MORGANTOWN — West Virginia men’s soccer coach Marlon LeBlanc doesn’t know much about NCAA tournament opponent LIU Brooklyn other than it being in the Northeast Conference.
But there was one small detail he was able to rattle off Monday after learning his team was facing the Blackbirds — their head coach, TJ Kostecky, was LeBlanc’s coach when he played was in the New Jersey Olympic Development Program 14u program.
“There’s a little history there going back some time,” LeBlanc said.
The Mountaineers earned its first NCAA tournament bid since 2011 following a 13-6-0 campaign was included a Mid-American Conference regular season crown — the program’s first conference title since LeBlanc’s first season in 2006 in the Big East.
When the matchup — set for 7 p.m. Thursday at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium — was announced on the big screen at the WVU Basketball Practice Facility, it was met with applause from players and coaches. LeBlanc, though, already had his gears working and sights set on LIU Brooklyn (13-5-1), the first meeting between the schools.
Kostecky has been at LIU Brooklyn since 1999 and led the Blackbirds to eight NCAA tournament appearance. Prior, he was at Appalachian State for one season, Pfeiffer for four and NJIT for six.
From 1987-’94, Kostecky was a coach for New Jersey’s Olympic Development Team and was responsible for the training and selection of the state’s top players for the United States National Team. He did the same in North Carolina while he was the head coach at Pfeiffer.
“I remember TJ being a very cool, calm customer,” LeBlanc said. “He was a very good coach and was coaching elite players at that age. He’s been doing this a long, long time, and he’s been there and done that, so I don’t think there will be any tension with them coming to West Virginia to play a game.
“I think they’ll be excited and be up for it.”
The winner of Thursday’s game will face top-seeded Georgetown on the road Sunday, and while West Virginia clearly wants to continue its journey after facing LIU Brooklyn, getting back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in seven years is a stepping stone for the program.
“I’ve been here five years and this is the first time that we’ve been able to do it,” said midfielder Joey Piatczyc, the MAC player of the year. “We’ve been very close a couple times and I think this shows that we have a team with a lot of grit and didn’t fall off at the end of the season like we typically have. It means the world to us because we got to see a lot of our friends around the country aren’t even watching the show because they knew they were done.”
WVU is looking forward to getting back out to play after losing in a MAC semifinal 3-1 to eventual champion Akron.
LeBlanc believes the loss was a blessing and a curse at this point in the year.
“It’s a tempered excitement (getting into the NCAA tournament),” he said. “We’re excited to be moving on and to still be playing in November. Our philosophy is to always look forward, not backward. We know we didn’t have our best game, but there’s definitely an edge to this group.
“As much as we try to learn from the last game, we quickly move on. Akron is not our next game, so there’s no point to holding onto that — we just want to learn and move on.”