Soccer Clinches MAAC Conference Title

goalieThe men's soccer team clinched at least a share of the regular season MAAC conference title, as well as the No. 1 seed in the upcoming MAAC championships, this past week with a scoreless tie against the Manhattan Jaspers and a 2-0 win over the Niagara Purple Eagles.

"It feels fantastic," said head coach Robert McCourt after the win. "We talked about that (winning the regular season title) being our first goal of the year. We had a little bit of a tough go in the non-conference schedule, but the guys stayed tough, and were resilient, and they proved that they are champions."

The Hawks started the week when they traveled to Riverdale, NY to take on the Jaspers. Freshman goalkeeper Erik Klenofsky was tested early in the game as Manhattan came out firing. In the 9th minute the freshman made a leaping save to push the shot from Manhattan's Dominic Chavez just over the crossbar. Less than five minutes later Klenofsky stepped up again when he blocked another Jasper shot to keep the game scoreless.

MU did not generate much offense to start the first half, but with less than 10 minutes remaining in the half they finally started to build some momentum. Senior forward, Francois "Paco" Navarro, had the first quality scoring chance for the Hawks in the 36th minute when he found himself behind the Manhattan defense with only the goalkeeper to beat. Navarro was unable to make anything of the opportunity, however, as the keeper put pressure on the ball and Navarro's shot went wide.

The Hawks kept the pressure on to close out the first half, and had a great chance to score in the final two minutes. Freshman forward Dave Nigro got the opportunity started with his free kick from just outside the box. The Jasper keeper was able to stop Nigro's attempt to score off the free kick, but he could not control the rebound. After the ball was deflected by a few different players MU was able to regain possession and sent it back in the box. Senior forward Jacob Rubinstein received the ball in the box, and fired a shot at the upper right corner of the net. Unfortunately for the Hawks, the Manhattan keeper fully extended to make the save, and the game remained a 0-0 tie heading into the half.

As the second half began play slowed down somewhat with neither team threatening in the first 15 minutes. Manhattan had perhaps the best chance of the game for either team to score with less than 30 minutes remaining in the half. The Jasper's Tommy Amos put a shot on net that was saved by Klenofsky, but the rebound went close to another Manhattan player, who seemed to have an open net. However, the Hawks junior defender Derek Luke cleared the ball out of danger after Klenofsky made the initial save.

Although both teams were able to generate shots on net, neither had any legitimate chance to score for the rest of regulation, and the game went into overtime still scoreless.

The Hawks controlled the first overtime and had several opportunities close to the net, but all of the shots were off target and wide of the net. The second overtime saw one chance for the Hawks to score, but Rubinstein's header sailed over the crossbar and the game eventually ended with a final score of 0-0.

The Hawks successfully bounced back from the relatively disappointing tie three nights later when the hosted Niagara University on Saturday, Nov. 2. From the start MU dominated the game and controlled time of possession.

In the opening minutes of the contest, MU patiently controlled the ball and kept the Purple Eagles from gaining any type of possession.

In the 12th minute of play Navarro led the Hawks' first real threat to take the lead. Navarro then lead the ball to senior midfielder Joseph Schmid who got a great look at the net, and put a shot on goal. The Niagara keeper was able to make a nice save, however, and the game stayed tied at zero.

Play began to even out as the half went on, but both teams were unable to mount true threats and, for the second straight game, the Hawks found themselves in a scoreless tie as they headed into halftime.

In the 74th minute of play, MU was finally able to find the back of the net and break the tie when sophomore midfielder David Acuna Camacho won a 50/50 ball and took the ball up the left side of the field. Waiting in the box was Navarro who got on the receiving end of the cross and headed it past the goalie to the right side of the net for the first goal of the match. The goal was Navarro's second on the season. and Camacho's second assist of the year.

MU did not let up after the goal, and continued to keep the pressure on the rest of the game. This pressure helped put the game away for the Hawks when Schmid gained control of the ball in the box and left it for sophomore defender, Dan Pizzimenti, who calmly put the ball past the keeper to seal the game for his team and brought the score to 2-0.

The shutout was the Hawks sixth straight clean-sheet, and Klenofsky's seventh shutout in his last eight games. "Communication has been great lately," Klenofsky said. "The whole backfield is playing amazing right now."

Coach McCourt agreed with his players' comments. "The defense has been fantastic. We've worked an awful lot on limiting mistakes in the back end, and the communication has been very good lately."

With one game remaining in the regular season the Hawks have a six point lead in the MAAC standings and can only be caught by Quinnipiac, who has two games remaining. With a win or tie in their next game, or a Quinnipiac tie or loss, the Hawks will clinch the regular season conference title outright.

The win moved the teams overall record to 8-5-4 on the season, and their conference play to 7-0-2. With less than two weeks until the MAAC championships, coach McCourt is happy with his teams' progress.

"We're catching momentum at the right time," he explained. "When you're going into tournaments you want to make sure you're not backing in, and it looks like we're starting to hit our stride."

MU closes out its regular season this Saturday, Nov. 9, when the travel to take on the Canisius Golden Griffins for a 7 pm game.