Underdog Storm takes Big East

PISCATAWAY, NJ -The St. John’s men’s soccer team captured their record seventh Big East tournament trophy, defeating the No. 2-ranked team in the nation, the West Virginia Mountaineers, 1-0 in a thrilling overtime victory.

West Virginia appeared to have a slight edge in the first half, out-shooting St. John’s 5-1. But the Red Storm came on with ferocity, making the game very evenly matched, as the teams spent much of the battle dueling around midfield. In regulation, both teams had few legitimate scoring chances, both getting five more shots in the second half. The game was very physical, both teams playing with grit and determination befitting of the Big East Championship. As the score remained deadlocked, the higher-ranked Mountaineers turned desperate, as they racked up 10 fouls in the second half, including two yellow cards.

The underdog Red Storm maintained their composure under captain Georgios Spanos and remained focused as the match went into overtime. Both teams nearly claimed the crown in the midst of the extra period, with Jeff Stepan serving up a header that the opposing goalie nearly lost to the crossbar, before covering the ball just before the goal line and the onslaught of Jara Habib. West Virginia had a near miss of its own soon after, as the ball scooted under Jason Landers and hit the post before Landers recovered.

It was at the very last moment of the overtime period when the Johnnies finally sealed the game and claimed the conference as their own. As the clock ran down to single digits, Ryan Soroka sent a cross into the goal box, which Habib touched off to Adam Himeno, who put the ball into the back of the net with just 4.4 seconds left on the clock.

The Red Storm, who clinched a historic 15th straight NCAA birth with the win, dominated the tournament. Landers did not give up a goal throughout, making fifteen saves in 370 minutes of play. Soroka, with three goals and two assists (both to fellow freshman Himeno) in tournament play, was named the Most Outstanding Offensive Player, while senior Billy Hole was given the defensive honors for his role in the slaying of three nationally ranked opponents en route to the title.

After the victory, the players thanked and applauded the large Red Zone crowd that trekked over to the hosting Rutgers campus twice over the weekend to support the team. The next game will be at Belson Stadium against Monmouth, to open the NCAA Tournament. With a win, they will go to Maryland to face the defending champions, and the team that dispatched them from the brackets last year.

Head coach Dave Masur is looking forward, just a day after the win. After the brackets were released, he stressed the task at hand:

“It was nice to celebrate the victory that day, but it’s behind us now, as we focus on the NCAA Tournament… there’s a tendency for tournament champions to lose, so we want to avoid that.”

St. John’s 2, Providence 0
No. 25 St John’s stormed into the Big East Championship game after defeating the No. 24 Providence College last Friday, winning 2-0. Ryan Soroka continued his torrential offensive streak, scoring the first goal, his eighth of the season, and his fourth game-winner in a row. He later assisted on Adam Himeno’s insurance goal, as Jason Landers shut out the opponent again, making four saves, and posting his fifth shut out in a row, the team’s twelfth overall.