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SJU women vying for return trip to Big East tourney

When Ian Stone predicted his team would qualify for the Big East tournament last year, more than a few scratched their heads and snickered at the St. John’s women’s soccer coach.

But the Red Storm rewarded Stone’s confidence with the team’s first tournament bid since winning the Big East in 1994, giving national powerhouse Notre Dame a major scare in a 2-0 loss in the quarterfinals. Stone not only hopes his team can repeat last year’s task, but take a step further.

“My goal this year is to make the NCAA tournament,” Stone said. “That’s why we upgraded our schedule this year. Nine of the 18 teams we play made the tournament last year.”

The conference coaches, however, don’t agree with Stone, picking the Red Storm last in the seven-team Northeast Division, behind Connecticut, Boston College, Syracuse, Miami, Virginia Tech and Providence.

The Big East has grown from a one-team conference (Connecticut) to having four teams ranked in the preseason top 25. Making matters worse for the Red Storm this year is that its midfield was decimated by graduation, as starters Lisa Rinaldi, Kristy Bergen and Karyn Lundgren are all gone. Also gone is Marissa Stork and Lisa Kaczmarski, two of the team’s top scorers a year ago.

“I can understand [how the coaches think] because all the players we lost made key contributions to the team,” Stone said. “But what they don’t know is the quality of the freshmen coming in and the cohesiveness of the senior unit.”

Senior Joanna Dawson and sophomore Lauren McGrory are the only two players with any playing experience and Stone needs some instant maturity from the plethora of newcomers who make up the 11th best recruiting class in the Northeast, according to Soccer Buzz magazine.

One of the several newcomers in the midfield is a graduate of Newcomers High School, Laura Burlacu, the top PSAL player in the city and the TimesLedger PSAL Girls Soccer Player of the Year. The native of Romania, who may also see some time up front, is joined by fellow freshmen midfielders Mallory DiMaio and Stephanie Ramia.

“They do need to grow up so quickly,” Stone said of his freshmen. “There’s a great deal of talent and potential there, but it’s one thing to practice and another thing entirely to do it on the Big East stage. It’s a little bit of a gamble and it’s going to be a huge step up to be able to make an impact on this level.”

Defensively, the Red Storm should be solid, as goalkeeper Tina Fogg is back for her senior year and starters Jen Taylor, Courtney Rett and Pristina Alford, as well as Jen Pugsley, are back to anchor the defense.

Up front, St. John’s will rely on returnees Erin Zambelli, the team’s leading scorer last year, and Heather Cook, while freshman Kaitlin Schmidt, a standout from St. Anthony’s High School, should help bolster the attack.

The Red Storm open its schedule Tuesday with a home game against the Fordham Rams.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

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