Unassuming, but not overlooked, Dajani is all-American nominee
Moulton named Coach of the Year; Ortega tabbed for all-region 2nd team
WYE MILLS There is at least one person who hasn’t gotten carried away by Mohamad Dajani’s spectacular 2009 season and that’s Dajani himself.
"I think I get a lot of the credit because I’m the one scoring goals, but I’m just doing my job," said the freshman midfielder, who scored a team-high 16 goals as Chesapeake College set a school record for winning percentage during an 8-5-1 season. "Everyone had their job to do the defense, the midfield, the forwards, the goalie. If you look at our games, the strongest part of our team was our defense."
While all the Skipjacks contributed to the dramatic turnaround from a winless season in 2008, Dajani’s considerable contributions weren’t overlooked by the Region XX coaches. The Cambridge-South Dorchester High graduate has been named to the NJCAA Division I all-Region XX first team, and is one of the region’s three nominees for all-American.
"It’s a great honor," Frank Szymanski, Chesapeake College’s athletic director, said of Dajani’s all-American nomination. "He’s extremely talented, had a great season, and worked well with his teammates."
Dajani finished second in the Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference in goals and third in points (38). He accomplished those feats despite the affects of a month-long Ramadan fast and a right hamstring injury that nagged him most of the season, causing him to miss one complete game and significant chunks of three others.
"I was thinking Mohamad had a shot to be nominated for the all-American team," said first-year Chesapeake head coach Mike Moulton. "Without Mohamad, quite frankly, the team is not the same. He’s such an explosive player."
Another Skipjack freshman, St. Michaels High graduate Luis Ortega, was named to the all-region second team.
"Luis was my most versatile player," said Moulton. "He was very tenacious on defense, and when we needed him to create we’d bring him up to the midfield."
Moulton, meanwhile, was named the Region XX Coaches Association Coach of the Year. He was honored for leading the Skipjacks’ turnaround, including a fifth-place finish in the 13-team Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference and a seven-game unbeaten streak (6-0-1) to end the regular season.
"It’s quite gratifying, especially coming from your peers," said Moulton.
"Mike provided total commitment to his program," said Szymanski. "He did a great job holding the team together through a tough early start (2-4, including four straight losses). I give the players a lot of credit, too, for buying into a brand-new coach’s philosophy. They set high goals, stuck with their plan, and were successful."
The feel-good season seemed unlikely just a couple of months ago. The winless 2008 season cast a long shadow over the program and Moulton, hired late in the recruiting cycle, was scrambling to find enough players to field a team just weeks before the season was scheduled to start.
"Pat Hambleton he’s the guy who pulled everyone together," said Dajani, referring to a sophomore defender who was one of three Skipjacks to return from last year’s squad. "He kept talking to people and getting them excited about playing together."
Szymanski also praised team leaders for ensuring Chesapeake would have enough players to field a team.
"Patrick Hambleton and some other kids worked hard in getting other players to play for the team," said Szymanski. "They were really committed to helping Coach Moulton turn this program around."
Dajani said it took virtually no time for the team to begin bonding.
"That first day of practice we connected," recalled Dajani. "We looked around and saw all these players we had played with or against in high school and realized we had a good team. That gave us a lot of hope."
Dajani said a season-opening victory over Anne Arundel Community College was also critical, wiping away thoughts of the college’s winless streak. That was just the first of many impressive victories, including a win over undefeated and nationally ranked Howard Community College and a triumph at perennial power Montgomery College/Rockville.
Finally, Dajani agreed to at least fleetingly focus on himself.
"This was a very challenging season for me . . . a crazy, crazy year," said Dajani. "First, there was the transition from high school soccer to college soccer. The fasting took a lot out of me, and then on the last day of the fast I got injured. It was very tough missing those four games."
Yet, the story of his freshman season had a happy ending a winning campaign, an all-region selection, and an all-American nomination.
"I’m happy I made the (all-region) list," said Dajani, who added it was "an honor" to be nominated for the all-American squad.
But Dajani is even happier about what the Skipjacks accomplished as a team now that’s something he’s willing to get carried away about.
Photo caption: Chesapeake College freshman Mohamad Dajani, center with headband, has been named to the NJCAA Division I all-Region XX first team, and is one of the region's three nominees for all-American. (Photo by Tom Miller.)
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