By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Fresh off capturing his third Northeast Conference volleyball championship in five seasons as the head coach at LIU-Brooklyn, Kyle Robinson has his streaking Blackbirds looking forward to a trip to Los Angeles this weekend for the NCAA Tournament.
Waiting for them at Pauley Pavilion will be none other than the defending national champion UCLA Bruins, not to mention their head coach, Michael Sealy, an old teammate and close friend of Robinson’s dating to his playing days in Belgium over a decade ago.
“Mike and I we really been close friends since then,” noted Robinson, who played with Sealy for the Volleyball Club Zorgvliet Antwerpen back in the early 2000s.
“He’s someone that has been a mentor to me outside of volleyball and is someone I respect,” added Robinson, whose team carries a program-record 19-game winning streak into the opening round of the NCAAs after capturing the NEC crown at the Wellness Center the weekend before last.
The Bruins, who are ranked seventh nationally, went 22-7 overall this season and are led by senior All-American outside hitters Tabi Love and Rachael Kidder, members of the squad that won it all last year.
The Blackbirds counter with the likes of NEC Defensive Player of the Year Adriana Vinas Joy, NEC Setter of the Year Vera Djuric and NEC Player of the Year and NEC Tournament MVP Annika Foit.
Seniors Ashley and Jessica Rice, both of whom earned All-NEC Second-Team honors, will be competing in their first national championships since 2009, when the Blackbirds capped a run of six straight appearances in Robinson’s second season at the helm.
“I was excited to see them win last year,” Robinson said of Sealy and the Bruins. “But we don’t do this just to have fun, we do this to see if we can play this game at the highest level we can. To play against someone that I respect tremendously is even better. It’s going to be a lot of fun for us all. We are that little school that a lot of people don’t know about until we get a situation like this. It gets us out into the big world of our sport.”
Jessica Rice is also hoping her teammates can put aside the Bruins’ reputation as an NCAA powerhouse and focus on the task at hand when the teams tip off at approximately 11 p.m. on Friday night.
“We’ve played competitive teams all year and put up good battles against them,” she noted. “Hopefully, we can look at it as any other match.”
San Diego and Michigan State also head to L.A. for the opening round. The winner of that match will meet either the Bruins or Blackbirds in the second round on Saturday at 10 p.m.
UCLA and LIU have not met since 2006 – their only previous encounter – at the Hilton Garden Inn Greenbelt Invitational, hosted by the University of Maryland. The Bruins, then ranked third in the nation, toppled the Blackbirds in three sets.
On the local women’s hoops circuit, the Blackbirds (1-3) went 0-for-2 at last weekend’s LIU-Brooklyn Turkey Classic at the Wellness Center, including a 70-66 setback to Missouri-Kansas City on Saturday in the consolation game of the four-team tournament.
Sophomore Honor Duvall scored a career-high 12 points for the Blackbirds, who will return to the hardwood in Downtown Brooklyn on Saturday for a 1 p.m. showdown with visiting Towson.
Brooklyn College senior guard Charnelle Saint Laurent was named the City University of New York Athletic Conference Women's Basketball Player of the Week, for the week on Monday.
She scored a game-high 19 points, grabbed nine rebounds, dished out three assists and had three steals for the Bulldogs in a 58-41 victory over SUNY College at Old Westbury last week.
The Bulldogs (3-1) were scheduled to host Stevens Institute of Technology (3-1) at the West Quad Center on Wednesday night.
On the men’s side, the defending two-time NEC champion Blackbirds will look to shake off an 0-4 start in non-conference play and extend their Wellness Center winning streak to 28 games when they host Columbia on Wednesday evening.
LIU was humbled, 104-75, at defending national champion Kentucky on Saturday night despite 22 points apiece from seniors Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere.
''Obviously not the outcome that we were looking for,'' Blackbirds’ first-year coach Jack Perri said after watching his team play even with the powerhouse Wildcats before a late 15-0 run in the opening half put them behind for good.
''We had about 17 minutes in the first half where we were up 42-40, 43-40 and that big run obviously turned the game around,” added Perri.
Kentucky coach John Calipari tipped his hat to the Blackbirds for their determination and grit following the contest.
''That's why we wanted to play these kind of teams that would come after us, not be afraid, come in here with the attitude that they could win,'' Calipari said.
Junior guard Ben Mockford scored eight of his 14 points in overtime Saturday as the Terriers of St. Francis Brooklyn improved their early season mark to 2-2 with a 76-72 win at Brown in Providence, R.I., on Saturday.
Forward Jalen Cannon scored 20 points on 10-of-12 shooting and fellow sophomore Kevin Douglas added a career-best 17 points for the Terriers, who will visit Norfolk State on Thursday evening.
As of this week, the Terriers announced that they would officially rebrand themselves as St. Francis Brooklyn. The College previously came to be known as St. Francis (NY) when the athletics program joined the Division I Northeast Conference in 1981.
“Our administration has listened very closely to our students, alumni, and staff on this subject,” said St. Francis President Brendan J. Dugan. ”It's time to make it unmistakable to the world that St. Francis College is located in the heart of Brooklyn, New York. We have more than 2,600 students and 20,000 alumni who come primarily from Brooklyn and other New York City boroughs. They are proud to display their Brooklyn connection.”
“Our student-athletes compete all over the country and we like to think they represent the great borough of Brooklyn every time they put on their Terrier uniform,” said Terriers Athletic Director Irma Garcia. “No longer will there be any confusion as to what part of New York we come from.”
The NCAA Men's Water Polo Committee announced this week that the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers will be the number three seed at this weekend's NCAA Water Polo Final Four, to be held on the campus of the University of Southern California (USC).
The Terriers (16-8) will face the second-seeded UCLA Bruins (27-4) on Saturday at 3:12 p.m. Pacific Time. Top-seeded USC (27-0) will face #4 seeded Air Force (19-10) in the first semifinal match at 1:00 p.m. Pacific Time.
All four championship games will be played at McDonald's Swim Stadium in Los Angeles and streamed live on www.NCAA.com. Conferences receiving automatic qualification included the Collegiate Water Polo Association, the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation and the Western Water Polo Association. The remaining team was selected at-large without geographical restrictions.
In 2011 Southern California defeated UCLA, 7-4, to capture its fourth consecutive and seventh overall national championship title. For updated championship results, log on to www.NCAA.com.