NEW ROCHELLE, NY — In 2014 the two Monroe Mustangs soccer teams were as good as can be. The Monroe women were national champions and the men were national finalists and both teams made their mark in dramatic fashion through the playoffs right into the final matches. Both teams were also Regional and District champions as they navigated their way into their respective NJCAA Division I National Tournaments.
“This was a special year for our soccer teams,” said Athletic Director Bert Shillingford, “and winning championships is not only about what’s happening on the field. Monroe’s administrative, academic, and training staffs also get a lot of credit because they operate in a championship fashion, too,” he said. “On the field, our coaches are superb as are our student athletes who wear the ‘Monroe’ across their chests with great pride and clearly, with great success.”
Ironically, in their national semifinals, within a space of 24-hours in different cities – the men in Prescott AZ and the women in Melbourne, FL – both Monroe soccer teams were faced with scoreless, sudden-death overtime games that eventually came down to the penalty kick phase, where anything can happen. But each of Monroe’s two goalkeepers were equal to the challenge, each stopping two opposing kicks to send their teams to the finals.
Then in the women’s final, #2 seeded Monroe faced the top-seed, Iowa Western, the team that gave the 18-1-1 Mustangs their only loss in the second game of the season and the same team that ousted Monroe from the nationals a year before. That game was tied 1-1 and it too went to sudden death, and there Monroe’s brilliant Brazilian sophomore Ana Carol Rodrigues scored the title-winner on a penalty kick.
In the men’s final, the #10-seeded Mustangs drew some difficult luck as one of their players was called for a red card on a controversial play in the 40th-minute, forcing them to play the #4-seeded Tyler (TX) shorthanded for almost 50 minutes. But 13-4-1 Monroe didn’t disappoint, notching a goal to cut the lead to 2-1 late in the second half and narrowly missing taking the title on two clean chances to score in the final minute.
Coach Jonathan Garbar’s women’s team won Monroe College’s first team Division I national championship in their third DI season in which they won sixteen consecutive matches, a streak that included nine shutouts. Of note were a 3-2 double-overtime thriller over Harford CC in which British sophomore Gemma Craine got the game-winner and 2-0 and 2-1 wins over their Region Rival ASA that won the Region championship.
Monroe played a hair-raising scoreless District final until the 88th minute, when Rodrigues again was the hero launching the Mustangs into the Nationals.
The ride to the National Finals for the men was a tad bumpier, but no less impressive. They started off the season slow with a couple of early losses, but then went on a ferocious charge of six-straight wins including five shutouts. Coach Marcus Dibernardo’s team was deep and unified which served them well as various key cogs in the Monroe machine went down through the season with injuries.
Undaunted, Monroe defeated ASA 2-1 in a vital Region game when Brooklyn sophomore Tarek Beckles tallied on in the 85th minute. Then they vanquished the Avengers 5-0 two weeks later in a bruising Region title game.
To win the District championship the Mustangs traveled north to Massachusetts defeating Monroe CC in the semis and in yet another black-and-blue affair, took care of Massasoit 2-1 to qualify for the nationals. Talented Bronx freshman, Kalifa Sylla got the key netter in that one.
The Mustangs trials were not done as they overcame a low-seed in the National tournament which meant two 9:30am games on consecutive days far from home and then they had to watch a heart-stopping match between two other teams, in which they narrowly emerged as semifinalists.
Coach Garbar was named coach of the women’s tournament. Rodrigues was named ‘attacker of the tournament’, keeper Tiffany Martinez, who stopped two PK’s in the semifinal was awarded ‘defender of the tournament’ and Gabriela Maidana and Lorina White were named to the All-Tournament’s first team. For the men, freshmen Khadim Seye and Lucas Santos were named to the All-Tournament team.
In 2010 the men were 19-2, Region and District Championships, and finished in fourth-place finish in the NJCAA Division I Men’s National Tournament. In 2011 they were 14-2-1 and were national finalists. In 2012 and 2014 they won Region championships.
As a Division III team, the Monroe women won Region titles in 2010 and 2011 and were national finalists in 2011. In 2012, they moved up to Division I and became a top-ten ranked team within their first month. They won Region and District titles in 2013 and played in the national tournament.
“Winning is a habit that we would really not like to break,” said Mr. Shillingford. “To keep things going in the future we will all have to continue to work hard to not only bring in top players, but to also make sure they are solid in the classroom as well as on the field. It’s that commitment to success that makes the Monroe Mustangs what we are.”