St. John's Ready to Take College Soccer World by Storm

By Nigel Chiwaya on August 23, 2012 11:00am 

JAMAICA — You could forgive the St. John's men's soccer team if they felt a little like Rodney Dangerfield — after all, they've gotten no respect in the preseason college soccer rankings.

The Red Storm has won two of the last three Big East championships, yet they're not the highest-ranked team in the conference.

That honor goes to Connecticut, which is ranked fourth nationally, even though the Johnnies beat the Huskies 1-0 for the Big East title last November.

And they're not even the highest-ranking team in the Red Division, a spot occupied by fifth-ranked South Florida, despite fielding Jack Bennett, an offensive powerhouse.

So where do the Red Storm stack up in the rankings, which are chosen by a group of college coaches? Number 15 nationally. But if you'd expect St. John's to take these slights personally, guess again. According to Bennett, they've barely even noticed.

"They're all top teams," the senior midfielder said about the other teams in the Big East, including University of Connecticut, Louisville and South Florida.

"Personally I don't take much interest. It's only preseason," he said. "We strive to beat the top teams in the country, and we look to be [ranked] as high as we can at the end."

St. John's begins the defense of its Big East championship on Friday night, when the Storm open their season at home against Boston University.

And while they'd like to win another conference championship, there's a much bigger prize that might await them.

The Red Storm has made two trips to the NCAA tournament in the last three years, but they've lost their first game both times.

In fact, the last time St. John's won a NCAA tournament game was 2008, when they made it to the College Cup.

Since then, they haven't scored a goal in NCAA tournament play. And for that to change, Bennett says the team must remain focused.

"We can't let the Big East get to our heads," said Bennett, who scored six goals last season, including five game-winners. "The focus is on the NCAA tournament. Anyone in the NCAA's is going to be a tough opponent."

It will be a long road back for the Red Storm.

Their schedule features matchups against four top-10 teams and seven teams that reached last year's NCAA tournament.

And while 15 letterwinners and seven starters are returning, the team has six freshmen and five redshirt freshmen.

"We're a little young, but that doesn't mean that we're going to struggle or anything," said Bennett, a native of London, England.

"I'm sure the freshmen will step up to the test and I know we'll be just fine."

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