Happy Homecoming: Former Blackbird Desjardins Coaches LIU Golfers to NEC Crown
By John Torenli
Natalie Desjardins knows a thing or two about winning.
One of the most decorated golfers in LIU-Brooklyn history can now add championship coach to her sparkling resume, after guiding the Blackbirds to a dramatic come-from-behind victory over Fairleigh Dickinson last weekend at the Northeast Conference women’s tournament in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Desjardins accepted the post as women’s golf head coach prior to this season after winning eight individual tournament titles, the 2010 NEC Individual Championship, the NEC Player of the Year Award and the 2006 NEC Rookie of the Year trophy as a Blackbird.
The one title she missed out on during her successful tenure at the Downtown Brooklyn school, however, was an NEC team championship.
That dream was fulfilled thanks to a gritty effort by this year’s squad, which rallied from a nine-stroke deficit during Sunday’s third and final round at the event.
“Obviously, I’m a little jealous of my players,” Desjardins admitted to the Eagle from her office Tuesday. “It’s something I wanted to do as a player. It’s definitely something special as a first-year coach and something I will never forget.”
Now it’s on to the NCAA East Regional at State College, Pa., from May 10-12, when the Blackbirds will take on Penn State in their first national title tournament appearance since 2005 – the year before Desjardins began her playing career at LIU.
The East Regional will feature perennial national powerhouse programs like Alabama, Arizona State and Atlantic Coast Conference champion Duke. Eight teams and two individual players will advance from each regional to the championship final on May 22-25.
“It’s going to be a great experience, for the girls and on my end as a coach,” Desjardins said of the NCAAs. “Just bringing that confidence into Penn State, the girls will have fun no matter who we play. Hopefully, we’ll build on the season that we had.”
Cristina Felip, a 5-foot-7 freshman from Barcelona, was instrumental in helping the Blackbirds overcome FDU down the stretch Sunday. She secured the NEC individual title – the same way her coach did two years ago — after firing rounds of 73-70-72.
Three other LIU golfers shot under 80 on the final day to complete the improbably rally, including senior Anna Palsson – last year’s NEC Individual Champion — freshman Alice Boothroyd and freshman Brianna Maynard.
“Looking at how the other teams were playing, it looked like FDU had everything under control,” Desjardins said of the final-round comeback. “But the girls didn’t give up. They had a lot of fight left in them. I knew something special might happen, and it did.”
The Blackbirds also won the Lonnie Barton Invitational, dedicated to the late, great men’s and women’s coach at the downtown school, as well as the MU Hawk Invitational at Monmouth University this season.
Following her graduation from LIU in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, Desjardins worked as an instructor at the Eagle Ridge Golf Club in Lakewood, N.J. She also served as an assistant coach at Monmouth before “coming home” to Brooklyn.
“It’s something unique. It’s something special,” Desjardins said of her return to LIU. “As far as coaching goes, the girls respected me as a coach and they also knew they could come to me for whatever. For the seniors to finish their careers on top is a great feeling for them to have.”
Even if it makes their newly crowned coach just a tad envious.
The LIU-Brooklyn softball team didn’t have much to celebrate following a lost weekend in West Long Branch, N.J.
The Blackbirds squandered their slim advantage atop the NEC standings by dropping a doubleheader to Monmouth that dropped them into a tie for second place with only two games remaining in the regular season.
A heartbreaking 2-1, walk-off loss in the opener was followed by a 9-1 setback in the nightcap as LIU (12-6 NEC) slipped out of contention for the No. 1 seed in next week’s Northeast Conference Tournament in Moon Township, Pa.
Redshirt freshman Nicole Toven had three hits during the double dip for the Blackbirds, who will close out their regular-season slate with a doubleheader Saturday at Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
Though they completed the regular season with a pair of non-conference losses last weekend, the Lady Bulldogs of Brooklyn College are eager to compete for a CUNYAC Championship beginning Wednesday at Monsignor Crawford Field on Avenue U and East 59th Street.
The Bulldogs dropped a doubleheader to Brooklyn rival St. Joseph’s on Long Island, giving them a 17-17 mark for the campaign.
Sophomore Marie Oneto, a product of Brooklyn’s Madison High School, will likely be BC’s starter when the Bulldogs host No. 5 Lehman College in the playoff opener.
Oneto was named CUNYAC’s Pitcher of the Week on Monday after posting a record of 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA over her previous three starts, including a tough loss to St. Joe’s on Sunday. The 5-foot-6 right-hander yielded four runs on nine hits while striking out 13 over 12 innings in three outings.
After a breathtaking season that saw them win the Skyline Conference title and reel off 10 wins in 12 home games, the NYU-Polytechnic women’s softball squad suffered a humbling exit from its league tournament at Brooklyn’s Floyd Bennett Field on Saturday.
