LIU-Brooklyn soccer reigns supreme, for now
Will Host NEC Tournament After Blanking Two-Time Champion Terriers
Freshman Simen Hestnes’ goal in the 66th minute proved to be the difference Sunday afternoon as LIU-Brooklyn completed a historic run to the Northeast Conference regular-season title with a 1-0 victory over visiting neighborhood rival and two-time defending NEC champion St. Francis College..
The top-seeded Blackbirds (11-5-2, 7-0 NEC), who closed the campaign with nine consecutive victories to become just the third team in league history to go unbeaten in NEC play, earned the right to host the NEC Tournament here at LIU Field, beginning Friday afternoon.
But the fourth-seeded Terriers (10-3-4, 3-2-2) will once again be on their path toward the championship as St. Francis lines up as LIU’s opening-round opponent in the four-team, single-elimination tournament.
Having captured the last two league titles via “Golden Goals” in overtime of the championship round, the Terriers are battle-tested and doubtlessly ready to end the Blackbirds’ bid for their first NEC title since 2004.
The winner of Friday’s match, which will immediately follow the day’s first semifinal pairing No. 2 St. Francis U (Pa.) and No. 3 Robert Morris, will play in Sunday’s NEC Championship Match, with a bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line.
Sunday’s much-anticipated regular season-ending showdown was a back-and-forth tilt that featured 15 shots by the Terriers and only seven from the Blackbirds.
But after a scoreless first half, LIU finally got on the board nearly 20 minutes into the second stanza.
Senior Tanner Sica set up the game’s only goal on a back-heel feed to Hestnes, who managed to draw out SFC senior goalie Jack Binks before sliding his shot into an empty net for a 1-0 advantage.
Hestnes, who received the coveted Gary and Alan Rosenthal Award as the Battle of Brooklyn’s Most Valuable Player, was also named the NEC Co-Rookie of the Week for his clutch tally.
The Terriers, who were nationally ranked earlier this season, made several furious charges in the hopes of handing LIU its first loss since a 3-1 setback at Saint Peter’s (N.J.) back in September, but junior goalkeeper Logan Keys and the Blackbirds’ backline held strong over the final 25 minutes to secure the victory.
By capturing the Carlo-Arnie Cup, awarded annually to the winner of this all-Brooklyn showdown, the Blackbirds matched the 1985 LIU squad, which went a perfect 6-0 in NEC play. Robert Morris was the last NEC team to go unbeaten in regular-season league play in 1995.
This is also the first time since 2002 that LIU has completed a season with at least 10 wins.
Of course, none of that will mean as much if the Blackbirds are unable to post a second consecutive home win over the two-time reigning champs from Remsen Street.
Kick off for Friday’s match is set for approximately 3 p.m.
The soccer pitch at LIU Field wasn’t the only setting for a Downtown Brooklyn rivalry game over the weekend.
The three-time defending NEC champion women’s volleyball team from LIU coasted to a straight-set triumph at SFC Brooklyn on Saturday with scores of 25-17, 25-12 and 25-19 for their ninth straight win.
Junior Alex Larsen had nine kills and four aces and junior Nicole Hopton accumulated 30 assists for the Blackbirds (11-12, 10-2 NEC), who haven’t lost since a straight-set defeat to Robert Morris at the Wellness Center on Oct. 3.
The St. Francis women’s basketball team, fresh off earning the diminutive Downtown school’s first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament last March, is just a few days from officially beginning defense of its NEC title Sunday against Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
The Terriers, who stunned the rest of the league by eking into the NEC Tournament before reeling off three straight road wins to grab the crown, saw their dream season end with an 89-33 opening-round loss to eventual national champion Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament.
SFC head coach John Thurston, who has orchestrated an amazing turnaround during his first three years on the job, is hoping for big things out of senior guard Leah Fechko, a two-time All-NEC Defensive Team selection.
Especially after the Terriers lost the likes of Eilidh Simpson, Jaymee Veney and Sarah Benedetti, each of whom played key roles in the rebuilding of the program over the past several seasons, culminating in last year’s title run.
“Our goals are basically the same every year,” Thurston said. “That’s to work to get better every day. We don’t know what our true potential is, yet. We take the philosophy that each and every day, and each and every play, and every drill that you do, you try to get better than you were the day before. Eventually, you reach a higher level. It may take a year, it may take two years.”
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