December 21, 2012
STORY NO. 9
After a shaky start, FDU men transform into road warriors in NCAA tournament
Way back in August and September, the Fairleigh Dickinson University men gave little indication that it was on the verge of something big.
|Junior Jacob Lissek came up big when it counted for FDU.
Photo courtesy of FDU SID
The Knights seemingly could not do anything right, especially play good defense and win. They were trounced in their season-opener by Stony Brook, 5-0, and started out 3-4-1 while surrendering 16 goals in those games.
But FDU eventually found itself, becoming the area's post-season road warriors, reaching the NCAA Division I men's soccer tournament Sweet 16 before losing to ninth-seeded North Carolina.
For their efforts, the Knights (11-6-6) finished 20th in the National Soccer Coaches Association's final Division I rankings.
Not too shabby of a feat for a team that started out so slowly.
"It's very satisfying to see the team rewarded with these top 20 rankings in the final national polls,” coach Seth Roland said. “This achievement does not come without an immense amount of commitment, focus and determination.
“The guys worked extremely hard this past year and set the bar high in order to challenge themselves to bring FDU soccer back to national prominence. That goal has been accomplished, and we proved our mettle by defeating two top 20 programs on their home turf in the NCAA Tournament and then going toe-to-toe with the defending national champion before losing in overtime."
Roland wasn't finished.
"We speak in the locker room often that if you want to be a great program, a nationally prominent program, that you have to beat the top teams in the country,” he said. “That's the path to excellence, and it is easier said than done. However, the guys committed themselves to making that happen this year, and we are proud to be counted once again as one of the best programs in the nation."
The Knights had plenty of heroes along the way, including junior goalkeeper Jacob Lissek, who recorded 10 shutouts, to tie the school record of 21, senior Jack McVey, the team's leading goal-scorer (six) as he tallied the game-winner against Saint Louis, and Anthony Moore (two goals, seven assists), who connected for the lone goal in the win over St. John's, among others.
They started their run during the Northeast Conference tournament by surviving back-to-back shootouts. FDU prevailed over Monmouth University in the semifinals via penalty kicks, 4-3, after playing to a 1-1 tie. In the conference final, Lissek made seven saves in a seven-round shootout against Saint Francis (Pa.). The Knights won the tie-breaker, 6-5, after playing to a 1-1 draw.
The success and some upsets continued in the NCAA tournament.
They surprised 18th-ranked St. John's on the road on Moore's goal on Nov 15. before stunning Saint Louis, 2-1, in extratime, on McVey's goal.
FDU's amazing run finally ended on Nov. 25, when it dropped a 1-0 extra-time decision to North Carolina in a Sweet 16 game in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Cameron Brown's goal 90 seconds into OT.
FDU got its wake-up call from Stony Brook in that 5-0 loss on Aug. 24.
"It was like, 'Guys, anyone who might have thought that we're a pretty good team is getting a little bit ahead of themselves because we have an awful lot to work on,' " Roland said. "So, the first half of the season we challenged ourselves with a pretty tough no conference schedule for a reason.
"We had a lot of wrinkles to iron out. But once we started to iron them out, we started to gain confidence -- the ability to pressure teams, we knew we were able to keep the ball and control the tempo against a lot of teams."
But until then the Knights were inconsistent. They struggled, giving up 16 goals in eight games en route to a 3-4-1 mark.
"We were just bleeding goals," Roland said.
The revival began with a 2-1 home win over Long Island University on Sept. 28. That turned out to be the start of a nine-game unbeaten streak in which the Knights recorded a 6-0-3 record, registering six consecutive shutouts, keeping their foes off the score sheet for more than 650 minutes and allowing two goals during that span. The streak ended with a 3-0 defeat at Quinnipiac on Nov. 4.
"One step at a time, one half out a half, one game at a time, you start preventing the goals." he said. "You gain a little bit of confidence. It just kept building. It just snowballed to where, 'Hey, we've got a shutout. Great. We got a clean sheet. We got a second clean sheet in a row.' That's great stuff.
"Then you're up to six clean sheets, including two or three games in overtime. We took a lot of pride on how we defend as a team. It's easier said than done against teams like St. John's or Saint Louis, which scored 45 goals going into our games, in 20 games."
Saturday: Story No. 8