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Two wins push St. John’s soccer to No. 1 in nation

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They’ve won a national championship and have consistently been one of the top teams in the country for the past 10 years. But never has the St. John’s men’s soccer team been ranked No. 1 in the country during the regular season.

Until now.

Thanks to a pair of Big East wins over Notre Dame and Pittsburgh coupled with former No. 1 Stanford’s 3-1 home loss to Tulsa, the Red Storm moved from No. 2 in the nation to the top spot Monday afternoon.

“It’s nice for the university, alumni and the fans, but it doesn’t mean a lot to us,” said St. John’s coach Dave Masur. “It means a lot for our opponents. We’re going to have to concentrate more and play with much more intensity because teams are going to come out trying to beat us; it’s a big milestone for them.”

The first step for St. John’s was a hard-fought 1-0 win over Big East rival Notre Dame last Thursday at Belson Stadium.

Through a driving rain Red Storm freshman midfielder Jean Camere turned to his right and could see the scoreboard clock ticking down.

With less than two minutes left in a scoreless draw with No. 10 Notre Dame and teammate Simone Salinno getting ready to take a corner kick, Camere knew this could be the Red Storm’s last chance to score in the second half.

Camere, who has seen limited playing time this year, made the most of that chance, netting the game-winning goal with 1:48 left in the second half to lift St. John’s to a 1-0 win in front of 1,050 soaked fans at Belson Stadium.

The win, the Red Storm’s first in its new home, was its second against a top-10 team (St. John’s also defeated Indiana, 2-0, which was ranked second at the time), but more importantly for Masur, it was a Big East win.

“It’s a great result, we just have to keep with it and focus,” said Masur, whose team improved to 6-1-1, 3-1 in the Big East. “You have to build on results and you have to build on your season. One stub of your toe, one game that goes against you doesn’t make a season. You have to stay focused and committed to each and every game and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Simone’s corner kick, the Red Storm’s fourth of the game, was headed away by an Irish defender at the far post. Having already eluded an Irish defender, Camere ran on to the rebound at the top of the box and hit a low, straight shot that somehow snuck through traffic and beat Notre Dame keeper Chris Sawyer to his right.

Camere ripped off his already drenched white Red Storm jersey and celebrated his first collegiate goal.

“All I could think about was kicking the ball on the floor because the field was wet and it was going to be hard for the goalie to get it,” Camere said. “[The ball] was kind of bouncing, it was a little high but I just wanted to hit it as low as I could.”

“Jean gave us some tempo to the game and some great decision making to the game,” Masur added. “In the first half, he was particularly good and he remained good, he was almost extraordinarily good in the first half.”

The goal was certainly a relief for anyone at Belson Stadium — with the exception of Notre Dame coaches and players — because it gave everyone a chance to get out of the rain and lessen their chances of pneumonia, instead of having to sit through a possible 30 minutes of overtime.

Despite the wet conditions, which started as steady rain when the game kicked off and ended up as a driving downpour when the final whistle blew, the brand new FieldTurf surface held up wonderfully. There were no visible puddles and the players didn’t seem to be slipping as they would have on the old artificial turf of DaSilva Field, which was like an ice-skating rink when wet.

“You saw some good soccer and it was one of the better games we’ve played in all year and it was one of the cleanest games we’ve played in,” Masur said of the game which had 19 total fouls and just one yellow card. “You saw a little bit of soccer even though the conditions weren’t that favorable for soccer. That’s a credit to the field, that would have never happened on the other field.”

Before Camere’s goal, the Red Storm’s best scoring chance came in the 64th minute when Andre Schmid, who scored the first goal in Belson Stadium history in a 1-1 tie with Wake Forest, blasted the ball off the near post from the top of the 18-yard box.

Notre Dame (4-2-2, 2-1 Big East) had its share of chances in the even contest, including a pair late in the second half, but Luke Boughen’s low, hard shot from the top of the box was just wide of the net in the 81st minute and less than a minute later Devon Prescod found Erich Braun 12 yards from goal, but the senior forward’s shot was wide of the near post.

Red Storm keeper Billy Gaudette made three saves, including two that bounced into his chest in the first half on shots by Justin Detter and Braun, to earn his sixth shutout of the year. He was named Big East Goalkeeper of the Week.

St. John’s 1, Pittsburgh 0. Schmid netted the game-winner in the 80th minute, blasting the ball off the crossbar and in from 24 yards out Saturday night in front of 1,560 at Belson Stadium. The Red Storm takes on Old Dominion and No. 17 UCLA at the Rutgers Philips/Adidas Classic in Piscataway this weekend.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by email at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

Posted 7:23 pm, October 10, 2011
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