Big East – Cincinnati | DePaul | Pittsburgh | Rutgers | Seton Hall | Syracuse | Villanova
Big Ten – Indiana | Nebraska | Purdue
Mid-Majors – Florida Gulf Coast
Pac-12 – Arizona State | Colorado | Oregon | Utah | Washington
SEC – Mississippi State
WCC – Gonzaga | Loyola Marymount | San Francisco
It’s now been two seasons since St. John’s ended two decades of despair and finally reached the NCAA Tournament, and the Red Storm are still waiting for a return engagement to the Big Dance. You probably could have forgiven St. John’s for having something of a hangover in 2010, with the Johnnies going 6-10-4 in the season after their big breakthrough, but the needle barely moved in 2011, with the Red Storm still well out of the NCAA Tournament picture. Head coach Ian Stone will be looking for better days in 2012 after helping drag the Johnnies up from mid-table mediocrity into a competitive team in Big East play.
For a side with the 1994 Big East Tournament title as their only real major honor, the inaugural trip to the Big Dance could have been seen as the catalyst for a new era in Red Storm soccer. Instead, Stone has been stuck dealing with growing pains, most acutely felt in the offense in 2010, where St. John’s scored just ten goals all season en route to finishing on bottom of their division of the Big East and missing the postseason entirely.
Signs of an instant turnaround weren’t evident early in 2011, as the Red Storm, a club typically known for a smothering defense, lost their opener to William & Mary, 5-0. The Red Storm would only win one of their first four, in addition to drawing with A10 makeweights Fordham. Stone and co. would begin to show signs of life as Big East play neared, winning three in a row before the league opener. That’d be a disappointing 2-0 loss at Providence, but St. John’s then came back to win four of their next five to put themselves within touching distance of the postseason.
Confoundingly, the bottom dropped out from the Johnnies after a 2-1 win over Seton Hall. The defense was shambles during a four match losing streak, giving up fourteen goals over those games. Most egregiously, the club lost 6-1 to a horrendous Pittsburgh team that won two games all season. It meant that the regular season finale was a must win situation, and the Red Storm saved a little pride with a 2-0 win to make it back into the Big East Tournament.
However, given Stone’s club’s late season slide, it could hardly have been surprising to see them lose in the opening round of the conference tournament to Seton Hall. Stone had gotten the Red Storm back to .500 after 2010’s dip, but the club really got no closer to their second NCAA Tournament berth with just a marginal gain in the RPI.
At least St. John’s (NY) had, to a certain degree, solved the offensive problems that had plagued them so much in 2010. The Red Storm had come into the new season after an offensive display that had ranked among the very worst in the nation. It’s not like Stone’s club made a quantum leap forward, but the club still managed to finish with a middle of the road offense in the league. Unfortunately for St. John’s, they’ve got another big task on their hands in improving that effort, because the player that scored ten of the club’s twenty-one goals on the season, Jen Leaverton, has graduated. Nobody else on the team scored more than three goals, while only three returnees managed more than a single goal.
While the Red Storm have historically made a name on defense, last year was certainly an exception, with the club giving up just a shade under two goals a game, a mark made worse by the club’s late season swoon. But if that defense doesn’t improve markedly, it’s hard to see how this Red Storm team can succeed, because the offense looks like it could be in for some serious struggles without Leaverton spearheading the charge.
2012 marks the end of an area in some regards with the graduation of longtime goalkeeping stalwart Kristin Russell. Russell had come in immediately as a rookie and been an anchor in goal for St. John’s suffocating defense in 2008, establishing herself as a prospect to watch right off the bat. Russell would keep her spot as the club’s undisputed #1 through 2009 and 2010, breaking the program’s all-time clean sheet record in 2010 on her way to All-Big East Third Team honors. Russell had come up with five more shutouts through the first eleven games of her senior season but was then felled by a foot injury against Georgetown that ended her collegiate career.
It was an extremely unfortunate blow, but the injury did allow the club to begin the transition to life without Russell this season, with junior Lauren Ferris taking over as starter. It didn’t exactly go smoothly, as the new starter gave up fifteen goals in nine games as she eased into life as the starting keeper. While the experience accrued makes her the likely starter, she probably doesn’t have the job on lockdown going into the new season. Senior Meredith Kenyon and true freshman Ellen Conway will be on hand to provide competition this year. In any event, replacing Russell between the pipes is a hard ask after the graduated senior’s stellar career for the Red Storm.
The change in between the posts means that the Red Storm defense, which took a step back last season, needs to be back to its very best to inspire total confidence in this team this year. Fortunately, Stone should have plenty of experience to rely n this season. The lone expected major loss is of versatile Megan Klement, who was a non-factor for two seasons before blossoming as an upperclassman, starting twenty-seven games the past two years.
