Terriers poised to surprise Panthers
St. Francis-Brooklyn to meet Milwaukee in NCAA opener
Winners of five of the last eight Northeast Conference championships, the St. Francis Brooklyn men’s soccer club is aspiring to even greater heights this week.
Buoyed by their vice-like defense and knack for scoring in the clutch, Remsen Street’s Terriers are in Wilmington, North Carolina preparing for Thursday evening’s NCAA Tournament opener vs. Milwaukee.
With NEC Goaltender of the Year Callum James manning the net and top scorers Nicolas Molina and Ranchwy Saint Vil leading the charge up front, SFC (5-1-2) is entering its 10th College Cup on a high after surviving an epic shootout with arch rival Long Island University in the NEC title game.
The Terriers should face an even stiffer challenge from the Panthers (8-4), who won the Horizon League crown and are carrying a five-game winning streak, including three shutouts, into the College Cup.
“Time to get to work and see what we can find out about (St. Francis) and share with the team and do what we need to get prepared for the game,” Milwaukee head coach Kris Kelderman said.
The Panthers will need to do a lot of research on perhaps the best defensive team in its region.
SFC blanked four opponents this season, including LIU twice in a row over 220 minutes, and surrendered only four goals in regulation.
“We really rely on our defense. We take a lot of pride in that,” said Giovatto, who earned NEC Coach of the Year honors.
James, who stopped two shots to save the season and one to clinch the win in last week’s championship match against the Sharks at Brooklyn Bridge Park, also scored a key goal during the nail-biting shootout.
Molina, the NEC Player of the Year, has scored three goals this year to go with three assists and Saint Vil tallied twice and added two helpers during his first campaign in Brooklyn Heights.
Unlike previous NCAA Tournaments, which featured regional brackets throughout the country, this year’s event will be held entirely in the state of North Carolina.
If the Terriers can improve to 4-8 all-time in College Cup games and win an NCAA Tournament game for the first time since 1978, they will remain in Wilmington for Sunday’s second-round match against third-seeded Indiana.
“It is going to be special, this is the first time that this is happening (NCAA Tournament all in one state), so it is a privilege for us to be there,” said Giovatto.
“We are excited, the boys are going to be really excited to take this trip, and to play in those incredible facilities. We are thrilled to be a part of it.”
They’ll be even more thrilled if they figure out a way to get past their first opponent.
In their last tournament appearance in 2017, the Terriers took Fordham to overtime before suffering a 3-2 loss.
With both teams on top of their respective games entering Thursday’s opening tilt, the Terriers and/or Panthers should provide a dangerous second-round opponent for the highly touted Hoosiers this weekend.
“It’s a great experience for our guys, for our program, and for our athletic department,” said Kelderman, who led the Panthers back to the NCAAs for the first time since 2013.
“It’s been a funky season for a lot of reasons – COVID concerns, weather concerns – to prevail throughout all of this and come together as a group and have this experience is pretty cool.”
Giovatto seems to feel the same way.
“We’re excited to be playing in the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “We’ve been talking about it for a long time and I think it’ll be a special Tournament, especially going down to North Carolina and playing everything down there.”
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