published Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Sam Mahtani new coach for Lady Crusaders

Tennessee Temple University will have its new women's soccer coach in place — for the third game of the season.

Sam Mahtani is coming from the Chicago area to take over the Lady Crusaders, but he won't be in Chattanooga until this weekend.

After their original season and home openers were canceled because Hiwassee doesn't have a team, the Lady Crusaders play today at Reinhardt and Friday night at Finley Stadium against NCAA Division I neighbor UTC. They were to host Oakland City on Sept. 4 but now are playing at the Indiana school on Sept. 2.

That will be Mahtani's first match with his new team, and it will be against his Temple predecessor, Emmanuel Awotula.

Mahtani has been an assistant women's coach at Trinity Christian in Palos Heights, Ill., since graduating there in 2010. He was a defender for the Trolls and a team captain his senior year.

He admitted that leaving coach Josh Lenarz's staff after the Trinity season has begun is unusual and "very interesting," but he has Lenarz's full blessing.

"He's not only my boss but also a mentor for me, and he knows being a head coach is something I've been wanting to do," Mahtani said Monday night by phone.

Temple assistant Megan Lawhorn, who was hired earlier this summer, also has been very helpful, he said. She will direct the Lady Crusaders in the first two games but has been "connecting me with the program and helping me know about the girls."

Mahtani met the 16-player team when he was flown in for interviews last week. He saw the opening on the NCCAA website a couple of months ago, sent some information and was interviewed by phone two weeks ago.

"We interviewed three or four and then brought in Sam and one other," Temple athletic director Randy Crawford said. "We let him meet all our soccer players, and after the meeting they all were saying, 'We vote we take him right now.' They could tell he knew what he was talking about.'

"Then we went to the board, and all the folks including the president were high on him. He got a 100 percent vote from everybody involved," Crawford added. "I'm excited about Sam coming. He's been around a good program, and he's young and knowledgeable, and I think he can take the girls a long way."

Mahtani admitted there are challenges in directing players that not only he didn't help recruit but didn't help prepare for the season opener, but he's eager to accept them.

"I'm very excited to, number one, take over a varsity program at the college level. It's a step forward for me," he said, "as I pursue my calling. I feel called to have an impact on people's lives through the sport of soccer, and this gives me a chance to do that more. I'm also excited about the location and the recruiting opportunities, but my work is cut out for me and I understand that. With only 16 athletes on the team, we've got to keep people healthy."

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