Senior Patrice Casimir, in and out of the lineup frequently her first two seasons, is another late bloomer who made her presence felt with sixteen starts last season, more than double the total she had recorded in two previous seasons combined. Versatile junior Sarah Ashmore was a spot starter as a rookie but locked down a starting spot full-time last year, making the first XI in all but one contest for the Red Storm. Classmate Michelle Iannachino also looks like a near lock for the starting lineup after establishing herself as a fixture in the lineup during her first two seasons in Queens.
A trio of juniors saw spot start duty last season and will be looking to inherit Klement’s starting spot this year. Michelle Murino and Kristina Quan combined for thirteen starts last season, while Sandra Osborn made five herself after not playing a minute in 2010. Given the shuffling Stone was prone to with this unit last season, there might be a good deal of mixing and matching as well this year. The Johnnies will also be hoping for a return to health for Casey Marks, a junior who started four games early in 2010 but tore an ACL and missed all of last season. A healthy return would add even more depth to a group that looks relatively solid but unspectacular in the Big East this year.
While a decent amount of experience returns, the club does lose a pair of fifth-year seniors who started twenty-three matches combined last season. Dogged persistence paid off in the end for Anna Torregiano, who missed almost all of her first three seasons in Queens due to injury but then stayed healthy the past two years, becoming a big contributor in midfield. Torregiano had three assists in 2010 and added a couple of more last season, along with the game winner from the penalty spot against Columbia. Also gone is Raelynne Lee, who was a big hit as a rookie with five goals and three assists but was injured in 2008 and never quite hit the same offensive heights after, though she still was a mainstay in the lineup for three years.
Junior Amy Marron led the club in goals as a rookie, albeit with just three, and continued to show well last season despite not scoring a goal. Marron still managed three assists and All-Big East Second Team honors and should continue to be one of the league’s top midfielders this year. Classmate Jen Gibbons was also an easy pick for the first XI last season, one of three members of the club to start every game in 2011. Gibbons scored twice last season, and Stone will be hoping for more this year as he tries to breathe some life into the offense. Another junior, Morgan Ritter, was a solid spot starter the past two seasons in Queens and had a couple of assists last season in seven starts. Ritter is versatile enough to be a factor up front if needed as well.
Junior Rachel Hoffman didn’t play in 2010 but was solid enough coming off the bench last year in thirteen games and could play a similar role this year for the club. Icelandic forward Runa Stefansdottir could also be moved into the midfield if necessary by Stone, though he has plenty of options even if she isn’t. Marron’s a fine player and should shine again, while the rest of the group is experienced. There’s only so much offensive upside though, and you get the feeling this group won’t be bailing out the frontline if they aren’t hitting the target.
It’s all about replacing Leaverton, a player who flattered to deceive for so long for the Red Storm, scoring three times in her first two seasons before a big-time flop in 2010, with just one goal. Leaverton would promptly go goal crazy last season, scoring ten goals, three more than in the previous three seasons combined! Six of the senior’s ten strikes went down as game winners, and the club went 7-1-0 in games in which she scored, just underlining her importance to the club.
Stefansdottir looks like the top option to replace her as the club’s go-to scorer. The Icelandic senior broke into the starting lineup full-time in 2010 and had a pair of goals in each of her first two seasons before one goal and four assists last year. Stone has to be hoping she experiences a senior breakthrough like the departed Leaverton did last year. Sophomore Caitlyn McLaughlin was one of last season’s top recruits and lived up to the billing, winning Big East All-Rookie Team distinction with two goals and three assists despite starting just five times. She could grow into a key cog in the attack over the next few years. Fellow sophomore Chelsey Martino also made a decent impact as a rookie last year with three goals, though all came in defeats.
Another of the club’s top recruits, Deanna Murino, Michelle’s sister, was also highly involved off the bench last year, with a goal and two assists in four starts. Ritter could also conceivably be thrown up front in a pinch by Stone if necessary. Most eyes though will be focused on rookie Shelby Halasz, by far the best of this bunch brought in by Stone and a mainstay in the Region I ODP team the past few seasons. There are plenty of options, most of them still very young, to fill the boots of Leaverton, but it remains to be seen if any of them can be the big-time scorer the club needs to compete in the Big East this season.
St. John’s (NY) fans probably would like to avoid a repeat of the house of horrors that was the 2010 season when the club couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn offensively, but losing Leaverton, who was involved in over half the club’s goals last year could be a big blow considering how little there appears to be in waiting to take her place. Additionally, Russell may have only played half of last season, but everyone saw how bad the Johnnies slumped without her, which is hardly a good omen defensively for this season.
One of the few saving graces for the Red Storm this season might be the wealth of experience returning to the fore for them in 2012. But the club still looks short of top line talent for a Big East club with the exception of Marron, meaning the best the Red Storm can probably hope for this year is a challenge for a spot in the Big East Tournament, with an extended postseason run looking unlikely.