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Jun 15, 2021

Monmouth Men’s Soccer Captures MAAC Championship

By Tim Morris

Photo courtesy of Monmouth University Athletics. Head Coach Robert McCourt led the Monmouth University men’s soccer team back to the NCAA Tournament this spring for the sixth time.

In one half of a soccer game, the Monmouth University’s men’s team turned its entire season around. The Hawks went from concluding their season short of the conference tournament to landing a spot in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.

Trailing Niagara 3-1 at the half and needing a win to get into the eight-team Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) tournament, the Hawks scored two goals in the second half to tie the match and rode Liam McGregor’s (Middletown North) overtime goal to a 4-3 win, clinching the No. 6 seed for the MAAC playoffs.

“It was a character win,” said Hawk Head Coach Robert McCourt. “That second half against Niagara, it started clicking. We had had so many scoring chances but weren’t converting.”

That had been the story of Monmouth’s season. It’s why they were 1-2-1 entering the Niagara match and in need of a win to make the postseason.

The character comeback gave the Hawks momentum that would take them far. They went on to beat the first, second and third seed to win the MAAC championship.

The run began with a return trip to No. 3 Niagara and a 2-1 win followed by a 2-0 triumph at No. 2 Rider, concluding with a 1-0 triumph over No. 1 seed and regular season champion Quinnipiac.

“We deserved it,” McCourt said of the MAAC crown, the sixth his team has won.

The MAAC title took the Hawks to Greensboro, North Carolina for the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Monmouth defeated Bowling Green, 2-1, to advance to the second round for the third time under McCourt. No. 2 Pitt ended the memorable run with a 6-1 victory.

In the end, all the travel and games packed together took it’s toll on the Hawks.

“We just ran out of gas,” said McCourt, whose team finished the abbreviated season 6-3-1. “Fatigue set it.”

McCourt earned MAAC Coach of the Year honors for the fifth time while the Hawks’ George Akampeke was the conference Defensive Player of the Year, and keeper Sean Murray the Co-Goalkeeper of the Year.

What Monmouth did this spring bodes well for the fall 2021 season. Breaking in six new players and with no preseason, McCourt didn’t know if his team would have time to click. One thing he did see was “huge potential” for Hawks. Turns out they were ahead of schedule had the time to reveal that potential now. The Hawks, like everyone else, also had to deal with the changes and challenges the pandemic brought.

“The players made a lot of serious sacrifices to play the season,” said McCourt. “They were willing to be disciplined.”

Midfielder Griffin Tomas, forward Julian Gomez, forward Ben Zakowski and defender Declan McStravick (Mater Die Prep) were the heart and soul of the team, according to their coach. They were responsible for the Hawks’ winning culture. Perhaps it was the culture of this team that stood out most for McCourt. It was a team that just didn’t talk the talk about commitment but did all things it takes to win.

“We did it. We didn’t talk about it,” McCourt said.