Freshman Leads St. Joe's to GNAC Championship Victory
Last season, the St. Joseph's College men's soccer team surprised a lot of people in the Great Northeast Atlantic Conference. The preseason prediction had the Monks ranked eighth in the conference, but St. Joe's quickly proved that to be drastically wrong, reaching the championship game. However, last year's journey didn't have a magical ending as Norwich University snagged the title with a 2-1 win.
After coming so close a year ago, it was pretty obvious what the Monks would be looking for this season.
St. Joseph's College finished the 2009 regular season with a 7-2 record in conference play, earning the top seed for the playoffs. After blanking Johnson & Wales 3-0, the Royal Blue was given an opportunity for revenge, taking on Norwich for a second year in a row. This time, the Monks got the upper hand, winning by an identical final score of 2-1.
That set up Saturday's GNAC Championship between St. Joe's and Emerson. After over 70 minutes of scoreless soccer, the Monks broke through, as freshman Jack Lafreniere netted a pair of goals for a 2-0 lead. Emerson's Zach Sayward responded in the final ten minutes of the tilt, but that was as close as the Lions would get, as St. Joseph's College held on for the 2-1 victory at Westerlea Way Field in Standish.
When the game began, it appeared that both sides needed time to get comfortable, as scoring chances were few and far between. The Monks fired five shots during the opening 45 minutes of play, with three landing on goal. None of the three were very challenging for Emerson's Noah Price, who kept the game scoreless. St. Joe's keeper Will Pike saw one shot come his way during the first half, but it sailed over the net.
The best chance of the half came during the final 30 seconds, when St. Joseph's College was awarded with a free kick. The kick created a scrum in the box, but an offsides call from the officiating crew prevented any further damage.
In the second half, the Royal Blue started knocking on the door. 14 minutes in, Jack Lafreniere set up Doug MacCallum for a header in the box. MacCallum's shot was on target, but Price jumped up to tip the ball over the net. Less than a minute later, MacCallum thought for sure that he had given the Monks a 1-0 lead, as he buried the rebound of a Paul Robins shot. However, the goal was called off due to the play being offside.
Finally, with 18:21 remaining, the Monks opened the scoring. Andre Cushing chipped the ball ahead to Lafreniere in the box. The St. Joe's freshman was able to split a pair of Emerson defenders, before flicking a shot over Price and in.
Lafreniere only had one goal in his first 13 collegiate games, but a pair of goals in the regular season finale served as a springboard into the playoffs. 3:54 later, he doubled the lead with his second tally of the day. Fellow freshman Corey Grant played the ball forward, hoping to send Lafreniere in alone. Price slid out of the Emerson goal, attempting to break up the play. However, Price's boot deflected off of Lafreniere, bouncing back into the net.
With 8:23 left in regulation, the Lions ended the St. Joseph's shutout bid. Eric Dabdoud took a free kick from outside of the box that Will Pike made the save on. However, Pike was unable to handle the shot, dropping it on the ground. Zach Sayward immediately pounced on the loose ball, knocking it in, and trimming the Monks' lead in half.
Sayward may have given his fans a reason to be happy, but the fans in Standish got to enjoy the final celebration. When the clock reached zero, the crowd in Royal Blue rushed onto the field, joining the players in celebrating the 2009 GNAC Championship.
Following the game, the all-tournament team was announced, and St. Joseph's College had five players on that roster. Greg Cavanaugh, Jack Lafreniere, Doug MacCallum, and Paul Robins all earned the honor, while Will Pike was named the tournament's most valuable player.
From here, the Monks advance to the NCAA Division III Tournament. The date, time, location, and opponent are still to be determined.
Story By DJ Abisalih