The Northeast Conference hosted its usual championships and doled out the annual awards, but there was hardly anything ho hum about the 2012 fall season.
The first three-plus months of the 2012-13 academic year were home to numerous new ground-breaking moments for the Northeast Conference and its 12 Division I members.
The league continued to add to its ambitious list of new initiatives, and put a number of projects in motion. There were also numerous on-field victories that will forever be etched into league folklore and a stream of postseason honors, both athletic and academic, followed.
Front Row, #NECPride, FCS Playoff Success, College Cup Sweet 16 and #HelloBrooklyn are only some of the terms that flew around the Northeast Conference this fall.
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For the Fans
Attempting to revolutionize the way its fans follow and interact with their favorite teams, the Northeast Conference launched NEC Front Row in time for the start of the 2012 fall season.
The online digital network with multi-platform access features a rich set of content, including live events, on-demand video, highlight packages, coaches shows, features, original programming and access to league’s extensive digital library, all of which is free of charge to users. The network gives fans free inside access to the stories from across the Northeast Conference and its student-athletes on the field, in the classroom, across campus, and in the community.
The centerpiece of the digital network is the video streaming of hundreds of live events from across the Conference. The website also contains a number of fan-friendly features, including a live Twitter feed embedded into the game-viewing interface. Content can also be viewed for free on mobile devices and tablets, including the iPad, iPhone and Android.
Just recently, Front Row launched a Control Room feature, that allows fans to watch every live game on one viewing screen.
More Fan-centered Enhancements
The start of a new basketball season brought a new look to Northeast Conference (NEC) arenas. Through a partnership with Daktronics (Nasdaq-DAKT), the NEC provided each member institution with state-of-the-art digital scorer’s tables.
Every NEC member received three Daktronics LED tables measuring three feet high by more than nine feet wide. Designed to enhance the fan experience, the displays are capable of producing motion graphics, hi-res headshots, statistical information, interactive promotions and sponsor information.
An industry leader, Daktronics courtside scorer’s tables have been used at the NCAA Men’s & Women’s Final Four in recent years.
“Not only will these initiatives improve the student-athlete and fan experience, they will continue to enhance the NEC brand at the regional and national levels,” said NEC Commissioner Noreen Morris about the league’s recent enhancements. “And, more importantly, our efforts will pay fantastic dividends in the area of campus recruitment, both for student-athletes as well as the general student body.”
The Conference also unveiled a new #NECPride campaign over the fall, harnessing the power of social media to spread the message.
The #NECpride campaign is built around and highlights the following principles: Achievement. Ambition. Perseverance. Community. Passion. Respect. Determination. Unity. Teamwork.
“It is about having pride in your team, your school and the will to succeed both on and off the field,” said Associate Commissioner Ron Ratner.
The Conference also produced a new #NECPride themed football promo and unveiled #NECPride hashtag-themed signage and merchandise that appeared at league-sponsored championships and events.
Brooklyn Is Back (In More Ways than One)
For the first time in more than a decade, the Northeast Conference hosted a preseason media day to promote its 24 men’s and women’s basketball teams and added a special twist.
Combining social media and a state-of-the-art venue, the NEC hosted “Social” Media Day at the brand-new Barclay’s Center on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn on October 23.
All 24 head coaches sat down with announcers Dave Popkin and Tim Capstraw for an on-camera chat. A bloggers’ roundtable along with periodic social media updates were also part of the program. The festivities aired live on NEC Front Row and a tape-delayed broadcast aired numerous times on Fox College Sports.
The Front Row broadcast was an interactive one during which fans were encouraged to tweet comments and questions with the best making it on air. Sacred Heart alumnae Colleen Wall (@ColleenWall) earned the NEC Overtime! Blog Tweeter of the Day award for her participation.
The opening of the Barlcays Center and the return of NEC media day were not the lone notable happenings in Brooklyn this fall. LIU Brooklyn was busy winning games on both the pitch and court. The Blackbirds captured NEC Tournament titles in women’s soccer and volleyball, representing the conference at the NCAA Championships in both sports.
Wagner’s ‘Walt’z to History
Walt Hameline’s Wagner Seahawks picked a fitting way to celebrate the Silver Anniversary of the program’s 1987 NCAA Division III football national championship.
Wagner returned to the postseason for the first time since 1988, and managed to posts its first playoff victory since topping Dayton in the 1987 Stagg Bowl.
After an 0-3 start to the season, the Seahawks took flight.
Beginning with a 31-13 triumph at Central Connecticut in the NEC-TV Featured Game of the Week on September 22, Wagner won eight regular season games in a row. A 30-0 shutout of then-No. 20 Albany on November 3 followed by a 23-17 triumph over Duquesne of Nov. 17 clinched the Seahawks’ first-ever Northeast Conference crown and guaranteed them the opportunity to compete for a national championship.
Wagner became the third team to represent the NEC in the NCAA FCS playoffs, and the Seahawks did a lot more than just participate.
Wagner earned a first round home game, welcoming Patriot League champion Colgate to Grymes Hill and later sending them home to Hamilton with a 31-20 defeat. The wire-to-wire victory, during which the Seahawks’ stellar defense bottled up Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year Gavin McCarney, marked the first FCS playoff triumph for a Northeast Conference member.
The Seahawks nearly scored a second postseason victory one week later at Eastern Washington. Taking on the national No. 2 seed in what began as a 20-team playoff bracket, Wagner scored the game’s first points and also held a lead late in the third quarter.
