November 7, 2011
Lehman men wins 1st CUNYAC title
NEW YORK - For the first time in its history, the Lehman College men are headed to the NCAA Division III Tournament and those in the overflow crowd at Randall’s Island rooting for the Lightning will never forget it.
In what was an entertaining, nailbiting, physical and thrilling match, the top-seeded Lightning outlasted third-seeded Baruch College, claiming the win in a shootout victory after both teams had played to a 2-2 standoff after 110 minutes of action on Randall's Island on Saturday.
“I knew we would be able to pull it off in the shootout,” Lehman coach Joe André said. “We did it last year and I thought we would come out on top again. I knew from practice the guys that could nail them and they proved it.”
Thaddeus Ikwuka buried the Lightning’s final attempt to send the crowd and team into hysterics, but the match almost didn’t get to that point.
Following a conversion by Baruch’s Kyle Keague that gave Baruch a 4-3 lead in penalty kicks, Lehman’s Geovanny Arredondo stepped to the line under extreme pressure and kept his team’s season alive for at least one more round by beating Bearcats replacement keeper Helder Correia.
With the match still anyone’s for the taking at 4-4, Lehman keeper Marcos Coto-Batres made arguably the biggest save of the season – and his college career – by diving to his right to knock away Andreas Hansson’s go-ahead attempt and set up Ikwuka’s clincher. Coto-Batres save brought back memories of his outstanding effort in last season’s CUNYAC semifinal match, also against Baruch and also a Lehamn shootout win.
“I expected nothing less from Marcos,” André said. “I actually thought he would make a save sooner so that we didn’t have to go to the second five. But once it did, I had Thaddeus in mind as one of the first guys to shoot and he sealed it.”
While the shootout session was exhilarating in and of itself, the game’s first 110 minutes were just as intense.
Lehman was first on the board courtesy of a familiar combination. In the 23rd minute, junior forward Oumar Niang, the MVP of the match, controlled a feed from the left side by Guihounou Guede and beat Baruch keeper Michael Murphy to his right with a shot into the lower left corner of the net. The strike was Niang’s 15th of the season.
The Bearcats scored the equalizer in the 35th minute on a rocket into the top right corner of the net by Arlind Stafaj.
Less than 10 minutes into the second half, Lehman had a golden opportunity to take the lead back when the Lightning was awarded a penalty kick following a takedown of Niang as he was streaking towards the net. However, Correia, who had entered the game minutes earlier due to an injury to Murphy, stonewalled Guede’s attempt to keep the Bearcats even.
Correia’s save was rewarded in the 59th minute when Boris Lipsman scored to give Baruch the 2-1 lead.
As the clock steadily crept towards 90, Lehman received a miraculous tying goal off the foot of team captain Carlos Ribeiro in the 76th minute. Controlling a deflection, Ribeiro fired a shot from approximately 35 yards out that somehow found its way over the outstretched arm of Correia to once again knot the score, this time at 2-2.
The remaining 14 minutes of regulation and 20 minutes of extratime proved to be some of the most physical soccer of the night, though neither team could break through, setting the stage for the shootout drama.
Lehman’s victory capped a 13-5-1 season and avenged the team’s only CUNYAC loss of the season, which came at the hands of Baruch on Sept. 14. It also completed a stunning ascent that saw the team rise from club status to conference champion in three short years at the helm of head coach Joe André, who once played at Lehman.
“It means a lot to win this,” André said. “I take tremendous pride in leading this program and I approach it with a passion that I don’t think can be matched by too many people given the fact that I played here. Lehman is home, and I’m just glad to give back.”