Dec. 16, 2003
Jamaica, N.Y. - They returned home weary and tired from a long weekend away. They returned home not with the trophy they had hoped to bring back to campus. They returned home wanting to bring St. John's its second NCAA Championship.
Still, despite the St. John's men's soccer team losing to Indiana, 2-1, in the NCAA title game on Sunday at Columbus Crew Stadium, the Red Storm's 2003 season will go down as one of the most successful in program history.
In the final season rankings from the National Soccer Coaches Association, St. John's was slated No. 2, behind the national champion Hoosiers. It is the highest final season ranking for a Red Storm men's soccer team since 1996, when the team won the NCAA title.
After starting the season with an 0-2 record, the Red Storm reeled off five-straight wins - including a 3-0 win over then No. 4-ranked Notre Dame. A road loss to Seton Hall and a tie at William & Mary would be followed by yet another five-game win streak, capped with a double-overtime win at Connecticut. A loss to Virginia Tech on the road made the BIG EAST race tight, but the team won back-to-back home games - against Boston College and Florida International - before beating West Virginia, 2-1, to wrap up the team's fifth BIG EAST regular season title.
At the BIG EAST Tournament, the Red Storm rallied back from a 1-0 deficit late in the game - with junior Ryan Kelly (Marlton, N.J.) tying the game with four minutes left - and eventually won it in penalty kicks, as graduate student Guy Hertz (Ramat-Hasharon, Israel) saved two shots.
After losing to Notre Dame in the championship game, the Red Storm learned of their NCAA Tournament fate - a No. 6 seed and a first round bye - with a national television audience on ESPN News, as the team watched the selection show and appeared live from Times Square.
The team faced one of its rivals - UConn - in the second round and the match was one of the best in the short history of Belson Stadium. After scoreless play through 90 minutes of regulation play, and another 20 of overtime, the game headed to penalty kicks. Hertz again came up big, and senior Simone Salinno (Foggia, Italy) tallied the decisive goal, in a 4-2 win.
In the third round, St. John's topped a tough UC Santa Barbara team, 3-2, in overtime, with Kelly scoring two goals in the game. The Red Storm reached the quarterfinals in peculiar fashion. A snowstorm forced the team to postpone the game on December 5 against Creighton to December 7. But as more snow rolled into New York on the off-day, the game was moved to Maryland. Creighton, who ended the Red Storm's season in 2002, jumped out to a 2-0 lead midway through the second half and held a man-advantage after a St. John's player was issued a red card in the first half. A score from Kelly and a penalty kick from senior Chris Wingert (Babylon, N.Y.) tied the game, and Salinno scored with 11 minutes left to give the team one of its most dramatic wins in program history.
Sophomore Sebastian Alvarado-Ralph (Gothernburg, Sweden) scored on a penalty kick in the first half and the team beat Maryland, 1-0, in the NCAA Semifinals.
The team was led by Wingert, a senior defender who was named the BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year for the second-straight season and was named a first-team All-American by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America for the second-straight season this past weekend. In addition, Wingert was named one of three finalists for the Missouri Athletic Club's Hermann Trophy, recognizing the national player of the year. The award will be presented on January 9 in St. Louis. Off the field, Wingert, a communication art major who carries a 3.80 grade-point average, was named the Academic All-American of the Year by the College Sports Information Directors of America.
Wingert was one of six Red Storm players to earn All-BIG EAST honors this season, including graduate student Matia Damiani (Foggia, Italy), who was also named the league's Midfielder of the Year.
In addition to Damiani and Wingert, junior Chris Corcoran (Marshfield, Mass.), junior Matt Groenwald (Mt. Prospect, Ill.) and senior Simone Salinno (Lucera, Italy) each were named to the BIG EAST first team.
Corcoran, a second-team selection last year, scored two goals and had eight assists for 12 points this season. A second-team CoSIDA Academic All-District selection, Corcoran ranked second on the team in assists and tied for third in scoring. Groenwald, who has overcome three surgeries in the last two years, came back this season and started 17 of 19 games for the Red Storm. The speedy junior, a first-team CoSIDA Academic All-District first team selection this year, has five goals and nine assists for 19 points. He ranks second in the league in assists and among the league leaders in scoring. Salinno, meanwhile, broke out this season, scoring a team-high 14 goals and had three assists for 31 points, which ranked second in the BIG EAST. He had five goals and three assists for 13 points in league games, which ranked second.
Red Storm senior goalkeeper Bill Gaudette (Hummelstown, Pa.) earned second-team All-BIG EAST honors as well. Gaudette has posted a 9-3-1 record this season, with six shutouts and a 0.76 goals-against average. He ranks second in the league in overall GAA, but led the league in conference action with a 0.56 average, allowing only four goals in seven games.
Wiingert and Damiani were both named to the NSCAA All-New York Region first team, while Corcoran, Groenwald and Salinno both earned second team honors.