Blackbirds on the rebound: Top-seeded LIU rides winning streak into conference tourney

Net minder: Blackbirds’ goalie Logan Keys led his team to a Northeast Conference regular season title and the top seed in the conference tournament.
Long Island University Athletics

The Long Island University soccer team’s season started out rocky, but that only motivated players to the best year in program history. Now, the team is on a nine-game winning streak, and it finished 11–5–2 overall and 7–0 in the conference. It was all about mind set, one player said.

“We believe that everyone we put out there is good enough to beat these teams and that’s what we have told ourselves,” said redshirt junior goalie Logan Keys.

The Blackbirds began 2-5-2 in non-league play heading into the Northeast Conference slate and proceeded to go on a run that the conference has only seen twice prior. The squad succeeded by giving up fewer goals than last year while maintaining its overall offensive output — the team made 29 and gave up 16 this year, as opposed to making 33 and letting 22 by in 2014.

Keys spent his summer in the National Premier Soccer League, where the goalie’s poor defenders forced him to improve, his current coach said.

“He had to face a barrage of different shots from different and unexpected angles because the team in front of him, unfortunately, wasn’t solid,” Blackbirds coach T.J. Kostecky said. “So he came into preseason with two months of really intense competition and his level had jumped.”

Now Keys is ranked No. 3 in the nation and is unbeaten in net this season. For keys, gaining confidence was key.

“When you’re confident you tend to be a little more decisive about certain plays and tactical decisions,” Keys said. “I think that has led to some of the success myself and team has had this season.”

The defensive effort in front of Keys — led by Tanner Sica, Jacob Smith, Erik Wahlin, and Filip Nordstrom — has improved as well, the coach said.

“They have become extremely focused on preventing and reducing shots on goal,” Kostecky said. “Consequently, it’s really tough to penetrate our back line.”

Offensively the Blackbirds’ youth is making up for the loss of leading scorer, Brice Merwine, to graduation. The team’s two biggest offensive threats are freshmen Rasmus Hansen’s (seven goals, four assists) and Romario Guscott (six goals).

All of the improvements led to Long Island University earning its first regular season title since 2002 and the right to host the conference tourney as the No. 1 seed — a first for the program. If the Blackbirds were to win the tourney, it would be the program’s first crown since 1997.

The Blackbirds added a victory over rival and defending tournament champion St. Francis College, 1–0, last weekend in the battle for the Carlo-Arnie Cup, which is given to the winner of the Battle of Brooklyn each year. The match-up was a good warm up, because the teams will play again in the North East Conference semifinals on Friday, Nov. 13, Kotesky said.

“It only helps,” he said. “They have been the standard bearer in the conference for the last two and a half years.”

Keys wants his team to take that mantel now.

“With this team we have the ability to turn some heads and make a run,” Keys said.

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