Brooklyn Boro

Champion Blackbirds going back to Cali

LIU to Visit UCLA in Opening Round of NCAA Tournament

December 2, 2014 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn’s Blackbirds will shoot for their first-ever NCAA Tournament win Friday night against No. 12 UCLA at historic Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of LIU-Brooklyn Athletics
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The LIU-Brooklyn women’s volleyball team, which has spent a decade-plus dominating the Northeast Conference, is going west later this week in pursuit of its ultimate goal: a victory in the NCAA Tournament.

The Blackbirds (25-6), who have reeled off nine of the past 11 NEC titles, including the last three in a row, found out Sunday evening via ESPN that they would be visiting one of the most hallowed arenas in all of collegiate sports, Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, Friday night (11 p.m. ET) for a showdown with No. 12 UCLA in the opening round of the national championships. 

Winners of their last eight matches, including a straight-set sweep of Robert Morris in the NEC Championship Match on Nov. 23, the Blackbirds appear poised to finally break through into the national spotlight with a victory against the Bruins.

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“I know that we already have some national notoriety and teams don’t take us lightly,” noted reigning NEC Coach of the Year Kyle Robinson, who has racked up five league crowns with the Blackbirds during his tenure in Downtown Brooklyn.

“But this could definitely put us into a different stratosphere,” he added. “We’ve beaten some really good opponents this year that are equal to UCLA.”

There’s no doubting LIU’s resume heading into this potentially historic contest.

The Blackbirds knocked off Alabama, Navy, Fresno State, Boston College, Temple and No. 25 Michigan State prior to cruising past their NEC foes this season.

Spearheaded by three-time NEC Player of the Year Annika Foit, Librero of the Year Adriana Vinas Joy, Setter of the Year and NEC Tournament MVP Vera Djuric and All-NEC outside hitter Tamara Ignjic, LIU hopes its ready to avenge a straight-set loss to UCLA in Los Angeles more than three months ago.

The Blackbirds were competing in the season-opening Loyola-Marymount Tournament on Aug. 30 when they were beaten by the Bruins, 25-17, 25-13 and 28-26, doubtlessly gaining some confidence by nearly taking the third set from UCLA.

“We always gain a little bit of perspective and confidence from playing the same opponent,” Robinson noted. “I think that was our first tournament. We were a little shell-shocked and came into UCLA the next morning [after playing Loyola-Marymount the night before].We started to get a feel for them and really got our legs underneath us late in the second set into the third.” 

LIU went 25-4 following that defeat, including perfect marks of 14-0 in conference play and 13-0 at home.

Robinson was at the helm the last time LIU faced UCLA in the NCAA Tournament following the 2012 campaign. The Bruins also took that contest in straight sets, and are 3-0 all-time against the Blackbirds.

“It’s definitely special,” Robinson said of the opportunity to meet UCLA again with a trip to the second round of the tournament on the line. “It would be nice to see [this group of players] do something amazing to close out their collegiate career. These are the type of girls that are just grateful for every match they get. … They put the program before themselves. It’s really hard to be successful in this sport with a bunch of individuals. The girls are committed to each other.” 

Led by senior All-American Karsta Lowe, UCLA (20-11) is coming off a five-set victory over arch rival USC last Friday night. 

Long Beach State and San Diego will also head to L.A. for the opening round, squaring off against one another prior to the UCLA-LIU showdown. 

The winners of Friday’s opening round matches will meet Saturday night at 7 p.m. in the second round.

* * *

It was a good half spoiled for the LIU-Brooklyn men’s basketball team Sunday afternoon at Philadelphia’s Liacouras Center as host Temple stormed back from a seven-point deficit at the break to rally past the still-winless Blackbirds, 70-56.

Seniors Landon Atterberry and Gerrell Martin combined for 25 points and 16 rebounds, but LIU (0-4) was unable to protect its halftime advantage en route to its sixth consecutive defeat dating to last season, when the Blackbirds failed to reach the NEC Tournament after capturing a record three straight league titles. 

Freshman Elvar Fridriksson continued his solid early season play against the Owls (4-2), finishing with eight points, eight assists and just one turnover in 33 minutes. The Icelandic guard has 15 assists against only three giveaways through four games.

The Blackbirds, still searching for win No. 1, will get another crack at it Wednesday night in their home opener against New Hampshire.

* * *

The St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers finally got in the win column Saturday night, edging Tennessee State, 59-57, in the consolation game of the Barclays Classic at Saint Peter’s University. 

After five straight losses to begin this much-anticipated campaign, the Terriers, ranked as the favorite to win the NEC title and reach their first-ever NCAA Tournament, leaned on senior power forward Jalen Cannon to pull out the victory. 

The recently named NEC Player of the Week and a strong candidate for NEC Player of the Year honors, Cannon put up 15 points and 14 rebounds against the Tigers (2-5). 

Fellow fourth-year standouts Kevin Douglas, who scored all 12 of his points following halftime, and senior guard Brent Jones (11 points) also contributed to the Terriers’ first win since being bounced out in the opening round of last year’s NEC Tournament.

SFC will be back on the hardwood at Liberty next Saturday afternoon. 

* * *

The St. Francis lady hoopsters also got some consolation Sunday in South Orange, N.J., defeating Saint Peter’s, 48-36, to complete their 1-1 run through the Seton Hall Thanksgiving Classic. 

The Terriers (2-4) got 15 points from Eilidh Simpson while fellow seniors Jaymee Veney and Sarah Benedetti added 12 and 11 points, respectively. 

SFC, which made a season-high seven 3-pointers, will finally begin playing on Remsen Street Wednesday against Stony Brook after opening the campaign with a six-game road trip. 

* * * 

The LIU ladies were unable to break into the win column during last weekend’s Turkey Classic at the Steinberg Wellness Center, dropping a 66-49 decision to Rhode Island on Saturday.

Junior forward Jolanna Ford had team highs of 13 points and eight rebounds for the Blackbirds (0-4), who were scheduled to host Rider on Tuesday night.

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