A Northeast Conference Championship, not allowing a goal in nearly two months (including all of NEC play, where they finished 6-0-1), and entering the NCAA Tournament at 12-4-3 after a 1-3-1 start to the season, the taste of the end is bitter, but the memories will last forever for this unit.
The scene at the Genovesi Center in St. Francis College on Monday afternoon during the NCAA Tournament Selection Show was nothing short of pure joy and jubilation once the Terriers were called.
With all they accomplished, the St. Francis Terriers’ men’s soccer squad aimed for a spot in round two of soccer’s Big Dance, but were denied by the Dartmouth Big Green 1-0 in double overtime of their first round match-up in New Hampshire.
The November 17th result marked the first goal the Terriers allowed since September 28, a stretch of defensive perfection that lasted nine consecutive games, seven NEC regular season contests and the two NEC playoff games that led the Red-and-Blue to their seventh conference title in school history.
“It’s a pretty cool feeling to see them jump out of their seats and get excited to see their names on the board,” Terrier head coach Tom Giovatto told the Terrier Sports Network moments later. “We feel it’s one of the top programs in New York. There are some very good ones here and we feel we’re up there with all the top ones.”
As for the game itself, it was similar to what we’ve witnessed from the Terriers at times in the 2016 season.
In fact, it wasn’t extremely unlike the previous Sunday’s NEC title game, which saw them defeat Saint Francis University (PA) in double overtime thanks to a Lukas Hauer penalty kick.
Ninety minutes of play came and went without a goal from either side, putting the Terriers back into familiar territory, save for the NCAA stage.
Regulation did not pass without a level of drama, however, as Terrier senior midfielder Salvatore Barone just missed a golden opportunity to win with 45 seconds to go.
All by himself after Dartmouth was unable to clear the ball deep in their territory, Barone’s stroke was just wide of the net from 15 yards out, which was the clearest chance the Terriers had all game long.
For what proved to be his last hoorah as a Terrier, senior goalie Seth Erdman put forth one of the best efforts of his career, recording eight saves in an unusually busy night for an SFBK goalkeeper, but was just beat by Big Green forward Matt Danilack, marking the first goal the Terriers allowed in 982 total minutes of action.
"I thought we played a good game," said Terrier head coach Tom Giovatto after the loss. "We didn't finish a couple of chances but we played solid defensively and I felt we frustrated them. I can't ask for anything more we represented the conference really well tonight.
"I really thought Sal was going to score on that play,” he added. "On another night it's a goal and we probably win the game."
While they came up short, the dynastic run continues as the Terriers, who had a school-record eight Terriers earn NEC post-season hardware, should once again be back in the mix for an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2017.
The Terriers had a league-high four All-NEC First Team honorees in Barone, midfielder Dominick Falanga, defender Collyns Laokandi, who also won league Defensive Player of the Year, and goalie Roberto Bazzichetto making the elite unit.
Falanga and Bazzichetto are both juniors, and will be back in the fold next season.
Senior forward Yussuf Olajide and midfielder Fabian Suele earned All-NEC Second Team honors. For the conference’s All-Rookie Team, the Terriers scored two freshman who had very promising first years in midfielder Djiby Sarr and defender Faouzi Taieb, who also won Conference Rookie of the Year.
And Giovatto was named All-NEC Coach of the Year for leading the Terriers to their first regular season title since 1998.