The Northeast Conference and its student-athletes accounted for a number of “firsts” during a 2013 fall season that has left behind plenty of noteworthy memories.
♦ The NEC kicked off the academic year by using the conference’s first-ever Google+ Hangout to preview the football season.
♦ In an even more impressive first-time feat, Saint Francis’ Tesa McKibben accomplished something that had never happened before in the history of Division I women’s soccer.
♦ NEC football placed four representatives – the most in league history — amongst the finalists for major Division I FCS honors. Earlier in the season, two of the conference’s gridiron warriors found out what it feels like to “go viral” in the realm of social media.
♦ The success of NEC cross country team champions Central Connecticut (men) and Sacred Heart (women) extended into the postseason as individuals from both programs went on to make waves at regional championship meets.
♦ In addition to hosting the second annual NEC Basketball Social Media Day, the Borough of Brooklyn was home to two championship teams this fall.
The Fan and Student-Athlete Experience
Focusing in on two central goals, the Northeast Conference took additional steps to provide an enhanced fan experience this fall while also increasing its promotion of student-athletes’ accomplishments through the use of new technology.
Building upon an enormously successful Year No. 1 of NEC Front Row, the conference upgraded the viewing experience on its online digital network. Through the purchase of HD Tricasters coupled with an in-person training session, the NEC provided its member institutions with broadcast quality equipment with the capability of airing all Front Row events in full High-Definition (HD) quality. Interest continued to rise across-the-board during the second season of NEC Front Row with live event viewership up 76 percent from a year ago.
The NEC communications department introduced the use of Google+ Hangouts to further promote the accomplishments of the league’s student-athletes.
In addition to hosting a weekly NEC football Google+ Hangout that gained recognizable traction amongst fans, the conference used Google’s free “video conferencing” service to promote its fall championship events.
For the second year in a row, the NEC hosted a Basketball “Social” Media Day at the state-of-the-art Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn. The program, which ceremoniously tipped off the 2013-14 hoops season, welcomed a head coach and student-athlete from every one of the NEC’s men’s and women’s teams and also attracted a number of media members. Reporters from the Associated Press, New York Post, Big Apple Buckets and College Chalk Talk were amongst those in attendance.
— Noreen Morris (@NECcommish) October 22, 2013
NEC Front Row aired the festivities live from Barclays Center over the internet and an edited version of the show later appeared on Fox College Sports Network.
Brooklyn’s In the House!
Each half of the NEC’s Brooklyn-based contingent celebrated a conference title this fall.
On the LIU Brooklyn side, the Blackbirds continued their dominance over NEC women’s volleyball.
Just a stone’s throw away in Brooklyn Heights, the St. Francis Terriers celebrated their first men’s soccer championship since 1998.
Kyle Robinson and the Blackbirds have become accustomed to representing the NEC at the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament. Led by two-time NEC Player of the Year Annika Foit, LIU Brooklyn captured its eighth NEC Tournament title in the past 10 years.
The Blackbirds, who went 23-7 overall in regular season play (including 14-0 in NEC matches), traveled to No. 2 national seed Penn State for NCAA postseason play and gave the Nittany Lions a scare before bowing out.
Foit, who is only the second woman in league history to twice win the NEC Women’s Volleyball Player of the Year award, carries an impressive 3.97 overall grade-point average. Accounting for the NEC’s representation on the Capital One Division I Academic All-America Team, the chemistry major became the first-ever Blackbird to earn Academic All-America status in the sport.
With the opening of a new home field at beautiful Brooklyn Bridge Park, the 2013 men’s soccer season promised to be a memorable one for St. Francis Brooklyn.
Not only did the Terriers enjoy playing at a brand-new facility with a one-of-a-kind backdrop, but they accounted for the program’s best season since the turn of the Millennium. The Terriers went 12-6-1 overall, including a 4-1-1 mark on Pier 5 at Brooklyn Bridge Park, and earned the NEC’s automatic berth into the NCAA College Cup Tournament.
Despite the fact that his team finished on the short side of a 1-0 decision at No. 15 Penn State in NCAA Tournament action, SFBK head coach Tom Giovatto will want to remember the 2013 campaign for a long time. Giovatto earned the NSCAA Division I North Atlantic Coach of the Year award.
Three of the athletes responsible for ending St. Francis Brooklyn’s NEC title drought pulled in prestigious postseason honors as well. The Terriers’ Kevin Correa (First Team), Andy Cormack (First Team) and Gabreil Bagot (Second Team) garnered NSCAA Division I All-North Atlantic Region selections, three of 10 NEC men’s soccer student-athletes to do so.
Correa, who scored two goals in St. Francis’ NEC championship game victory over Bryant, achieved NSCAA All-America Third Team standing.
Not Even Mia Hamm Had Done It
Tesa McKibben capped her Saint Francis career by accomplishing an unprecedented feat.
