LIU looks to repeat as conference champs

Soarin’ high: Blackbirds ready to build on last season’s dominance

Staring down success: Blackbirds goalkeeper Logan Keys and his teammates are confident heading into the fall, but they’re not letting any pre-season expectations cloud their focus.
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These Blackbirds are ready to take flight.

The Long Island University men’s soccer team recorded one of the most successful seasons in program history last fall, but the reigning Northeast Conference champions aren’t willing to rest on their laurels. The Blackbirds have upped the intensity throughout training camp and now — with the season opener at Siena slated for Aug. 26 — the squad is determined to exceed this year’s sky-high expectations, one team leader said.

“I think it sets the bar so much higher as a starting point,” senior goalie Logan Keys said. “Last year we came in and we didn’t really know the guys, and you had to kind of acclimate to the process. It takes a little bit of time, but you get that point and you just kind of keep pushing the bar. And now we’ve had that thought through the entire duration of the summer — we are that good.”

Northeast Conference coaches named Long Island University the preseason favorite to repeat as champs this year, earning six of eight possible first-place votes. They picked the team seventh in the preseason poll last year.

Those kind of early-season expectations could be enough to derail plenty of teams, but this Blackbirds squad isn’t worried about rankings or polls. This team is simply focused on keeping things as simple as possible — score on offense and keep the ball out of the net on defense.

“We’re constantly talking about this moment and how we’re going to make this moment work,” coach TJ Kostecky said. “And I think that’s what’s going to be the most important as we emerge as a team with this group. If we can do that, some of those expectations will be realized.”

Long Island University is doing its collective best to stay focused on the immediate future, but there’s still plenty of reason for this team to be confident.

The Blackbirds boast a 13-match winning streak — currently the second-longest in the National Collegiate Athletic Association — and a core of returning players, including five members of the Northeast Conference’s All-Rookie Team.

“It’s the same guys that started last year, and we played together well last season,” said reigning Northeast Conference Rookie of the Year Rasmus Hansen. “I don’t feel like there’s any pressure, because you play with pressure on you since you were a kid. You always want to do your best and you want to win and it’s, honestly, more fun now because we have something to reach for.”

Long Island University was nothing short of dominant last season — going undefeated in league play — but that doesn’t mean this year’s roster hasn’t worked to improve aspects of the game. In fact, heading into the fall, Kostecky was most impressed by his team’s dedication to improving every day.

“Our returning players, their level has improved overall,” Kostecky said. “We’ve seen certain parts of their game that they’ve wanted to work on and improve on, and they’ve done that. That’s really good to see.”

This year’s Blackbirds team has been doing its collective best to leave the past behind, but the squad knows the only way to completely move on from last season is to start this season.

The expectations have been set, the goals well-documented — and now, Long Island University is just ready to play.

“I think we’re at the point where we just want to see what the final product looks like,” Keys said. “We just want to get the 11 out. We’re looking forward to it — very, very anxious to get out there.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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