Blackbirds host NEC Championships at LIU Field
Shoot for 11th trip to NCAAs during coach Kortmann’s tenure
During nearly a quarter of a century in Downtown Brooklyn, Roy Kortmann has led the LIU-Brooklyn women’s softball program to a dozen Northeast Conference regular-season championships and 10 trips to the NCAA Tournament.
The long-time head coach’s Blackbirds appear primed and ready to deliver NEC Title XI.
Buoyed by an infusion of underclassmen, including NEC Pitcher and Rookie of the Year candidate Elena Valenzuela, Kortmann’s crew nailed down the top seed in this week’s NEC Tournament at LIU Field last Saturday with a doubleheader sweep of Central Connecticut State.
Despite wrapping things up early, the Blackbirds went out and took two from Bryant the very next day as Valenzuela put an exclamation point on her brilliant rookie campaign by tossing her 15th complete game.
The Whittier, California native made 30 appearances for LIU this year, going an eye-popping 17-3 with a 2.00 ERA and seven shutouts.
Valenzuela was named the league’s Co-Pitcher of the Week for the fifth time this year on Monday while sophomore shortstop Kiana Cisneros earned Player of the Week honors for the first time in her career after going 6-for-6 with three RBIs in the sweep of Bryant.
Freshman Camryn Lyman received her second consecutive Rookie of the Week honor following a blistering .526 (10-for-19) performance at the plate during the Blackbirds’ busy regular season-ending weekend.
At 33-16 overall with a 14-2 mark in the NEC, the Blackbirds are eager to build on their perfect 11-0 home record this season when they host fourth-seeded Mount St. Mary’s Thursday at high noon in the opener of the four-team, double-elimination tournament.
“[The] NEC Tournament is a great challenge and we are looking forward to it,” Kortmann told the Eagle via email as his club prepared to face the Mount for the first time since April 13, when the Blackbirds swept a doubleheader against their league rivals here.
“Teams know each other so well…. We have a very young team that has been very fun to coach,” Kortmann added. “They have an open approach to learning and have put together a very solid season.”
Solid doesn’t begin to describe how well the Blackbirds have played of late, winning 18 of their final 22 regular-season contests while boasting a perfect record at LIU Field to earn home-field advantage.
They finished the year with an NEC-best 3.12 staff ERA, 24 complete games, nine shutouts, a sparkling .973 fielding percentage and ranked third on the circuit with a .291 team batting average.
All that success began with a grueling season-opening trek through several time zones in non-conference tournaments in Florida and California before they began their unblemished run at LIU Field with an 8-0 blanking of Columbia on March 27, a game that saw Valenzuela make here Brooklyn debut with a one-hitter.
“We had early season success on the road [against] some solid programs and they have grown and developed continually since,” Kortmann noted.
“We have had some freshman also provide strong seasons on all sides of the ball. Look forward to their first taste of postseason.”
Their first taste isn’t likely to be their last as the Blackbirds are stocked with young talent.
If Kortmann gets his wish, this team could be on its way to compete against the nation’s best in the NCAA Regionals, which begin May 17.
But first, LIU must find a way to navigate its way through The Mount, two-time defending NEC champion St. Francis University, which split a DH with the Blackbirds in Loretto, Pennsylvania on April 28, as well as second-seeded Sacred Heart.
The Blackbirds, who haven’t won the NEC crown since 2016, will also be playing either Sacred Heart or SFU in Round Two on Friday before potentially participating in the NEC Championship Game here on Saturday.
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Over at St. Francis Brooklyn, new women’s soccer head coach Justine Lombardi announced the additions of four new players, Breanna Gleissner, Jacki Puda, Henriette Rotvold Lykke and Jamie-Lyn Shimamoto to the program’s inaugural roster.
“I couldn’t be happier with how the roster is shaping up. The players are incredible, and I love how much diversity we have amongst the team,” said Lombardi, who was an assistant for six years at her alma mater Quinnipiac before taking the reins of the Terriers’ first-ever women’s soccer squad.
“Each of these players has a little something different to offer on the field, but our core values remain the same,” added Lombardi. “This roster is full of (and continuing to grow with) hardworking, dedicated, amazing young women that are ready to come in here and work.”
Though they won’t officially begin competing in the NEC until this coming Fall, the Terriers hope to build a program as solid as the SFC men’s squad, which has won four of the last five league championships under head coach Tom Giovatto.
“The opportunity to start something from square one is always a great undertaking, and this will be no exception,” Lombardi said upon receiving the position last August.
“But it is something I have dreamed of doing and that I think will be extremely satisfying.”
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