By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
It might be Jim Robbins' first year as head coach of the LIU Brooklyn women's soccer team, but he expects the team to win right away — and would eventually like to see it compete annually in the NCAA tournament.
“The pieces are in place to do something in this first year,” Robbins said. “We have almost the entire roster coming back, and the kids coming back have a lot of experience. Even last year’s freshman class saw a lot of games last year. So we're setting the bar pretty high, and from what I've seen so far […] I don't think there is any reason we can't push for a Sweet-16 run.”
Robbins might talk a big game for a newcomer, but he has 22 years of experience coaching soccer. He started at the high school level coaching boys soccer and then went on to a couple of Olympic Developmental Programs before he landed a gig as an assistant coach at a Division-I school. For the past five years, he has been the womens coach at LaGrange College in Georgia, a Division-III school.
"So far, we've all been really comfortable with him," said senior Jen Spicer. "We’re going to see some changes; I think we’ll be more offensive-minded, but he’s done a great job communicating what he wants from us, and I think we’re all on the same page already, which is amazing. We’re excited to get the season started to see what we can do this year.”
The LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds have been one of the elite Northeast Conference teams in recent years. Last season, they lost in the finals to St. Francis University, which is the same team they beat to win the NEC title two years ago. They also won the NEC title in 2011 and were in the finals in 2010. It hasn't been since 2009 that the Blackbirds have failed to make it to the conference final.
All but four players from last year’s team are returning. But one of those four players being replaced is goalkeeper Jess Sexton, and that tough job falls on Jessica Montrose, a junior from Lancashire, England who played just 15 minutes last season.
“Jessica has done very well in my opinion,” Robbins said. “She has a little bit to learn because, obviously, she doesn't have the same game experience that Jess Sexton had. She’s been around, though. She’s been here for a year and was at Connecticut for a year before that. We have to see how she handles game situations.”
But while they might have a question mark in the net, the Blackbirds have three key leaders coming back — senior defender Spicer, Shannon O'Connor and Caroline Kaplan. These three will serve as co-captains.
“Those three have been great,” Robbins said of Spicer, O’Connor and Kaplan. “They've made my job as a new coach here so much easier. They're excellent players that lead by example. Caroline is our most fit player, Jen has great vision and knows what we are trying to do here and Shannon is extremely talented and maybe the hardest-working player on the team. It’s a nice core to have.”
The Blackbirds’ best weapon could be sophomore Jenn Peters. Peters, who is also on LIU Brooklyn's lacrosse team, was the NEC Rookie of the Year last season after she led the Blackbirds with seven goals.
“She killed it last year,” Spicer said of Peters. “She was NEC Rookie of the Year, and so far, she looks relaxed and much more confident than she did last year. She’s amazing because she’s only a sophomore, but you already see her taking a leadership role on this team. She’s definitely going to be one of the girls we turn to to help put games away.”
The Blackbirds open their season on Saturday in an exhibition against Hartford in Connecticut. Then they are back in Brooklyn for their first home game on Aug. 22 under the lights as they host Iona College at 6 p.m.
Follow along in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and brooklyneagle.com as the Blackbirds try for their third conference title in four years.