The senior striker won the NEC Women’s Soccer Player of the Year award for the fourth straight season, becoming their first-ever four-time conference player of the year in NCAA Division I women’s soccer history. Even legends such as UNC’s Mia Hamm and Penn State’s Christie Welsh were only three-time recipients of their conference’s top individual honor.
On her way to winning a fourth NEC Golden Boot honor, McKibben spearheaded Saint Francis’ return to the top of the conference. The Red Flash won seven of eight regular season NEC games and went on to dethrone LIU Brooklyn in the 2013 NEC Tournament final.
McKibben’s goal in the 71st minute was the difference against LIU as Saint Francis became the first NEC team since 2007 to capture the league’s regular season and tournament titles.
McKibben and Red Flash teammate Alecia McNiff accounted for two of the NEC’s three NSCAA All-Region selections. Central Connecticut’s Allison Kelley was the other all-region honoree. Kelley also received an invitation to play in the New England Women’s Intercollegiate Soccer Association (NEWISA) Senior Bowl at Merrimack College.
— Northeast Conference (@NECsports) November 8, 2013
More Than Just ‘Faces in the Crowd’
Tesa McKibben and Neco Brett have much more in common than the fact they both competed for members of the NEC’s Keystone State contingent.
The Saint Francis U and Robert Morris stars were both amongst the top scorers in Division I soccer this past season.
Both individuals won NEC Player of the Year and NEC Golden Boot honors in 2013.
McKibben, who amassed 177 points over four years in Loretto, was the active career scoring leader amongst all Division I women’s players who competed this past fall.
Meanwhile, Brett’s 14 goals ranked him second on the Division I men’s national leader board.
The efforts of McKibben and Brett landed the two individuals in separate issues of Sports Illustrated. McKibben made the November 11 edition of SI’s weekly “Faces in the Crowd” feature, while Brett appeared in the November 25 issue.
Connecticut Schools Steal the Show during XC Season
Central Connecticut cruised to its fifth consecutive NEC men’s cross country crown, while Sacred Heart captured the women’s trophy for the first time in nearly a decade.
The top finishers on both of those championship teams went on to reach even greater heights during postseason competition.
Leading CCSU to an eighth-place finish at the NCAA Regional championships, Craig Hunt punched his ticket to the national championship meet. Hunt, who also led his team to the first New England title in program history, clocked in at 32:09 during the 10K NCAA title race in Terre Haute, IN.
Sacred Heart’s Brianna Castrogivanni brought the ECAC individual championship home to the NEC. The senior harrier covered the 5K course at Van Cortlandt Park in 17:58.8, becoming the second Pioneer to capture the ECAC crown (Kimberly DeLoreto – 2010).
Castrogivanni closed out her XC career as the first athlete in program history, male or female, to earn All-New England, All-NEC, All-Region, and All-East honors in the same season.
As a team, Sacred Heart took ECAC runner-up honors with Pittsburgh capturing the meet title.
Hunt, Castrogivanni and Bryant’s Eimear Black all enjoyed All-Northeast Region honors by virtue of their top-25 finishes at the NCAA Northeast Regional Championships.
Black, a two-time NEC individual champion, capped her cross country career with another outstanding effort. She finished the 6K regional race with a time of 20:53.6, placing 21st out of 254 runners. Castrogivanni placed 23rd with a time of 20:57.4.
Craig Hunt’s 10K time of 30:46.70 earned the senior Blue Devil 25th place in the region.
NEC Completes 18th Year on the Gridiron
When it comes to rushers, NEC has Best of FCS
When the regular season came to a close, three of the top-seven rushers on the NCAA FCS leader board were Northeast Conference running backs. Saint Francis’ Kyle Harbridge (1,619 yards) was the top-ranked NEC rusher at No. 3 overall. Sacred Heart’s Keshaudas Spence (1,475) and Central Connecticut’s Rob Hollomon (1,452) sat sixth and seventh, respectively, on the list of national leaders.
After completing one of the most-fruitful careers by a running back in the 18-year history of NEC football, Harbridge saw his name added to a rather prestigious list – the Capital One Academic All-America Honor Roll. The graduate student, who is working on his MBA after completing his degree in marketing with a 3.63 GPA, earned a spot on the Second Team. He is the 39th Academic All-American in SFU’s history.
NEC Football’s New On-air Home
The NEC kicked off its agreement with ESPN in 2013 and ESPN3 became the exclusive home of five nationally-aired football games. All seven teams received at least one exposure over the course of the five-game schedule. New York Giants radio personality Paul Dottino returned for his 11th season as the play-by-play voice of NEC football, while 22-year NFL veteran Jeff Feagles joined the broadcast team as the color commentator.
The Nation’s Top Turnaround
After posting a 2-9 record in 2012, Sacred Heart found itself pegged for a last-place finish when the 2013 edition of the NEC preseason coaches’ poll was released. Clearly paying no mind to preseason predictions, the Pioneers proceeded by winning 10 games and securing their first conference championship since 2001.
