1996 NCAA National Champions
Dream It, Believe It, Achieve It. That was the slogan St. John's men's soccer coach Dave Masur and his players came up with prior to the 1996 season. It started five years earlier for some of the players, and for others, as soon as they arrived on campus.
No St. John's team had ever advanced past the first round of the NCAA Tournament prior to 1996. The team came up with a list of mottos for that season, and the list contained statements about unity, mental toughness, focus, respect, commitment and discipline. The team then stated the desire to win the BIG EAST regular season title, reach the College Cup and then become national champions.
With the support of St. John's alumni like Chris Mullin, Lou Carnesecca and Mario Cuomo, the Storm charged to a 22-2-2 record en route to the 1996 national title.
The commitment of the 1996 team was evident from the opening kickoff of the season and was highlighted by moments like Jesse Van Saun's game-tying goal with 10 seconds left in overtime, saving the Red Storm from defeat at Notre Dame.
Another exciting moment was provided by two-time All-American Ben Hickey in the semifinals of the BIG EAST Tournament. With the Red Storm trailing 3-2 with 27 seconds left in regulation, Hickey nailed the tying goal, keeping the team alive.
St. John's would eventually lose the championship game to Rutgers, but the big goal - the NCAA Championship - was still alive.
The Red Storm beat Fordham, 5-1 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, winning its first-ever tournament game and taking the monkey off their backs. In the second round game, Wojtek Krakowiak scored his second goal of the game with 12 seconds left in regulation, giving St. John's a 2-1 win over George Mason.
The quarterfinal game saw St. John's travel to Norfolk, Va. for a match with William & Mary. Anchored by the defense, the Red Storm limited William & Mary to just six shots in a 2-1 win. Defenders Kevin Daly and Pavel Krakowiak each scored a goal, with Krakowiak's overtime shot providing the win. That win moved St. John's into its first-ever Final Four in soccer, and the University's first since the men's basketball team advanced during the 1984-85 school year.
In the semifinal game against Creighton, a gray, rainy, ominous day at Richmond Stadium in Virginia made an otherwise dreary day one of the most cherished in school history. Jesse Van Saun scored the game-winner midway through the second half as St. John's posted a 2-1 win.
The next step was Florida International, in St. John's first NCAA title game of any kind since 1952. The Golden Panthers, however, had handed the Red Storm one of their two losses during the regular season.
Before a crowd of 20,874, the second-largest in NCAA history at the time, St. John's rode a sea of red and white and scored early, and often. Van Saun scored 27 minutes into the game and Wojtek Krakowiak added another goal one minute later as the Red Storm took a 2-0 lead. FIU scored midway through the second half, but Ben Hickey's goal put the game out of reach. St. John's added an insurance goal by Medufia Kulego, who had missed most of the season with an ankle injury. Kulego corralled three of his own shots and put away the fourth, giving the Red Storm a 4-1 win and its first-ever national championship in any sport at the University.
Kulego was named the BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Year, while Wojtek Krakowiak earned Rookie of the Year honors. Daly, Hickey, Kulego and Van Saun all earned first team All-BIG EAST honors, while Stefani Miglioranzi and Ricardo Joseph earned second team honors. Masur was named National Coach of the Year, Van Saun was named the Final Four MVP, six players were named Regional All-Americans (Kulego, Van Saun, Ricardo Joseph, Daly, Miglioranzi and Hickey) and Ben Hickey was named a second team All-American.