John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
"We're No. 3!", isn't exactly what they were hoping for, but the St. Francis Brooklyn men's water polo team will take it -- at least for now.
Heavy underdogs in their third trip in six years to the NCAA Water Polo Final Four this past weekend, coach Igor Samardzija's feisty Terriers won their first-ever match in the national semifinals, taking third place from the Air Force Academy for the best finish in the ever-blossoming program's storied history.
“This was more than just a victory," said Samardzija, coming off his second visit to the Final Four since taking over for legendary program founder Carl Quigley.
Having gone 0-4 in its previous two trips to the semis, in 2006 and 2010, respectively, St. Francis Brooklyn appeared headed for another winless visit to sunny California after dropping a 17-3 decision to eventual national runner-up UCLA in Saturday's opening match. But the Terriers (17-9), spearheaded by senior attacker Marko Gencic, defied the odds with a landmark 14-8 triumph over the Falcons at McDonald's Swim Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
"Our performance was amazing," Samardzija gushed. "It just shows, again, the character of this team. After one of our biggest losses, to come back the next day and play one of the best games of the season. All of us associated with the team should be proud.I just told the guys to just be patient. It's natural. [Saturday], nothing went our way and it's just not possible to have those two days in a row. I have to give credit to Air Force. Yesterday, they really put it out there, and maybe that cost them today. [Saturday] I used the second half to rest my players because it was obvious we were losing the game and it doesn't matter if you lose by five or by 15. They are great competitors. Every year, we go to Colorado and we try to beat them. These are the kind of teams that bring the best out of our team.”
Gencic, who finished his career with the most goals in St. Francis Brooklyn history, tallied four in the third-place match against Air Force. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Serbian made sure he didn't go out with a second fourth-place finish, imploring his teammates to put the UCLA drubbing in their rear-view mirror as quickly as possible.
“We didn't stick to the plan, Saturday," said Gencic. "We opened up really bad. We got scored on in the first minute. I think we were clearly a stronger team. After the game, we said 'this is it; we need to go.' We need to make history for St. Francis. The last two times we went to the Final Four, we got fourth place. This time, we got third. It really means a lot to me because I'm a senior, and I'm finishing my college career with a Final Four win.”
Fortunately for Samardzija, he will ahve plenty of returning talent for next season. Junior Bosko Stankovic scored three goals against the Falcons, sophomore Vuk Vujosevic added a pair and freshman Jacob Barashick also tallied as the Terriers grabbed an early 5-1 lead in the pool and never looked back.
Junior goalie Igor Mladenovic was brilliant in net, stopping 16 shots as St. Francis staved off Air Force's bid for a late comeback.
“After Saturday's game, we were all disappointed," Mladenovic admitted. "We said we have to change something. We were all concentrating today; we really wanted to win. I think I have to thank my guys because they were sticking to the plan. They didn't let any guys get any closer for any easy scores."
First-year defender Liam Veazey, who scored a goal against the Falcons, believes the best is yet to come for one of the best-kept secrets on the tri-state sporting scene.
"Having a taste of it, this year, was amazing and I can't wait to get back to it next year," Veazey noted.
USC edged UCLA, 11-10, in Sunday's final to grab the Trojans' fifth consecutive national title.
The LIU-Brooklyn women's volleyball team also received a thrashing from UCLA over the weekend, losing to the defending national champion Bruins, three sets to none, last Friday night in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Blackbirds (28-7 overall, 16-0 NEC), who hadn't lost a match since mid-September, fell by scores of 25-13, 25-15 and 25-12 to the powerhouse Bruins.
Sophomore Annika Foit had nine kills and six digs and freshman Tawmara Ignjic added eight kills and eight digs for coach Kyle Robinson's crew, which captured its seventh NEC title in 10 years and third during his five-year tenure at the helm.
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LIU-Brooklyn junior point guard Jason Brickman was named the NEC's Co-Player of the Week on Monday after helping the resurgent Blackbirds to a pair of victories last week.
The 6-foot playmaking dynamo became the first NEC player in almost a decade to register double-digit assists without committing a turnover in Saturday's 71-60 triumph over Lafayette. Brickman, who has guided the Blackbirds to consecutive NCAA Tournament trips during his first two seasons at the Downtown school, had 10 assists and 12 points without a single giveaway against the Leopards.
The error-free performance came just three days after Brickman put up 16 points and six assists in LIU Brooklyn's 70-61 victory over Columbia at the Wellness Center.
Currently ranked sixth in the entire nation with eight assists per game, Brickman will try to help the Blackbirds (2-4) to their 30th straight win at the WRAC on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. against visiting Hofstra.
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The St. Francis men's basketball team fell to 2-3 with last Thursday night's 85-79 loss at Norfolk State, squandering an 11-point lead over the final 13 minutes.
Sophomore forward Jalen Cannon scored 16 points and pulled down nine rebounds and senior Akeem Johnson added 15 points and six rebounds for the Terriers, who will try to climb back to .500 Wednesday night at the University of Albany.
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The Bulldogs of Brooklyn College earned their first victory of the season Monday night, topping Fairleigh Dickinson 73-67 at Brooklyn's West Quad Center.
Senior forward Kavon Baker of nearby Midwood High School and Brooklyn native Jeffrey Noel poured in 18 points apiece for BC (1-4), which will try to make it two wins in a row Thursday night against visiting CUNYAC rival York College.
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The BC women rebounded from their first loss in five games and a 21-point first-half deficit to rally past NYU, 66-57, Monday night at the West Quad Center.
"This was a huge win for us," said BC coach Alex Lang after his unit improved to 5-2 on the season. "Our fans were great in helping us rally in the second half, but I have to say our players stepped up their intensity level big time and really willed their way to this victory."
Bishop Ford alum Vanessa D'Ambrosi scored a game-high 23 points and senior guard Charnelle Saint Laurent added 14 points, six assists and six steals for the Lady Bulldogs, who also host York on Thursday.