St. Francis (N.Y.) plans to keep improving following loss to UCLA
What a wonderful time to be a sports fan in Brooklyn. There's the recently relocated Nets of the NBA, the soon to come New York Islanders and now the water polo Terriers of St. Francis (N.Y.), who have arrived back at the NCAA tournament. If that last example doesn't seem to match the first two in the general sports conscious, don't be alarmed -- the Terriers are used to flying under the radar.
St. Francis has been one of the borough's most successful sports teams in the last ten years, filling the void for some between Duke Snider and Deron Williams on a college campus that fills less than a city block.
2012 marks the third time in the last eight years that the Terriers have earned a trip to the NCAA tournament, previously winning the Eastern Championship and the automatic bid in 2005 and 2010. In 2012, they battled back from deficits in the semi-finals and finals of Easterns to punch their ticket to Los Angeles. The value of their visit can't be understated.
"It's big," Head Coach Igor Samardzija said. "More people know about St. Francis in California than in New York City," he joked. "[We are] a small program, it is also great for these guys to experience something like this."
Their success earned them the third seed in the NCAA tournament and a semifinal matchup against UCLA. Despite their previous success, they were no match for the Bruins. Determined to reach the NCAA final for the second year in a row, UCLA had a five-goal second period en route to a 17-3 victory. Griffin White powered in four goals for UCLA while Paul Pickell added three. Trailing 2-1 after the first, St. Francis couldn't keep up with the speed or depth of UCLA.
"It was a really hard game to watch, we didn't do ourselves justice when it mattered the most," Samardjiza said. "I had a feeling that we didn't show up [Saturday]. The game plan was to stay calm and to play the game through four quarters. Instead we allowed ourselves to get burned in the first half."
It was just two years ago that the Terriers pushed USC to the brink at a semifinal match in Berkeley, Calif., falling 10-7. For the athletes of a young team, it will serve as a learning experience.
"It is a great opportunity, a really good feeling to be among the best four teams in the nation," sophomore defender Balint Toth said. "It gives us strength next year to work harder in practice."
Samardjiza's biggest challenge will be turning those good feelings into victories.
"[We were] overwhelmed with the whole atmosphere, the third seed, expectations are higher," he said.
In the meantime the Terriers get the chance to close this season on a positive note. They'll meet Air Force in the third-place game on Sunday, a chance to justify that seed and chalk up another win for Brooklyn.