On the Marc

     Over the course of the three years I have been at St. John’s, the predominant sport covered by the mainstream local and national media has been the men’s basketball team.

     Now, unless you have been in a space station orbiting around the moon, it is easy to tell that the past few seasons have not been too successful for St. John’s men’s basketball.

     The firing of then-coach Mike Jarvis, the dismissal of guard Willie Shaw for possession of marijuana, the infamous sex scandal, and the self-imposed sanctions along with the pending NCAA investigation have all equaled out to some bad press for the University, and possibly for good reason.

     But all that negative attention does not mean the sports programs at St. John’s are in shambles or anything of the sort.

     The hiring of Norm Roberts as the head men’s basketball coach has been a key move in trying to bring the school’s crown jewel — men’s basketball — back to respectability. Stud recruits, like Qa’Raan Calhoun (a forward from New Jersey arriving in ‘07) and Doug Wiggins (a combo guard from Connecticut coming in ‘06), have committed and it seems that more are to follow.

     While the success of the basketball team is of the utmost importance to St. John’s and has been the trademark and main money-making sport at the school for over a half century, there are three other sports that have become solid teams perennially.

     The most successful sport at St. John’s has actually been fencing over the past decade. The team came in third at the NCAA Championship this year and won it all in 2001. They were the runner-up in 1995, 2000, and 2002 and have had five Olympians since ‘95, as well. Five Olympians and hardly any media coverage — and The Torch is just as guilty as any other media outlet.

    The sport that has fallen into the second slot behind basketball in the hierarchy of St. John’s athletics is men’s soccer.

     Soccer is not a sport many Americans have embraced, but it grows more and more every day in the United States. What many people do not know is that St. John’s men’s soccer is comparable to the basketball programs at schools like Duke and North Carolina. The team has been that successful. Men’s soccer made it to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament this past season and lost in the College Cup finals the year before.

     This coming season, coach Dave Masur has 2004 Hermann Trophy (the award given annually to the best player in college soccer) candidate Matt Groenwald and forward Andre Schmid returning as the nucleus of what should be a strong team.

     The third sport that has achieved national success lately for St. John’s is the baseball team. Actually, they have received a ton of national attention in the past month after the drafting of their closer, Craig Hansen, in the first round of the MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox.

     The baseball team won the Big East regular season crown this year and is the only team in the Northeast to have made the NCAA Tournament two straight years.

     Next season could get a little dicey though, with six players drafted by pro organizations in June. Coach Ed

     Blankmeyer will still return a solid lineup that will include first baseman Chris Joachim (second on the team in homers this year), designated hitter Eddie Schultz, and second baseman Sam DeLuca.

     An honorable mention to these three sports is women’s basketball. The job that Kim Barnes Arico has done since taking over a team that was 3-24 the year before she arrived has been worthy of some serious praise.This year, in her third season, Barnes Arico led the team to 20 wins and a WNIT berth. The most impressive part is that the team is still young and could very well be making an NCAA run if leading scorers Kia Wright and Angela Clark stay healthy.

     Speaking of health, two teams that have faced some hard luck with injuries recently have been women’s soccer and softball.

     The women’s soccer team was decimated by injuries last fall, losing key players like Erin Henderson, Dominica Reina, and Kaitlin Schmidt for significant time. The team has a ton of talent, and if they can stay healthy, coach Ian Stone’s squad should be able to grab a berth into the 2005 Big East Tournament.

     The softball team knows a whole lot about talent. Center fielder Jo Sherlock, catcher Christina Tucker, and second baseman Tami Hill are three of the better hitters in the conference. But injuries — and a lack of pitching — really hurt them this year. The loss of Kim Lerch, who had been the team’s best pitcher through the non-conference portion of their schedule, to an arm injury was an unfortunate blow.

     If it was not injuries plaguing teams, it was youth. The lacrosse team — in its first year at St. John’s since 1994 — featured 26 freshmen and stumbled to a 2-11 record. An eye sore, most definitely, but the team has potential, with big-time players like Justin O’Donnell, Tom Michaelsen, and Devin Madden that have three years left of eligibility.

     Youth proved to be the undoing of the volleyball team —which had eight freshman and only one senior in 2004 — as well. But despite the inexperience, the team went to the maximum five games in six out of their 10 Big East matches. Freshman starters Lisa Tedder, LaToya Blunt, and Caitlin Rimgaila will all be back for coach Joanne Persico-Smith’s team in ‘05.

     The smaller sports saw some success this past year too.

     The women’s golf team, in only its third year of existence, won the Big East Championship and the two tennis team’s both came in third in the Big East. The men’s golf team came in sixth in the conference tournament.

     The women’s track and field team did not see a large amount of team success, but Kerrian Stewart and Blessing Egwu were Big East champions in their respective events: the 400m and the hammer throw.

     It is easy to just listen to the negative attention being given to St. John’s athletics but if you look a little harder, you might see something more — a bright future.