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LIU-Brooklyn women’s volleyball ‘kill it’ again in NEC tournament

Blackbirds outlast CCSU in thrilling final to grab NCAA Tournament spot

November 22, 2017 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
It took five grueling sets, but LIU Brooklyn once again emerged as the best women’s volleyball team in the Northeast Conference last Saturday at Downtown’s Steinberg Wellness Center. Photo courtesy of LIU Brooklyn Athletics
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Freshman volleyballer Piper Matsumoto kept setting them up, and her LIU Brooklyn teammates kept delivering kill after kill.

Matsumoto had a Northeast Conference Championship performance for the ages last Saturday at Downtown Brooklyn’s Steinberg Wellness Center, recording a rare triple-double to pace the dynastic Blackbirds to a thrilling five-set (25-20, 24-26, 26-24, 21-25 and 15-12) triumph over Central Connecticut State.

The first-year setter from Fort Myers, Florida, was in the middle of it all throughout the epic back-and-forth affair, recording 10 kills of her own to go with 15 digs and a whopping 55 assists for the first-ever triple-double in an NEC Final since 1997.

“It’s amazing,” said Matsumoto after helping LIU grab its second straight NEC title, fifth in six years and a spot in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

“It’s great that I know when I set them I can rely on them to get the kill.”

Sophomore Natalia Rivera grabbed tournament MVP honors by amassing 38 digs during the marathon match, which also saw NEC Player of the Year Viktoria Fink register 15 more kills and 18 digs for the Blackbirds, who were waiting to find out their first-round NCAA matchup during Sunday’s Selection Show.

Sophomore middle blocker Filippa Hansson benefited most from Matsumoto’s setting prowess, collecting a match-high 19 kills as top-seeded LIU (20-9, 11-3 NEC) needed all 74 of its finishing slams to repeat as conference champions.

“I couldn’t be prouder,” gushed LIU head coach Ken Ho. “My hat’s off to CCSU. But I am extremely proud of our team.”

By winning their NEC-record 11th tournament championship overall, the Blackbirds also extended their streak of capturing either the regular-season or postseason crown for seven consecutive years.

Last season, the Blackbirds also needed five sets to knock off top-seeded Sacred Heart in the NEC Finals in Fairfield, Conn. But this time, LIU was on its home floor, where it went a perfect 11-0 this year, including a four-set triumph over Robert Morris in Friday’s semifinals.

Matsumoto, Rivera and Hansson were selected to the NEC All-Tournament team, and with all three having at least two more years of eligibility remaining, Ho figures to put a couple of more NEC titles in the LIU trophy case before they graduate.

“It’s been a body of work and a process throughout the whole season,” he said. “We’ve been working to have a performance like this.”

* * *

In other local college sports news, the St. Francis Brooklyn men’s basketball team, coming off its first victory in 19 games, announced the inking of a pair of new recruits this week during the early signing period.

Head coach Glenn Braica revealed that guard Larry Moreno, formerly of Brooklyn Law and Tech, and center Christian Rohlehr (Jefferson Community College) have signed national letters of intent to join the Terriers’ program for the 2018-19 season.

“Both players have tremendous potential, are student-athletes of high caliber, and fit in well with our program,” Braica said.  “They come from two programs that we trust and we appreciate their confidence in us.”

Moreno, a 6-footer who set his school’s all-time scoring record this past season with 1,330 points, guided Law and Tech to the PSAL “A” Championship Game. He was also named to the first-team All-State squad.

More importantly, he will remain in the borough where he emerged as a college prospect, providing a feather in Braica’s recruiting cap as he continues to keep local talent here on the Downtown college hoops scene.

“Larry is a true New York City guard who plays both backcourt positions and can really score,” Braica said. 

“He’s got the ability to create shots for himself and for his teammates, can shoot the three and puts up points very quickly,” he added. “We feel that he can be a dynamic player in the Northeast Conference as he gets stronger and gains experience.”

Rohlehr, a 6-foot-10 pivot man, averaged 20.1 points, 9.0 rebounds and 6.0 blocks per game last season at Jefferson Community College, which is located in Watertown, N.Y.

The native of Ontario, Canada led all of Division III in blocked shots during each of his first three seasons before jumping to the Division I level here on Remsen Street.

“Christian comes from the same junior college as one of our former stars, Steven Howard,” Braica explained. 

“We expect him to be a rim protector for us.  He’s got excellent hands, is a good rebounder, and has the ability to score in the post.  We feel that he’s got a lot of upside after picking up the game of basketball at the age of 15.”

With the two new additions, the Terriers now have nine players in the program who either played in or hailed from New York, including sophomore sensation Rasheem Dunn, who starred at Thomas Jefferson High School.

Following their Thanksgiving Week trip to Fort Myers, Florida for the Home Suites Shootout, the Terriers will return to the Pope Center on Nov. 30 to host the College of New Rochelle.


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