With a 5-0 loss to Farmingdale in the Skyline semifinals, the Lady Jays (27-11 overall this season) missed an opportunity to meet Sage College in the tournament finals.
NYU-Poly, which also was blanked, 1-0, by Old Westbury in its previous game, failed to back up a solid effort by junior starter Miranda Merilli against Farmingdale.
The Lady Jays failed to rally against Lady Rams hurler Taylor Tedeshi, who struck out the side in the final frame to nail down the shutout victory.
Despite the disappointment of failing to win the conference crown, the Jays had a season for the ages as several of their players received honors from the Skyline Conference.
Junior Corine Fitzgibbons of Bay Ridge’s Fontbonne High School was named the league’s Softball Player of the Year in a vote by the league’s eight head coaches. In addition, the coaches selected junior Merilli as Pitcher of the Year, while NYU-Poly’s Jimmy Barrett and Sage’s Jamie Brown shared Co-Coach of the Year honors.
Over at St. Francis College, new head women’s basketball coach John Thurston began what he hopes will be a major turnaround for a program that won only four of 29 games last season.
Thurston announced Monday that the Terriers had signed Ohio native Leah Fechko to a National Letter of Intent as she will play on Remsen Street next season.
“We are really thrilled that Leah will be joining our program next year,” said Thurston, who took over for long-time Terriers coach Brenda Milano earlier this year.
“I have been really impressed with not only her skills, but with her toughness in watching her the past two years at Twinsburg. She always seems to come up big in tough games,” Thurston added. “Having played on back-to-back state championship teams and being on nationally ranked teams has given her great experience coming in. She is my kind of player, aggressive, can defend and score. The bottom line is that Leah will do what it takes to win.”
Fechko, who helped lead the Tigers to consecutive OHSAA Division I Girls state basketball titles, averaged 13 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 3.0 steals and 2.5 turnovers as a senior while playing three positions.
“St. Francis is about an eight-hour drive from my home but I really like the location and the campus, and it’s going to be cool playing with (former Twinsburg teammate) Katie Fox again,” said Fechko.
“Leah was our ‘glue player’ because she did so many things that make our team better,” added Twinsburg coach Julie Solis. “It’s easy to tell when she’s not on the court because things tend to get bogged down and not run nearly as smoothly.”
Brooklyn College senior Catherine Chan, a member of the BC women’s swimming and diving team, has been named a Top-10 female finalist for the prestigious 2012 Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar Award.
The winners will be profiled in the May 24, 2012 edition of the magazine Diverse: Issues In Higher Education. The finalists were chosen from over 600 outstanding minority student-athletes nominated by their respective institutions. The NCAA is the co-sponsor of this annual award.
Chan has been a vital contributor to the BC swimming program since its reinstatement during the 2010-2011 season.
At the 2012 City University of New York Athletic Conference (CUNYAC) Championships, Chan was a member of the BC quartet that posted a fifth-place finish in the 200-Year Medley Relay (2:14.93). She also recorded a top-10 finish in the 200-Yard Breaststroke, with a time of 3:23.65.
In the classroom, Chan, a biology major, boasts a 3.918 grade-point average, while minoring in anthropology and archaeology. She is also a member of the Macaulay Honors College at CUNY Brooklyn College, as well as a member of the BA/MD program. Chan will enroll at SUNY Downstate College of Medicine in the Fall of 2012.
“I’m honored to be a finalist for the Arthur Ashe Sports Scholar Award,” said Chan. “Arthur Ashe not only had great accomplishments as an athlete, but also as a civil rights leader. It just goes to show that there is always time to do more; claiming that you are ‘too busy’ is just an excuse. In reality, there’s plenty of time for a student to be both a scholar and an athlete and to excel in both.”
This marks the second straight year that a BC student-athlete has been named a finalist for the Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar Award, as Arvind Badhey (Men’s Cross Country/Men’s Tennis) was named a 2011 finalist.
Both LIU-Brooklyn and St. Francis held their annual sports banquets over the weekend, and the award winners at both downtown schools were no surprise.
Blackbirds senior soccer standout Ariana Calderon was named Female Athlete of the Year, while junior Julian Boyd of the NEC champion basketball team earned Male Athlete of the Year honors Sunday at the Wellness, Recreation and Athletic Center.
Seniors Jacqueline Simonian of the women’s lacrosse team and Josh Maley of the men’s soccer team were named LIU’s Scholar-Athletes of the Year.
Over on Remsen Street at the Genovesi Center on Monday, the Male Student-Athlete of the Year was awarded to Filip Sasic, who was named to the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches All-American Honorable Mention Team.
Junior Amelia Tonyes was named the Female Student-Athlete of the Year after helping thrust the Terriers’ women’s bowling program into the national limelight this past season.
The Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year was awarded to Nemanja Simonovic of the nationally ranked men’s water polo team, and women’s tennis player Ewa Opala received the Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
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