November 18, 2013
NEVER GIVING UP HOPE
Despite not reaching Big East tourney, Masur had team train in case St. John's reached NCAAs
By Michael Lewis
|Dave Masur: "We were preparing as if we were in the tournament. There was not even a question mark about that. So we kept practicing."
Photo courtesy of St. John's University
Even though his team did not qualify for the Big East men's soccer tournament, St. John's head coach Dave Masur never gave up hope of reaching the NCAA Division I tourney.
After the Red Storm's regular season ended with a 3-0 win at Seton Hall 10 days ago, Masur continued to have his team train daily with the hope it would get a chance at performing in the post-season.
His and the Red Storm's dreams were realized Monday afternoon. They received an at-large invitation to the dance with a first-round encounter at the University of Delaware Thursday at 7 p.m. ET.
"We were preparing as if we were in the tournament," Masur said a couple of hours after learning his team's fate. "There was not even a question mark about that. So we kept practicing."
Masur, who called the usual early-morning training "very intense and focused," said he gave his players "two days off maybe to rest the legs and concentrate on studies a little bit and heal up some injuries."
The 48-team field was revealed to the world during the selection show on NCAA.com just after noon on Monday.
"We weren't surprised," Masur said. "We were definitely nervous, had a lot of trepidation in my thinking on what's going to happen. We were very, very nervous. But we knew we played a very good schedule. We had some very good wins against the top 20. We were like 3-1-1 against the top 20. So we had a very good strength of schedule, a very good non-conference RPI. Some of our losses were in overtime, so I thought we had a pretty good record to push us into the tournament. We were pleased to see that."
Masur traditionally has his team play challenging schedules against Division I schools that perennially reach the NCAAs to toughen up the Red Storm. Little did he know that he would need the RPI this time to book a spot in the NCAAs. Accoring to the most recent RPI on NCAA.com, the Red Storm was ranked 33rd.
"The whole idea is to play against challenging teams, the best you can, to play against the top competition," he said. "Year in and year out we try to do that here at at St. John's. That has hopefully made us a better team, a better program. It shows some of the flaws of your team. It allows you to become better. Being able to get some wins against some good teams has helped us out."
The Red Storm (10-6-2), which finished out of the Big East post-season -- the top six teams qualify for the conference tourney -- by one spot, will need to raise its game against Delaware (14-4-1). The Blue Hens are led by Gullermo Delgado (14 goals, five assists) and three players with five goals apiece -- Roberto Gimenez, Jaime Martinez and Joe Dipre.
"They have some very special players going forward," he said. "They have some pretty good attacking players. Very well organized, well coached."
The teams played to a tie during the spring season.
"We know they are a very aggressive team," Masur said. "They have a good high line in the back. They have some very talented players. They're very good. they've played a very challenging schedule as well and we know we're going to have our hands full in a very good game."
Asked how confident his team was entering the match, Masur replied, "Look, you're never, never super confident going into any game because you know the opposition is very good. We know we hae to nullify their strengths. we've got to play our style of football and we've got to expose their weaknesses they might have. We have to hit all three of those [marks]."
Any Red Storm fan knows that the St. John's men traditionally are strong defensively and this year's version is no different. The Storm allowed 14 goals in 18 matches while recording nine shutouts.
"Our team philosophy is to possess the ball and try to win as high up the field as we can without giving away too much," Masur said. "We're always going to try to press the game and try to engage in the game. We want the ball and we want to keep the ball and that leads to being a good defensive team. Everybody's got to contribute to defensive pressure to organization to understand their roles.
"You need people in the back with good feet, hopefully some good soccer savvy to help us out in tight situations sometimes. We've been pleased with our team's overall effort throughout the year and the team's preparation. Just a little bit sometimes inconsistencies, there is a little bit of trouble when we're going forward, so we hope that will come through in the NCAAs."
The defense starts and ends with fifth-year goalkeeper Rafael Diaz, who has played every second in the net while registered a 0.73 goals-against average. Masur said Diaz "has done a remarkable job for the program," noting the keeper broke the school shutout record.
"He had some really great games," Masur added. "In particular as of late, he had some really good games against Georgetown and Seton Hall. At the end of the season he has been sharp and I hope that continues. He has developed into a great leader and a great goalkeeper, somebody whose got the focus for our program and for the university. He's a great, great kid. He's done a great job both in the goal and as a leader as well. That's very important."
Playing in front of Diaz is central defender Tim Parker of Hicksville, N.Y., who was a first team Big East selection this fall.
"He has been a dominating fixture for us," Masur said. "He has shown great composure, especially the second half of the season. Offensively, he has come out of the back. His decision making on the ball, his ability to play in and out of pressure, his ability to extend the field by maybe serving a couple of longer balls and creating more options for us and switching the point in the back has been very, very good. Just his ability to cover ground across the backline has been very, very good. He has been a great leader in practice, working very hard and being a vocal leader as well."
Another fifth-year player, midfielder Jimmy Mulligan (four goals) of Patchogue, N.Y. has solidified the midfield.
"He has done an incredible job as our captain and somebody has kept our team together when games didn't always gone our way," Masur said, adding that Mulligan has been "able to lead both on the field and off the field with the right kind of focus and intensity that is needed for our program to do well."
Masur and his troops will see how well as they finally get their chance at the post-season on Thursday night.