Bittersweet finish for St. John’s

Matt Groenwald never gave up.

The graduate student forward kept fighting. He refused to give in, even with his team down to third-seeded Maryland, in a game they would lose, 3-1, on the road in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

“I was really just more worried about getting back into the game,” Groenwald said. “I never really thought that we were too out of the game.”

The 5-foot-8 Hermann Award semifinalist had already helped the team tie the score at 1-1 when he assisted on senior Sebastian Alvarado-Ralph’s goal in the 26th minute.

Maryland took the lead with 27 minutes left and the second equalizer never came. Andre Schmid’s header hit the cross bar in the 82nd minute.

“Maybe in the last 20 seconds when they had a foul in the box and they were about to clear it out, I got a little bit upset,” said Groenwald, who scored 16 goals and recorded 23 assists in his five-year career in Queens. He had a team-leading seven goals this season.

It was the third year in a row the Terrapins and the Red Storm ended each others’ season. In 2003, St. John’s earned a 1-0 victory in the Final Four. Last year Maryland won a 1-0 game in the Elite Eight.

Not only did Maryland end St. John’s season again, but also the careers of Jeff Carroll, Reed Dailey, Chris Leidner, Alvarado-Ralph and Groenwald, the last members of the national runner-up squad. Schmid will graduate too, but sat out that season with an injury. The game that members of the team pointed to as gut-wrenching was a 1-0 loss to UConn in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament as the one that might have kept them from meeting Maryland so early.

“I hate when they (UConn) win,” said Garry Lewis, who scored the game-winning goal in the Red Storm’s 1-0 over Notre Dame in the Big East quarterfinals.

The freshman also got into a scuffle with a Huskies’ fan during the game.

“It makes you want to want to kick their (opponents) ass to shut them up,” he said.

Instead Connecticut, who St. John’s tied earlier in the year, went on to win the Big East Tournament and St. John’s (11-6-5) was not awarded a bye in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

“It maybe could have got us a different game then Maryland away,” Masur said. “We might have got a [different] seed.”

The eventual loss to Maryland was a microcosm of St. John’s season: create a ton of scoring opportunities, but not get rewarded with the ball finding the back of the net.

“I think we were a bit unlucky in how many goals we scored,” Groenwald said. “That translated into a lot more close games then we would have hoped for.”

But behind the hard-luck offense was a defense and a goalie that had one of the best seasons in school history. Sophomore Jason Landers became the first St. John’s goalie named the Big East goalkeeper of the year. His efforts were blustered by a defense that included Steven Old, an All-Big East first-team selection and Carroll, a second team member.

“When ever we got a goal we felt they were not going to score,” Lewis said.

The goals and excitement that will be missed are Groenwald’s, who is still a little bothered by the few achievements and wins he did not collect during his career.

“Not to be negative, but really the losses will stand out more in my mind than really any big win because I am a bit of a perfectionist,” Groenwald said.

But now Groenwald’s eyes turn to Major League Soccer.

“Hopefully,” he said, “all my hard work and all the time that I have put into being a better player at St. John’s will translate into the opportunity to play at the next level.”