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The Butler Did It: It was a good year for SJU

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OK, so the men’s basketball team was God awful and its problems — both on and off the court — have been well-documented in these sports pages, but putting that team aside, the other...

It’s been a great year in St. John’s athletics. No, really, it was.

OK, so the men’s basketball team was God awful and its problems — both on and off the court — have been well-documented in these sports pages, but putting that team aside, the other programs at the largest Catholic university in the country have enjoyed tremendous success.

It started in the fall when the men’s soccer team, led by Chris Wingert, fell one goal shy of winning its second national championship as the Red Storm lost to Indiana in the title tilt.

Wingert was the Hermann Trophy Award winner, awarded annually to college soccer’s top player. He was also named an academic and athletic All-American and was selected in the MLS SuperDraft.

Coached by Dave Masur, the men’s soccer team also won its 11th Big East title — winning the regular season crown — made the NCAA tournament for the 12th straight year and advanced to the Final Four for the second time in three years.

The women’s soccer team reached the Big East tournament for the second straight year, had two All-Big East selections and is regarded as one of the top up-and-coming teams in the conference.

Coached by Bellerose native Joanna Persico-Smith, who was only the second woman inducted into the St. Francis Prep Hall of Fame Saturday, the women’s volleyball team set a school record for most wins in a season with 26. Sophomore Jackie Ahlers was named first team All-Big East and became the first player in the program’s history to earn All-American honors.

In its final season, the women’s swimming team qualified for the ECAC Championships and broke numerous records at the Big East tournament as coach John Skudin won his 100th match.

The fencing team finished fourth in the country, had seven All-Americans including one NCAA champion (Arpad Horvath) and, although this is more a sign of a pattern of excellence, one-third of the U.S. Olympic team is comprised of former St. John’s fencers.

Coached by Kim Barnes-Arico, the women’s basketball team reached the Big East tournament for the first time since 1999 and featured one of the league’s top freshmen in Angie Clark.

The men’s golf team lost the best player in the program’s history but still made the Big East tournament and had five top-10 finishes this year.

The burgeoning women’s golf team won its first-ever tournament, had top-five finishes in seven of the eight tournaments it competed in, and Jennifer Rhee recorded the first hole-in-one in St. John’s golf history.

The softball team won six of its last games and played for a Big East tournament berth on the last day of the regular season. It was led by former Mary Louis star Courtney Fitzgerald, who broke a number of school pitching records and is the lone graduating senior.

Picked to finish sixth by the conference coaches in the preseason poll, the baseball team appears to be on its way to making the Big East tournament for the first time since 1999.

Coached by Ed Blankmeyer and led by Joe Reid and Mike Rozema, the team is fourth in the conference with a 13-7 record, 30-16 overall.

But most of those accomplishments are largely overlooked because it’s not men’s basketball.

Basketball is the city’s game and St. John’s is the city’s team, even if Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez says otherwise. It’s not the baseball team that plays at Madison Square Garden or the fencers who are on national television or the women’s golf team that graces the back pages of the New York tabloids.

So as Queens native Norm Roberts starts the arduous task of attempting to rebuild the once-proud men’s basketball team back to national prominence, let’s not forget the other 17 sports at St. John’s.

Reach Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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