Blackbirds volleyball cruises to third straight title
LIU-Brooklyn Gears Up For Next Challenge at NCAA Tourney
You can’t take your program national without competing for a national championship.
The dynastic LIU-Brooklyn women’s volleyball team assured themselves an opportunity to play against the best squads in the country Sunday afternoon, cruising to a straight-set (25-20, 25-16, 25-15) victory over Robert Morris in the Northeast Conference Championship Match in front of 523 fans at Downtown’s Steinberg Wellness Center.
NEC Coach of the Year Kyle Robinson, who guided the Blackbirds (25-6) to their third straight league title, fifth during his tenure and ninth in the last 11 years, stated prior to the season that the goal for 2014 was to thrust LIU into the national spotlight.
“We feel like we have all the parts in place to be a nationally recognized program,” Robinson told the Eagle on the eve of his team’s home opener. “We have great leadership, help from our administration … we kind of feel like this is our time.”
The Blackbirds took a step in that direction earlier in the season, shocking nationally ranked Michigan State on its home floor on Sept. 19.
LIU also knocked off the likes of Alabama, Navy, Fresno State, Boston College and Temple this year before going on their perfect 14-0 run through conference play.
Next Sunday, the Blackbirds will find out their first opponent in the NCAA Tournament, giving them time to prepare for their opening-round match, which will take place during the weekend of Dec. 3-6.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Robinson said after his players staged a raucous celebration in the middle of their home floor Sunday. “I wasn’t sure how we were going to top last year’s team. They worked extremely hard and I couldn’t be more excited.”=
The NEC crown might seem like an afterthought to a program that has collected them with such great frequency.
But the Blackbirds knew that an NCAA invite might not have been granted to them without capturing the NEC’s automatic bid.
Senior Vera Djuric, winner of her fourth consecutive NEC Setter of the Year award, First-Team All-NEC junior Tamara Ignjic and three-time NEC Player of the Year Annika Foit made sure there would be no decision for the NCAA Selection Committee to make in regard to the Blackbirds.
Djuric took home NEC Tournament MVP honors and Ignjic was named to the All-Tournament team after Sunday’s title-game triumph.
Djuric paced LIU during the two-day tournament, which the Blackbirds opened with a three-set conquest of Central Connecticut State on Saturday. She amassed 80 assists, 22 kills, four blocks and a service ace in the two victories, finishing with a .467 hitting percentage in the semifinal match.
Ignjic led the offensive charge in Sunday’s final, picking up 21 kills and six digs while Foit hit .444 for the match with 15 kills and an ace. Djuric racked up 42 assists in the championship game to go with 16 digs and three blocks.
“I have four seniors on this team that I love so much. We did it for them,” said Ignjic, who was tabbed the Player of the Match in the final.
Last year, the Blackbirds were swept out of the opening round of the NCAA Tournament by No. 2 Penn State.
With an experienced group boasting proven championship performers, the Blackbirds are hoping 2014 is the year they break through and make some noise in the NCAAs, which would finally catapult them into the national spotlight.
“We did it for the seniors this year,” said junior Adriana Vinas-Joy, the NEC’s Librero of the Year for the third season in a row. “Next year, we’re going to do the same thing. We’re going to do our best to win a fourth championship.”
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The St. Francis men’s basketball team came ever so close to earning its first win of the season Sunday, but suffered a tough 76-73 loss at Rutgers.
Senior Kevin Douglas scored 15 points and pulled down seven rebounds and junior guard Tyreek Jewell added a career-best 13 points for the Terriers (0-3), who got a decent look at a potential game-winner from senior guard Brent Jones with just under two seconds remaining.
But Jones’ 3-pointer fell short and the Scarlet Knights (2-1) made a free throw on the other end to settle the contest.
“No, the plan was not to attempt a three-pointer,” Terriers coach and Brooklyn native Glenn Braica revealed. ”The clock was getting late so we went to go to a ball screen. We tried some other stuff before that, but it didn’t work. So we went to the ball screen. I thought [Jones] had an okay look, not a great look. They defended it.”
St. Francis will travel to La Salle on Tuesday night.
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Last Wednesday, the LIU-Brooklyn men opened their campaign with a 66-53 loss at St. John’s.
Senior Gerrell Martin scored a team-high 14 points and fellow fourth-year starter Landon Atterberry added 12 points and a career-high 11 rebounds for the Blackbirds (0-1), who kept the game close against a more-experienced Red Storm squad.
“We had a game plan going and I thought our guys did a pretty good job with it overall,” LIU head coach Jack Perri said. “We talked about transition defense and not allowing them to get out and go. I think we did a decent job of that, we didn’t give them much transition in the first half. In the second half, unfortunately, they got some run outs. That certainly hurt us.”
The Blackbirds new Icelandic backcourt of Elvar Fridriksson and Martin Hermannsson combined for 10 points, 10 assists and five turnovers in their first-ever collegiate contest.
“For us it’s a process,” Perri added. “We are playing so many young guys. They played with some grit and they played with some toughness. Overall I was happy with our effort, not happy with the outcome but at the same time we can make some progress with that.”
LIU is slated to meet St. Joe’s Tuesday night in the NIT Season Tip-Off.
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The St. Francis women got their first win after back-to-back losses to open the season, knocking off Rider, 71-60, on Saturday thanks to a balanced scoring attack and a staunch defensive effort down the stretch.
Jaymee Veney scored 16 points, Leah Fechko added 15, Eilidh Simpson had 14 and Sarah Benedetti finished with 11 for the Terriers (1-2), who made 20-of-24 free throws in the Preseason WNIT contest.
“We started to play with a little more confidence and poise,” head coach John Thurston said. “We had four starters in double figures. We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but we made big plays. We established our system and the way we wanted to play. I’m happy for them to get a win in the WNIT with this level of competition.”
“It feels amazing to get our first win of the season, especially in the WNIT,” added Veney. “Coming off a tough loss [70-63 to North Dakota on Friday], it’s good to get into the swing of things.”
SFC will visit NJIT in Newark on Tuesday night.
“It’s a great feeling to get a win in the WNIT,” Simpson noted. “Hopefully this gives us the confidence we need to have for our upcoming games.”
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The LIU-Brooklyn women dropped their home opener, 78-57, to Monmouth last Thursday night, dropping to 0-2 on the young season.
Junior Sophie Bhasin scored 16 points, grabbed five rebounds and picked up three steals for the Blackbirds, who will host their annual LIU Brooklyn Turkey Classic this coming weekend, beginning with Saturday’s showdown against La Salle.
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After capturing their second straight NEC Championship with a thrilling overtime win, the St. Francis men’s soccer squad saw its season come to a close in last Thursday night’s NCAA Tournament opener against Old Dominion.
The Monarchs beat the Terriers, 3-0, dropping SFC’s season mark to 11-6-4.
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