Veteran head coach Walt Hameline earned the 2012 NEC Coach of the Year award for leading his Seahawks to the league title after being pegged for a seventh-place finish in the conference’s preseason coaches’ poll.
Hameline’s most-trying task came in the days after Hurricane Sandy hit the New York Metro area and left a path of destruction in its wake. The team grew closer during that time, assisting in relief efforts while using football as a needed distraction from the chaos that followed the storm.
When all was said and done, the Seahawks found themselves ranked 21st today in The Sports Network Final Top-25 Poll and 22nd in the Final FCS Coaches Poll. It marked the first time an NEC team has ended the season with an appearance in both official Top-25 polls.
A Fairleigh Phenomenal Run
It has been quite a run for the NEC’s two Garden State men’s soccer programs. Fairleigh Dickinson and Monmouth have won 10 of the last 13 conference championships, and both have enjoyed success on a national scale in the postseason.
Monmouth entered the 2012 campaign nationally ranked and the coaches’ preseason favorite to win a fourth consecutive NEC Men’s Soccer Tournament title, but at year’s end, it was FDU, pegged second in the predicted order-of-finish, that made an unforgettable postseason run.
The journey for the Knights began with a NEC semifinal matchup against Monmouth and ended, in heartbreaking fashion, against the defending NCAA champion in Chapel Hill.
After surviving a pair of 1-1 draws in the NEC Tournament and advancing on penalty kicks, Fairleigh Dickinson nearly made its way to the NCAA College Cup Elite 8.
The Knights went on the road to defeat No. 18 St. John’s and No.12 Saint Louis in NCAA Tournament play, earning a Sweet 16 matchup with North Carolina. FDU played the defending national champion Tar Heels to a scoreless draw throughout regulation before an overtime marker kept the Knights from pulling off a third consecutive road upset.
The remarkable run was nothing Seth Roland’s Knights hadn’t accomplished before, but a full decade had passed since they last made it this far. FDU, which advanced to the NCAA Elite 8 in 2001, has six NCAA Tournament victories under its belt during Roland’s tenure.
The final edition of the NSCAA/Continental Tire national rankings slotted FDU at No. 20 amongst the best in NCAA Division I.
The Knights, who finished the year 11-6-6, also finished No. 17 in the final College Soccer News poll and No. 16 in the final Top Drawer Soccer rankings.
“It’s very satisfying to see the team rewarded with these top-20 rankings in the final national polls,” said Roland.
“The guys worked extremely hard this past year and set the bar high in order to challenge themselves to bring FDU soccer back to national prominence. That goal has been accomplished, and we proved our mettle by defeating two top-20 programs on their home turf in the NCAA Tournament and then going toe-to-toe with the defending national champion before losing in overtime.”
In October, millions across New Jersey, Staten Island and Long Island sat hopelessly in the dark. Superstorm Sandy had just torn through the area, leaving a path of destruction in its wake.
The unprecedented storm inflicted unprecedented damage upon the region.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would eventually refer to the disaster as “our Katrina.”
With their fellow Americans hurting, a number of Northeast Conference schools and student-athletes extended a helping hand.
In numerous cases, the help wasn’t going to complete strangers, but to friends, neighbors and family members. With NEC members Monmouth and Wagner lying in two of the hardest-hit areas, the destruction of Sandy hit extremely close to home.
While the students who were directly affected by the superstorm embarked on the long recovery/rebuilding process, others from around the Northeast Conference participated in organized relief efforts, spearheading programs aimed at helping those in need.
From sponsoring food and clothing drives, to lending manpower, to providing shelter, to donating funds, NEC institutions, their administrators and student-athletes were there to answer the call.
Honors Flow In
On the Gridiron
Wagner’s championship run wasn’t the lone piece of history made by Northeast Conference graders this year.
A pair of Robert Morris defensive players earned CoSIDA Academic All-America honors, marking only the second time in NEC history that two men from the same team achieved such status during the same season. While linebacker Brad Banas enjoyed his first-ever selection, defensive end Nolan Nearhoof became the first NEC football player to earn Academic All-America status in each of three separate seasons.
The accolades didn’t stop there for Nearhoof. After setting the conference’s career record for quarterback sacks in his final collegiate contest, Nearhoof went on to earn the NEC Defensive Player of the Year award to go along with a spot on The Sport Network’s FCS All-America Third Team Defense. Nearhoof was one of three NEC footballers to achieve All-America status. Duquesne linebacker Dorian Bell joined Nearhoof on the third team, while Bryant receiver Jordan Harris made the Sport Network’s second team. Harris had the second-best season (yardage-wise) of any receiver in 17 years of NEC football. Should he produce another season like 2012, Harris will obliterate the NEC’s all-time career receiving yards record.
On the Pitch
The NSCAA announced its 2012 Men’s University Division Scholar All-America First-Team and it included a pair of Central Connecticut Blue Devils – Thomas Obasi and Reece Wilson. The latter also became the first player in CCSU history to be named to the CoSIDA Capitol One Academic All-American first team.
When it came to the women’s edition of the 2012 NSCAA College Scholar All-America Team, Saint Francis University’s Tesa McKibben – the top active goal scorer in NCAA Division I women’s soccer – was named to the second team while two-time Northeast Conference Defensive Player of the Year Alecia McNiff earned a spot on the third team.
Some top Tweets from the Fall Season…