Sacred Heart, which finished with a 10-3 overall record following a playoff loss at No. 9 Fordham, became the first NEC team in seven seasons to reach the 10-win mark. The team’s eight-win improvement was the greatest by any Division I team this season.
On the way to securing the program’s first-ever bid to the NCAA FCS playoffs, Sacred Heart went 6-0 in non-conference regular season games. The Pioneers defeated two Patriot League teams on the road – Lafayette and Bucknell – and also handled Marist, which wound up tying for the Pioneer League title.
— Bobby Valentine (@BobbyValentine) November 16, 2013
Legends’ Last Season
The only head coach Robert Morris has ever known – Joe Walton – coached his last game on Nov. 23 at Saint Francis.
— Noreen Morris (@NECcommish) November 16, 2013
Walton, a former tight end for the New York Giants and head coach of the New York Jets, led the program for its first 20 years of existence. Former Pittsburgh Steeler, and three-time Super Bowl champion, John Banaszak takes over for the 20154 campaign.
In addition to the legendary Walton, the NEC also bid farewell to three all-time great performers. Saint Francis’ Kyle Harbridge (eighth) and Wagner’s Dominique Williams (fifth) both finished ranked amongst the top-10 career rushing leaders in the history of NEC football. Bryant’s Jordan Harris set the NEC’s all-time career receiving record and is an All-America candidate for the second year in a row.
Duquesne’s Sean Brady and Sacred Heart’s Moses Webb were responsible for spectacular plays that forced NEC football into the national spotlight. Brady’s one-handed catch in a Week 1 win over Albany drew a lot of attention on the social media network Twitter and was named the No. 3 College Football Play of the Week by ESPN. Two months later, Webb made a “once-in-a-lifetime” play during which he made a catch, lost a fumble, made a tackle, forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and scored a touchdown. The YouTube video footage of Webb’s amazing effort has garnered nearly 2.3 million views.
VIDEO: Duquesne WR Sean Brady made an amazing one-handed TD grab yesterday http://t.co/GkOqPyVnaV
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 1, 2013
The Fall 2013 Honor Roll
Division I FCS Major Award Finalists
▶ MARK NOFRI (SACRED HEART)
Eddie Robinson Award Finalist
▶ KYLE HARBRIDGE (SAINT FRANCIS)
Walter Payton Award Finalist
▶ RJ NOEL (SACRED HEART)
Jerry Rice Award Finalist
▶ DILLON BUECHEL (DUQUESNE)
Jerry Rice Award Finalist
NSCAA/Continental Tire NCAA Division I Men’s All-America Team
Kevin Correa, St. Francis Brooklyn (Third Team)
Capital One Academic All-America:
Kyle Harbridge, Saint Francis, 3.63, Marketing
Annika Foit, LIU Brooklyn, 3.97, Chemistry
NSCAA North Atlantic Region Coach of the Year
Tom Giovatto, St. Francis Brooklyn
NSCAA/Continental Tire NCAA DI Men’s All-North Atlantic Region
Andy Cormack, St. Francis Brooklyn (First Team)
Nicholas Walker, Fairleigh Dickinson (First Team)
Neco Brett, Robert Morris (First Team)
Kevin Correa, St. Francis Brooklyn (First Team)
Daniel Valcicak, Saint Francis U (Second Team)
Francis DeVries, Saint Francis U (Second Team)
Conor Quaiter, Central Connecticut (Second Team)
Brett Laroque, Bryant (Second Team)
Gabriel Bagot, St. Francis Brooklyn (Second Team)
Nick Kolarec, Saint Francis U (Second Team)
NSCAA/Continental Tire NCAA DI Women’s All-Northeast Region
Tesa McKibben, Saint Francis U (First Team)
Alecia McNiff, Saint Francis U (Second team)
Allison Kelley, Central Connecticut (Third Team)
Capital One Academic All-District
Sam Martello, Duquesne, 3.92, Accounting
Luis Quintana, Duquesne, 3.75, Finance
Nick Faraci, Robert Morris, 3.93, Nursing
Kyle Cooper, Robert Morris, 3.73, Sport management
Dane Domonkos, Saint Francis, 3.83, Early childhood education
Kyle Harbridge, Saint Francis, 3.63, Marketing
Jake DeMedal, Saint Francis, 3.53, Health science
Brody Maughan-Evanson, Saint Francis, 3.74, Finance
Trevor Loveland, Wagner, 3.82, Business administration
Brice Merwine, LIU Brooklyn, 3.95, Mathematics
Annika Foit, LIU Brooklyn, 3.97, Chemistry
NSCAA Men’s Scholar All-East Region
Josef Abele, Central Connecticut (Second Team)
Stephen Walmsley, Central Connecticut (Second Team)