Blackbirds in ‘good place’ entering NEC slate
LIU-Brooklyn looking to usurp terriers’ No. 1 conference status
Long-time LIU-Brooklyn men’s head soccer coach TJ Kostecky made sure his Blackbirds would see plenty of fierce competition during the non-conference portion of their schedule.
Thus far, the second-ranked team in the preseason Northeast Conference poll is responding like it’s eager to climb to No. 1 sooner rather than later.
Senior Chris Solbakken scored what proved to be the game-winning goal on a brilliant header off a corner kick from junior Giuseppe Barone in the 65th minute Saturday at LIU Field, lifting the Blackbirds to a 2-1 victory over LaSalle and insuring that they’d finish the non-conference slate no worse than .500.
After improving to 4-3-1 with their third straight non-league victory, Kostecky’s squad has already made a big jump in performance after managing just two wins against out-of-conference opponents last year.
With his team slated to wrap up the non-conference schedule Tuesday afternoon in Newark, N.J., against NJIT, Kostecky gave the Brooklyn Eagle his thoughts on the season thus far and on what he hopes will be a strong run through the NEC.
“Overall, I’m very pleased with our out-of-conference play,” he said as his team was getting ready for its third match in 10 days.
“We put together one of our toughest [non-conference] schedules in many years and will come out at least .500 before our first conference match.”
Balance has been a significant factor in the Blackbirds’ strong start, which has seen them go 3-0-1 in Downtown Brooklyn and score an impressive 3-1 triumph over Loyola-Marymount in Los Angeles on Sept. 9.
“The good news is seven different players have already scored and 11 have points,” Kostecky noted.
On Saturday, the Explorers jumped out to an early lead when Hayden Criollo’s deft one-touch volley off a cross eluded LIU goaltender Anthony Sciola in the 21st minute.
But the Blackbirds bounced back quickly as freshman Michael Gianino drew them even by dribbling around three LaSalle defenders before deking Explorers netminder Cameron Keys and stuffing the ball into the right corner of the net at the 34-minute mark.
As the teams battled back and forth thereafter, Sciola kept the Blackbirds in the contest by making seven huge saves.
Midway through the second half, Solbakken eluded the pack and made the most of the corner kick cross by Barone, a product of Bay Ridge’s Xaverian High School, heading it past Keys for the go-ahead score.
The Blackbirds will open their NEC schedule here Sunday at Brooklyn Bridge Park against their top rivals for the conference title, two-time defending champion and preseason NEC No. 1 St. Francis Brooklyn.
While that neighborhood showdown is normally reserved for the regular season’s final contest, it has been moved up to the NEC opener for LIU this year.
Playing successfully through a tough non-conference slate that saw them travel through several time zones while dominating here at home has prepared the Blackbirds for what should be one of their toughest challenges of the campaign.
“We’re in a good place and looking forward to the start of conference play,” Kostecky said.
The Terriers (3-6), coming off their fourth NEC crown in five years, haven’t fared nearly as well as LIU in non-conference action thus far.
SFC Brooklyn suffered its third loss in four matches Saturday while the Blackbirds were edging past LaSalle, dropping a 4-1 decision to visiting St. Peter’s at BPP.
Coach Tom Giovatto’s was played off its own field as Dominic Laws and Frederik Lindqvist scored two goals apiece to stake the Peacocks to a 4-0 lead.
Senior forward Ali Tounkara, last year’s NEC Tournament MVP, prevented the Terriers from getting blanked on their pitch by delivering his second goal in as many games off a feed from junior midfielder Julien Remiti in the 65th minute.
The humbling loss came six days after SFC appeared to get back on track with a strong showing in a 3-1 victory over Howard here last weekend.
“We played pretty well,” Giovatto said after the heartening win, which saw Tounkara score and senior midfielder Amir Islami pick up a pair of assists.
“I thought Amir was the player of the game,” Giovatto added. “He had everything to do with both goals in the second half. It was great to get Ali back. With Ali back and a couple of the other players back, we’ll be okay for next week.”
Though they weren’t okay at all against St. Peter’s on Saturday, the Terriers will get the jump on the Blackbirds in NEC play, beginning defense of their championship at BPP on Friday before a quick turnaround for Sunday’s epic clash with LIU.
Winners of five of the last six NEC titles, the dynastic women’s volleyball squad opened its conference schedule in impressive — or should say typical — fashion last weekend, posting back-to-back straight-set wins at Fairleigh Dickinson and Sacred Heart.
The Blackbirds (5-6, 2-0 NEC) benefitted greatly from the efforts of junior middle blocker Filippa Hansson, who took home NEC Defensive Player of the Week honors after amassing an eye-popping 1.83 blocks per set average while adding to her league-leading .333 hitting percentage for the year.
LIU, which is attempting to pull off yet another NEC three-peat this season, is slated to host conference rivals Bryant and Central Connecticut State at the Steinberg Center this weekend.
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