in the CUNYAC. 

Coming off an eight-win season, that represents quite the turnaround.

“I knew we’d be better this year,” senior Emmanuel Ortiz said. “And we’re grateful for our new coach. It’s a new experience and we’re learning a lot about the sport. She’s amazing and we love her, and we’re looking forward to the rest of the season.”

The Lightning has now won six straight matches, with five of those wins coming via straight-set victories. So is Lehman peaking as the postseason approaches in early April?

“I think we are,” Ebbesen said. “Every day in practice it just seems like things are clicking, and my hopes start to go up for this team. I’m very happy for this group, and they want more.”

Not only is Lehman flourishing in the CUNYAC, but several of the Lightning players have made a mark for themselves as well. Ortiz, a senior, is the Division III national leader in service aces, while sophomore Roberto Ventura Diaz is third in the CUNYAC and 19th nationally in points.

“We’re also No. 8 in digs nationwide and Jose (Bautista) is No. 5 in the nation in digs,” Ebbesen said. “We’re up and coming, and we’re happy with where we are.” 

Lehman has two games remaining on its regular season docket, home games against Brooklyn College this week and vs. Hunter on April 4 — the two teams it is chasing for the CUNYAC regular season crown and a coveted bye in the first round of the playoffs. 

For a team that has accomplished so much already, there still is room to make this season all the more special for Lehman.

“They’re a family. You’d think they’d get sick of each other, but outside of practice and games, they’re always hanging around each other,” Ebbesen said. “I smile at practice every day. I smile when I leave practice. I can’t wait to get here to practice. That part is super satisfying because they are just great people to work with. They are good character kids. That part is great. 

“And the part of the game that’s great is that they learn. They’re already athletic, they just need a little tweak here and there. They went from being individuals to playing like a team. 

“I couldn’t have imagined a better scenario. It’s worked out great.”

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