A (Senior) Night to Remember

Like most home games for the St. John’s men’s soccer team,Saturday night’s contest against Florida International wasspecial.
It was not just because the crowd was buzzing or that the Red Stormdefeated the Golden Panthers, 3-1, but that Saturday marked thefinal regular season home game for five SJU seniors and teammanager Bill Goodwin.
Saturday evening ended in a triumphant victory for the Johnnies,but it began as an emotional Senior Night that soon turned into amemorable evening. It is one of those occasions in college sportsthat an athlete can look back on 10 years from now and remember asone of the greatest nights of their life.
The win over FIU may have been the last time graduating seniorsChris Wingert, Matia Damiani, Tim O�Neill, Angel Rodriguezand Guy Hertz played a regular season match-up at Belson Stadium,but it may not be the last time they play on their home field.
With the win, St. John’s improved to 12-4-1 overall and a win atWest Virginia this Saturday will secure the team’s first Big Eastregular season championship since 1997. They would then host atleast one Big East tournament game and maybe more in the NCAAtournament.
It was only fitting that the SJU seniors would play a huge role inthe win, as Rodriguez and Wingert scored the first two goals, thelatter assisting on the first.
Wingert, a Hermann Award Candidate- the award presented at theFinal Four to Division I college soccer’s best player- appreciatedthe pre-game ceremony and wanted to show thanks on the soccerfield.
“We can only hope to put up a good performance for the fans and ourfamilies that come out to watch,” he said, doing just that byscoring the game-winner on a penalty kick.
Wingert has become accustomed to being honored. Besides playingwith the United States U-23 National Team, the Long Island nativeand team captain has collected all sorts of hardware, including2002 Big East Defensive Player of the Year and first-teamNSCAA/Adidas All-American.
Head Coach Dave Masur has put these seniors through some tough 7a.m. practices, and has helped mold them into what they are today:great competitors, friends and soccer standouts.
“Coach has been great to me for the four years,” Wingert said,noting how he puts them through some grueling practices.
Added graduate student and goalkeeper Guy Hertz, who started forthe first time since Sept. 13, “Sometimes it’s hard to work everyday at seven in the morning, but in the end when we win and all thecelebration…it’s really worth it.”
Coming to St. John’s via Israel, Hertz sat out last season as ared-shirt after leading the Red Storm to a 17-3-3 overall record in2001, as well as the program’s sixth Big East TournamentChampionship and a trip to the NCAA Final Four.
At the beginning of the 2003 campaign, Hertz and fellow goalkeeperBill Gaudette shared playing time in goal for SJU, until Gaudettesustained his role as the starter in mid September.
“I didn’t know I was playing until before the game,” Hertz said,noting how Masur told him in the locker room that he’d be mindinggoal on Senior Night.
The Johnnies struck first, when Rodriguez recorded his second goalof the season, and the fifteenth of his career.
“It’s great to see Angel get a goal,” Masur said. “He’s been such aprolific goal scorer for us…really through his career here. Itwas nice to see him get it and it was a big goal.”
“Oh man, it’s amazing,” Rodriguez said, when asked what it was liketo score a goal on Senior Night. “It’s been a while. I was in aslump.”
Number 11 said the four years as a member of the Red Storm soccerteam went by fast.
“It’s been a great experience coming to St. John’s. It’s a greatenvironment. It’s going to help me out later if I ever want to playat a higher level,” said Rodriguez, who hopes to either go pro orplay in Mexico.
Damiani appreciates the four years he has spent as a member of theSt. John’s soccer program
“I’m very proud and very glad and happy to play with all theseguys,” the crowd favorite said. “I’m going to miss everybody,because like I said, St. John’s has this thing…it’s not just thesoccer but also like the group and a family. I always say…we area winning team [not just] because we have guys that are talentedbut we grew up all together and we have this group mentality.”
The other seniors, like Damiani, couldn’t have asked for anothergroup to go to battle with.
“About my teammates, you know what could I say,” Rodriguez said.”They’re my best friends, like a family to me. It’s going to behard to leave them.”
Wingert, as he was being hounded by a young admirer seeking anautograph, agreed with his teammate.
“Playing with these guys has been unbelievable,” he said. “We’vebeen coming to practice together for four years and have won somebig games and when you go through all that stuff with the samegroup of guys it’s a special bond that you have.”
O’Neill says his teammates are the thing he likes most about St.John’s soccer, and they especially liked him after he scored inFriday night�s 2-0 win over Boston College.
“A great effort last night [Friday],” Masur said of O’Neill.”Scored his first goal, almost had another today.”
Now the seniors can celebrate their accomplishments and only hopeto add more, as they can make history for themselves this Saturdayin West Virginia.
Wherever life may bring these five seniors, be it playingprofessional soccer or coaching it, they could always look back ontheir careers at St. John’s and remember a special SeniorNight.
They all said they would miss St. John’s.
Hey guys, the feeling is mutual.