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Fighting for a leg up - Top scorers look to power up

The top scorers from each of the Brooklyn Division I colleges in the Northeast Conference return to their respective college squads, which should improve over last year’s under .500 records. With the added year of experience from their holdovers, the booters should move up in the standings.

As a junior Jukka Lehto scored six goals for 12 points in 15 games for the Long Island University Blackbirds which posted a 5-8-4 overall record while sophomore John Sallhag, also a forward, netted nine goals and added four assists for 22 points in 17 contests at St. Francis College. Both teams are located walking distance from each other in downtown Brooklyn.

Both coaches-the Terriers Tom Giovatto of St. Francis and T.J. Kostecky of LIU- feel optimistic this season. The latter is in his tenth year at the helm while Giovatto is in his second year at the former college.

The Blackbirds hold one advantage over their rivals with a beautiful soccer field on campus while the Terriers have to travel to the Aviator complex for their home encounters. The two teams clash once on Saturday Nov. 1 at the Blackbird field. LIU won last year’s game, 7-3.

Sallhag, the top returnee on offense, and his teammates, have one goal in mind-to make the playoffs, something that they didn’t accomplish last fall.

“With the extra year of experience and new faces, I feel we have a great team, and are excited about our future,” Sallhag said. “If we work together we’ll have a great season and hopefully, we’ll make the playoffs.”

Sallhag spent the off season in Sweden, where he stayed in trim by playing one game a week with a Division II team.

In addition to Sallhag, the Terriers will rely on goalie Chris Antonino, who improved from last year, when he yielded at an average of 1.63 goals a game.

Antonino stayed near home and played with the Brooklyn Knights during the off season.

“Summer soccer helps us for the college season,” Antonino said. “This way we never stop playing, we never take time off and we never lose our touch.”

Sallhag, Antonino and their teammates have one goal in mind-to have a turn around season.

The Terriers, picked 10th in the pre-season poll by the coaches, are also strong on defense, led by juniors center backs Anthony Matos and Javier Gonzalez, and will rely on seven solid freshmen and transfers who will contribute a great deal.

“Our goal is to have a good year and to make the playoffs,” said Coach Giovatto. “We are very skillful and have incredible attacking players and on defense we improved. After last year when we played with one goalie, now we have two very good goalies-including freshman Nick Barber, and we have one of the top forwards in the country in Sallhag, who has incredible skills and speed.

“The keys to a successful season are staying focused and staying away from injuries.”

Meanwhile, the Blackbirds, predicted to finish seventh in the league, will rely on a solid foundation from which to build. They are also led by midfielder Frank Alesci, a junior who didn’t play last year because of a torrn ACL a year ago, sophomore goalie Michael Wood, junior Emiliano Tramontozzi, who can play defense or midfield, and senior midfielder Mohammad Mashriqi.

“Emiliano had another good spring last year,” added Kostecky, who will rely on an almost entirely new team. “Emiliano worked hard during the off season and became consistent. I expect him to give us good leadership at left back. Mohammad is still a working progress and has shown moments of being a terrific player. When he is on his game, he can be one of the best players in the conference. And senior forward Lehto cold be an offensive threat in every game. During the off season he played in Finland.

“Every year is a new year. I had more here last year than I have this year….Our major strengths are keeping the ball, making good decisions, and playing with depth in order to be successful. We have the ability to score but we have to do that consistently.

“It’s all about coming together as a team, working for the same goal and understanding that it’s team first….Our objective is to compete for the (league) championship. Toward the end of last year we were achieving a lot and playing very well. But, unfortunately, the season had to end. Six to seven teams in our league will be competitive from to bottom.”

Both St. Francis and Long Island University hope to be in the mix and in the playoffs when the season ends. Both coaches expect to take it one game at a time.

On the women’s side, the Blackbirds are coming off a 9-9-1 overall record. They expect to be among the top teams in the circuit.

“We are very optimistic about our potential after we were able to battle through injuries last year and get our young players valuable experience,,” Head Coach Tracey Bartholomew said.

Key forwards could be Aly Hanson and Tasia Davis, both juniors. Sophomore Christine DeLashmutt and senior Amy Johnson expect to compete for the starting job as goalie.

The home schedules

Long Island University

Fri. Sept. 12, vs. Maine (classic) 5:30; Sept. 14, vs. Cal State Bakersfield (classic) noon; Tues. Sept. 16 vs. NJIT, 7:30; Wed. Sept. 24, Manhattan 7:00.

Fri. Oct. 10, Quinnipiac, 4:00; Sun. Oct. 12 Central Connecticut State, 1:00; Fri. Oct. 24, Mount St. Mary’s 4::00; Sun. Oct. 26, Monmouth 1:00

Sat. Nov. 1 St. Francis College 7:00

St. Francis College

All games at Aviator complex except Oct. 12 at Ichan Stadium

Thurs. Sept. 11 vs. Siena 7:00; Sun. Sept. 28 Bryant (Old Timers’ Day) 1:00

Sat.. Oct. 4 Manhattan 7:00; Fri. Oct. 10, Central Connecticut State 7:00, Sun. Oct. 12 Quinnipac 1:00 , Fri. Oct. 24 Monmouth 7:00; Sun. Oct. 26 Mount St. Mary’s 1:00.

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