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Landmark weekend for LIU-Brooklyn women’s volleyball

LIU-Brooklyn Tops No. 25 MSU, Wins Spartan Invitational

September 23, 2014 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The LIU-Brooklyn women’s volleyball team stunned No. 25 Michigan State en route to winning the Spartan Invitational in East Lansing, Mich., this past weekend.
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Their time has come.

LIU-Brooklyn’s women’s volleyball program, a dynasty within the mid-major Northeast Conference for the past decade, thrust itself into the national spotlight over the weekend, toppling its first-ever Top 25 opponent en route to winning the 2014 Spartan Invitational.

Having won eight of the last 10 NEC crowns, the Blackbirds (9-4) were eager to make some headway on the national major conference landscape this season.

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Coach Kyle Robinson’s unit achieved that feat, and then some, by outlasting host Michigan State of the Big Ten in five grueling sets (22-25, 25-21, 25-20, 24-26, 15-13) Friday afternoon before taking home the tournament title with Saturday’s four-set triumph (20-25, 26-24, 25-18, 25-18) over Western Kentucky.

“I thought it was a great win for the program,” Robinson told the Eagle on Tuesday afternoon. “Not just for the current program, but for the future of our program.”

The Blackbirds have won eight of their last nine matches, with the lone loss coming against Milwaukee Friday evening following their epic match with the No. 25 Spartans.

Senior Annika Foit, the reigning two-time NEC Player of the Year and the league’s Player of the Week for the third straight time, was named Spartan Invitational MVP after finishing the weekend with 47 kills, 40 digs and five service aces.

“To me, she’s the prefect type of athlete that every coach wants to coach,” Robinson said of Foit. “She’s a great teammate, respectful and caring of her teammates. She’s got a very old-school mentality. She’s very blue collar. It’s all hard work and dedication.”

Senior Vera Djuric and junior Tamara Ignjic were named to the All-Tournament Team for outstanding play throughout the weekend as LIU, a participant in each of the last two NCAA Tournaments, continued to elevate its status as a contender against major conference opponents.

Robinson mandated prior to the season that the Blackbirds would test their mettle against stiff non-conference competition this season in order to better prepare for the league slate, and perhaps ready themselves for a serious run at the NCAA crown.

Thus far, the Blackbirds have passed the test, knocking off the likes of Alabama (SEC), Fresno State (Mountain West), Navy (Patriot), Boston College (ACC), Temple (American), and of course, the landmark win over MSU.

They’ll visit Pittsburgh of the Big East on Thursday night before opening their NEC schedule against Remsen Street rival St. Francis Brooklyn right here in the heart of Downtown on Sunday afternoon.

After splitting the first four sets with the Spartans on Friday night, the Blackbirds took control early in the fifth. But MSU battled back to a 13-13 tie before freshman Sonja Vukosavljevic delivered a huge kill to set up LIU’s first match point.

They wouldn’t need a second as Foit and Vukosavljevic teamed for a stifling block on the ensuing point, ending the match and stunning not only the Spartans, but the crowd of 327 that had assembled in East Lansing, Mich., to see the hosts defend their tournament crown.

Though they suffered a clear letdown in a straight-set defeat to Milwaukee just hours after defeating the Spartans, the Blackbirds knew that a win over Western Kentucky Saturday would give them the tournament title based on their tiebreaker advantage over MSU.

“These are good teams that we’re playing. It takes a lot of hard work,” Robinson said. “The match against Michigan State was tough and to come back 90 minutes later was tough. It would have been different if they were playing bad volleyball, they were just playing tired volleyball [against Milwaukee]. They got some good food in them, got some rest and went back to work.”

After dropping the opening set to the Hilltoppers, the rested Blackbirds rallied to take three straight stanzas as Foit once again led the way with 15 kills and 11 digs.

Djuric contributed 40 assists and 11 digs in the final match, sophomore Mengdi Zhao had 11 kills and four blocks and juniors Nicole Okeke and Mirjana Rajic both added 10 kills for LIU, which improved to 4-2 in neutral-site contests this season.

“They’re both huge wins,” Robinson said. “People in the volleyball world would probably chalk up the win against Michigan State as a fluke if we didn’t go out and beat Western Kentucky the next day.”

After a decade of dominance in their conference, and nine victories in their first 13 non-conference games this season, the Blackbirds have proven one thing for certain: They’re no fluke.


The defending NEC champion St. Francis Brooklyn men’s soccer team won its second straight game Saturday night in West Point, conquering Army, 2-0, behind more strong goaltending from junior goaltender Jack Binks.

Binks, who blanked Howard last week to give the Terriers their first win of the year, had three stops against the Black Knights as St. Francis improved to 2-0-1 since a humbling 0-4 start to the campaign.

“It was a big win against a great team,” Terriers head coach Tom Giovatto said. “I thought we played real well in the first half. In the second half, I though Army was a little bit better than us, but we did a really good job sitting back, getting numbers behind the ball, and did really well with the counter attack.”

Sophomore midfielder Nyle Patel broke a scoreless tie by driving home a rebound off freshman Vincent Bezecourt’s shot in the 62nd minute, and junior forward Philip Shafer capped the scoring in the 78th minute off a feed from first-year defender Dominick Falanga.

“It felt great to score tonight and to help my team at such a crucial part of the game,” said Shafer. “I got the ball at midfield, turned and dribbled about 20 yards. I saw Dominik outside and gave him the pass. I made a run into the box, he crossed it perfectly and I headed it home. It was a great experience playing such a prestigious school as Army.”

The Black Knights, who dropped to 2-2-3, nearly knotted the contest before Shafer’s decisive tally.

But Binks, who was named NEC Player of the Week for his work between the pipes, made a diving save on Sean Morgan’s bid in the 76th minute.

Binks upped his save total at the Remsen Street school to 93 with nine this week, while boosting his career shutouts mark to nine.

The rejuvenated Terriers will shoot for their third straight win Wednesday afternoon in Jersey City against Saint Peter’s.

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