By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
St. Francis men's soccer coach Tom Giovatto nearly oversaw one of the biggest victories in the history of the program during Saturday afternoon's season opener in Storrs, Conn.
But even following what turned out to be a tough 1-0 loss to fourth-ranked Connecticut, Giovatto was enthused about his team's performance and what it might mean for the Terriers going forward.
"I thought the team played extremely well this evening in front of one of the largest crowds we have ever played in front of," noted the sixth-year coach, who watched his team go toe-to-toe with a national powerhouse in hostile territory before 5,100 Huskies fans.
"It is an amazing experience to play one of the top teams in the national and play in such a professional atmosphere that Connecticut has," Giovatto added.
St. Francis, which is determined to get back to the NEC Tournament for the first time since 2009 this season, stymied the Huskies until the 36th minute, when UConn forward Mamdou Doudou Diouf just beat Terriers netminder Tyler Clarhaut to the right side of the net for the game's lone tally. Clarahut made six huge saves as the Huskies launched 16 shots on St. Francis, which proved it could raise its game under almost-constant duress.
“I can't say enough about how our defense stepped up," gushed Giovatto. “Tyler made save after save and showed why he will be an important piece to our defense moving forward in the season."
Sophomore Cyril Coisne, making his collegiate debut, had a chance to level the contest with just over 10 minutes remaining, but his header off a redirect from John Johansson was snared by UConn goalie Andre Blake.
“Cyril had a very good game, in just his first contest,” Giovatto noted. “With more repetition and more in-game experience, I'm sure he, along with Gabriel (Bagot), Adam (Maabdi), Kevin (Correa) and James Caicedo, will be able to orchestra some more scoring chances as the season continues on.”
Next up for the Terriers is a showdown with Hofstra in Hempstead, NY, on Thursday evening at 7 p.m.
“It will be a tough game,” Giovatto admitted. “(Hofstra) won their first contest against Lehigh 2-0 and our backs need to bring the same intensity that they did into tonight's contest.”
The defending Northeast Conference women's champions of LIU-Brooklyn are still looking for their first goal of the season after suffering a pair of shutout losses to the University of Colorado (2-0) and the University of Denver (2-0) during last weekend's Omni Tournament in Boulder, Colo.
The Blackbirds, who reached the NCAA Tournament for the third time in program history last year, have clearly lacked scoring punch during their 0-3 start, which also includes a season-opening 2-0 setback at Seton Hall on Aug. 17.
The loss of high-scoring senior forwards Ariana Calderon and Kayleigh Morgan to graduation doubtlessly have left the Blackbirds in a lurch offensively, but head coach Tracey Bartholomew believes her squad is making progress as it prepares to host the University of Maryland-Baltimore County in its home opener at LIU Field on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m.
"Our attitude and committment to getting the results of scoring goals is there," she told the Eagle Tuesday from her office at the Downtown Brooklyn school. "The girls know they have to work hard this week. We have excellent leadership with 11 seniors on this team, but this isn't the start that they wanted to have. We knew it was going to be difficult (without Calderon and Morgan]."
Fortunately, the Blackbirds do have reigning NEC Goalkeeper of the Year Jennifer Bannon to keep them in games until the offense starts to click. The senior netminder made seven big saves against Seton Hall, and three more against the Buffaloes before backup Jennifer Sexton relieved her midway through the Denver game, registering three stops of her own.
"Jennifer Bannon has made some game-saving saves," Bartholomew noted. "I actually thought we had a very good game against Colorado, but we had some back luck, hitting the goalpost twice."
Bartholomew believes players like forward Toni Smith of England, who is coming back from a knee injury this season, will eventually find the back of the net as LIU pushes forward in its bid to capture the program's first-ever back-to-back league championships.
"When you lose such a significant scoring punch, some of these other kids have to step up," she noted. "We're not connecting yet, but they have been working very hard. Things just aren't clicking quite right attacking-wise, and that's what we'll be preparing for this week. The girls are really excited about playing at home."
The LIU-Brooklyn men's soccer squad is also off to a winless and scoreless start to the campaign following a 3-0 defeat to George Mason in Fairfax, Va., on Sunday.
The Blackbirds, who opened the year with a 1-0, double-overtime defeat at George Washington last Wednesday, will be in Irvine, Calf., this weekend to compete in the UCI Invitational. LIU will meet host school UC Irvine on Friday before taking on UC Riverside Sunday.
Dating to last year, the Blackbirds are scoreless in their last three contests, including a 2011 season-ending defeat to Fairleigh Dickinson at LIU Field.
Grad-student Ashley Rice was named the NEC Women's Volleyball Defensive Player of the Week on Monday after helping LIU-Brooklyn to a 2-1 start to its season, including a tournament championship at the recently completed UNC Wimington Courtyard Marriott Beach Bash.
Rice was named to the All-Tournament team at the Beach Bash after finishing the weekend with a 1.58 blocks per set average. She had six blocks in a sweep of Delaware State, five against High Point, and a team-high eight in the Blackbirds' win over UNCW . Rice also recorded eight kills, hitting .312, and two service aces against Delaware State, eight kills against High Point and seven against UNCW.
The Blackbirds will head to Minneapolis to take part in the Diet Coke Classic at the University of Minnesota this Friday and Saturday.