Having lost his two top scorers Salh Alzubidi and Omar Moro from a program that won two of the last three City University of New York Athletic Conference championships, one might expect Lehman College head men’s soccer coach Toma Gojcevic to be a little subdued about the upcoming season.
But Gojcevic sounded strangely optimistic about the Lightning’s upcoming season. And when he was done reeling off his reasons for his bubbly, positive attitude, one might quickly understand why Gojcevic is most definitely a glass half-full guy.
“Honestly, we’re going to miss both Salh and Omar,” Gojcevic said. “But you know, somebody else is going to have to step up and we have a lot of good players coming in.”
Chief among them is the return of Shevonte Scott. He missed last season’s run to the CUNYAC semifinals while he got his schoolwork in order. Now he is one of the biggest reasons for Gojcevic’s positive vibes.
“Honestly I feel — and my coaches feel — that if we had him last year, we would have won the whole (CUNYAC championship) again,” Gojcevic said.
But Gojcevic was just getting warmed up.
“Among the returners, I think Eduardo Victorio is going to be a big part of our team this year.” he said. “I nominated him for preseason player of the year, and I think he’s really going to have a great year.”
But when he finally got around to his newcomers, that’s when Gojcevic really began to light up. And it starts with a Monroe College transfer named Balvin West, who comes in as a forward.
“He’s very technical and very fast, so I think he’s going to pick up where Salh left off,” Gojcevic said. “I’m not sure if he can be as proficient as Salh, but I think he’ll be close.”
Another addition is freshman Ebenezer Otoo, who built his athletic resume at the International High School of Studies in Manhattan.
“He’s 6-foot-2 and weighs 175 pounds, and he just doesn’t look like a freshman,” Gojcevic said. “I think he’s really going to be legit.”
And then there’s Jamari Kelly, a defender from Jamaica.
“So we have a few really good players coming in,” the coach said.
There also will be a switch in goal as Chris Mulholland, last year’s starting goalkeeper, has been moved to midfielder with sophomore Demiraldo Grunasi taking over in the nets.
“Chris was always a midfielder but played goal for us last year and he did a great job,” Gojcevic said. “But now we need him at midfield, and we have Grunasi, who is a great goalkeeper. I believe next year he is going to be the captain of our team. I really think he’ll make the all-star team because he is such a great goalkeeper.”
After back-to-back CUNYAC championships in 2016 and 2017, the Lightning saw their season end in the semifinals last year. It was a disappointing finish for Gojcevic and the Lightning, and it’s that semifinal loss that is motivating the returning players.
“The guys that I’ve talked to who are returning this year, they’re obsessed with winning it again,” Gojcevic said. “We had Shevonte Scott two years ago when we won it and went to the (NCAA) national tournament. So the guys that I have coming back I know are really motivated.”
Gojcevic loaded up his schedule with Division III heavyweights in order to prepare for conference play, and expects to hold his own against some of the best programs in the region.
“We have a tough schedule, and I purposely did that because I’m hoping we win the conference and then not have to play the top three or four teams in the country” in the NCAA Tournament, Gojcevic said. “We’re playing Wesleyan from Delaware, who is a great team. We’re playing Union College from Albany, and we’re playing Manhattanville and the Merchant Marine Academy. So it’s a tough schedule, and I know we can compete with them.”
It all begins Aug. 30 when the Lightning hosts Sarah Lawrence.
“Shevonte is going to be big for us. I think he’s going to lead the way with Eduardo and Chris,” Gojcevic said. “Chris has been there before and he has great leadership qualities. And I think Grunasi in goal will be great for us.
“I think it can be a very good season for us.”