LIU-Brooklyn volleyball coach takes top spot on school's wins list
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
It appeared as if Kyle Robinson had nowhere to go but down when he took over head coaching duties for the LIU-Brooklyn women's volleyball team back in 2008.
Instead, he's helped the Blackbirds soar higher and higher.
Robinson's predecessor, Toby Rens, put together a program-record 32-win campaign in his 2004 debut, earned 2005 NEC Coach of the Year honors and guided the Blackbirds to an unprecedented four consecutive Northeast Conference championships, the last coming in 2007, before departing for the University of Pittsburgh.
Rens, who left Pitt for the head job at Chicago State earlier this year after leading the Panthers to a school-record five consecutive Big East Tournament berths, amassed 106 wins during his dynastic four-year tenure in Downtown Brooklyn.
That left Robinson, fresh off a three-year stint as an assistant coach at the Air Force Academy, with the daunting task of following in the footsteps of an LIU legend.
“It wasn’t daunting at all,” Robinson told the Eagle on Tuesday from his office at the LIU-Brooklyn campus. “We came in with big goals, which was winning more NEC championships and titles. I didn’t really worry about the things I can’t control. I wanted to build the program up to more than it was when I got here and we’re on a good path [toward that goal].”
To his credit, the Brooklyn resident and LIU-Southhampton alum has carried on that winning tradition with the Blackbirds while building a proud championship legacy of his own.
He's already grabbed three NEC titles, including back-to-back crowns to begin his stint here, and received a pair of NEC Coach of the Year awards during his first five seasons at the helm.
Last year, the Blackbirds went 25-8, including a perfect 16-0 in conference play, to capture their first title since 2009 and seventh in 10 years during the Rens-Robinson era.
During its run to the championship in 2012, LIU won 17 straight matches, set the program mark for road victories with 11, and won a record 10 games in a row away from home.
Also, the Blackbirds had a stretch where they won 14 consecutive matches in straight sets, going an entire month without dropping a single frame.
“Quite honestly, it was never-wracking,” Robinson said of the team’s dream season and near-unblemished run through the NEC. “You’re always waiting for the bottom to fall out. But the girls maintained their focus and discipline. We’re not here to lose, but we understand that losing is part of winning.”
The Blackbirds (11-6 overall, 4-0 NEC) on Sunday made sure Robinson's name would be mentioned first when discussions arose regarding the greatest coaches in the program's 20-year history.
LIU (11-6 overall, 4-0 NEC) swept through Robert Morris, 25-13, 25-23 and 25-18, in Moon Township, Pa., making Robinson the program's all-time winningest coach with a gaudy 107-74 mark.
Junior Annika Foit, the reigning NEC Player of the Week and last season's NEC Player of the Year, registered 19 kills while grad student Jessica Rice added 11 for LIU, which has not lost to a conference foe since dropping the NEC Tournament Championship to Sacred Heart in November 2011.
“I think my girls realized [I had set the record] sooner than I did,” Robinson admitted. “They’re really astute to what’s going on. They respect the history and the people who have helped build the way for them. They congratulated me at the end of the match. As much as I’m proud of them, it’s very cool to see our girls be proud of us and what we’ve done for the program.”
“I’m proud of the accomplishment and proud to do it here at LIU,” added Robinson. “But most of all, I’m proud of all the athletes that helped make this happen. There’s been a lot of athletes that have come across my doorstep here and they’ve made a tremendous impact. It’s about them.”
The Blackbirds have reeled off 22 consecutive regular-season conference victories since also falling to the Pioneers nearly two years ago.
They'll look to continue that amazing streak, and further pad Robinson's incredible record, when they host Sacred Heart on Saturday afternoon at Downtown's Steinberg Wellness Center.
“Our girls have been working extremely hard,” Robinson said after practice Tuesday. “They have high expectations for our program. But they also realize that we can be beat on any given day, and that could be championship day. We don’t get too far ahead of ourselves. We think the NEC has grown tremendously and there’s a lot of hungry teams coming after us. That’s as it should be. We embrace that and use it as fuel for us.”
In other LIU-Brooklyn sports results, freshman Nathan Stewart and sophomore Brian Alumbaugh scored as the LIU-Brooklyn (3-6-1) soccer team topped visiting Howard, 2-1, on Saturday afternoon to close out the non-conference portion of its schedule.
LIU, which dominated the action and outshot Howard, 17-5, will begin pursuit of the NEC crown Friday night at Central Connecticut State.
The two-time defending NEC champion LIU women (2-8-1, 0-1 NEC) got off to a rough start in conference play with a 2-0 loss to St. Francis University at LIU Field last Friday evening.
Senior goalkeeper Jessica Sexton stopped eight of 10 shots for the Blackbirds, who will look to snap a season-high five-match losing streak when they host Fairleigh Dickinson on Friday.
The red-hot St. Francis men's soccer squad wrapped up non-conference play with Saturday afternoon's 2-0 blanking of NJIT in Newark, N.J.
Reigning NEC Rookie of the Year Kevin Correa and senior forward Gabriel Bagot scored for the Terriers, who improved to 6-2-1 on the season and ran their season-high unbeaten streak to six games (5-0-1) entering Friday's NEC showdown with Sacred Heart at Brooklyn Bridge Park.
"The boys came out playing well today," said St. Francis coach Tom Giovatto. "It's good to see Kevin (Correa) and Gabriel (Bagot) working together well on both of our scoring chances today."
Correa assisted on Bagot's opening score in the 10th minute and found the back of the net himself in the 19th to give him a team-leading six goals on the campaign. Bagot, who is right behind with five goals on the campaign, ranks 10th all-time at St. Francis with 22 career tallies.
Netminder Jack Binks made five saves for St. Francis, including several key stops after the Terriers jumped out to their early lead.
"Jack was excellent for us," noted Giovatto. "He has really emerged as the season's progressed, and its good to go into conference play on a high note."
Talk about your freshmen sensations!
Brooklyn College first-year soccer stars Jordan Kerwin and Marco Thimm-Kaiser both earned CUNYAC Rookie of the Week accolades for the week ending Oct. 8.
Kerwin, a three-time winner of the award during her brilliant inaugural campaign with the Lady Bulldogs, helped streaking BC to a 6-0 win over Lehman on Oct. 2. The LeRoy, N.Y., native leads the Bulldogs with 13 goals this season.
Thimm-Kaiser, a native of Germany, was tabbed CUNYAC's top men's rookie after tallying twice in BC's 2-0 triumph over Lehman last week.
The BC women, who have won eight of their first nine games this season, return to the pitch Saturday against CCNY.
The Bulldog men host Medgar Evers on Monday.