There was anticipation in the air at Lehman College last week.
The stands overlooking the soccer field were filled with an array of noisy fans, all there to see the Lightning’s women’s soccer team finally take down its old nemesis, the College of Staten Island.
It was a game that had been circled on the Lightning’s calendar since the conference schedule was released months ago as it presented the Lightning a chance at reversing some painful history with the Dolphins.
Staten Island, you see, has ended Lehman’s season in each of the past four seasons, with two of those defeats coming in the City University of New York Athletic Conference championship game. Including last season.
So with a frenzied packed house on hand and revenge on the menu, the Lightning seemed ready to roll in their biggest game of the season so far.
But like it has so often in this matchup, it was Staten Island that came away with the win. CSI’s Nermina Bracic put a shot past Lehman goalkeeper Rebecca Gritz in the 71st minute, and Samantha LaValle added another goal in the 84th minute before the Dolphins held off a spirited comeback attempt by Lehman in the final ticks, escaping with a 2-1 victory.
It was Lehman’s first conference loss of the season as the Lightning slipped to 6-3-1 overall on the year, 2-1 in the CUNYAC. Staten Island is now 8-6 overall and a flawless 5-0 in conference play.
“I don’t think we played well,” Lehman head coach Casey Melilli said. “I don’t think we played the way we usually play. I told the girls I think we played scared. I think they got a little bit too worked up, (Staten Island was) a little bit too much in their heads, and I think they played a little scared. And that affected us.”
It was the most anticipated game of the season for Lehman, and the magnitude of the match might have played against the Lightning.
“They were excited coming into this game,” Melilli said. “We spoke about it, and mentally they were ready. But I said to my assistant (Samantha Dias) before the game, ‘I hope we’re not over-ready.’ I think tactically we were ready, but I don’t think we played to the best of our abilities. I think we were thinking too much about them.”
But credit the Lightning for not mailing it in once they got down 2-0. Strangely, Lehman seemed to become energized, and when Melanie Siranaula scored in the 86th minute to pull the Lightning within one, hope was alive, and the boisterous Lehman crowd was back in the game.
Three minutes later, in the game’s waning moments, the Lightning had a chance to pull even.
But a shot on goal by Lehman defender Tawanda Kerr went wide, and Staten Island was able to head back over the Verrazano Bridge with another win in the series.
So is Staten Island now firmly in the heads of the Lightning players?
“Because of the history we have with them, yeah, maybe that could be,” Melilli said.
“But I told the girls it’s not over. It’s not. We have three more conference games to go.”
Lehman senior Daisy Gomez, the CUNYAC player of the week going into the game, said she regrets the Lightning didn’t bring their A game to the match.
“I think we were looking forward to this game, but once we got on the field, I think some of us pulled back a little bit,” Gomez said. “I just think we need to get more focused and make sure that we have pride in ourselves and know that we can do it. Then I think everything will get better.”
The Lightning will now turn the page and focus on their final three conference matches, at Brooklyn College (Oct. 17) and at home versus John Jay (Oct. 20) and versus City College (Oct. 24). And who knows, it could all lead to another matchup against the dreaded Dolphins in yet another CUNYAC tournament matchup.
“We’d like to see them again, and I think we will,” Melilli said. “I think now we know what to expect, and we’ll see where it takes us.”
Gomez, a senior, also hopes for one more shot at Staten Island before calling it a career.
“Yes, I think we will see them again, and we’ll give it our all,” she said. “And hopefully we’ll finally get the result we want.”