Photo courtesy CCSU Athletics
This past fall, the Central Connecticut State University men’s soccer squad went somewhere no other team in CCSU history had been before when it went on a run at the end of the season – a run that culminated in the Sweet 16. It was the first time in school history since it became Division 1 that any team had made it that deep in the tournament. One big reason for the Blue Devils ascension into the ranks of elite Division I soccer teams was the play of Yan Klukowski.
Yan Klukowski, a junior star in Great Britain, led CCSU to the Sweet 16 for the first time in '07.
Klukowski came to CCSU after captaining the English Schoolboys National Team. He won Northeast Conference Rookie of the Year honors following his freshman season, then led the nation in assists as a sophomore before spending the summer prior to his junior campaign leading Great Britain into the quarterfinals at the World University Games in Bangkok, Thailand. It goes without saying that the Blue Devil captain is most familiar with one direction: Up.
A native of Wiltshire, England, Klukowski arrived in New Britain in 2005 and jumped right in to the scoring mix alongside Jorden Holder and Alex Harrison. He matched Holder, who led the nation in assists in 2005, with 17 points, scoring seven goals and registering three assists. Harrison, meanwhile, scored 13 times and had two assists en route to earning his second consecutive Northeast Conference Player of the Year award. He shared the stage with Klukowski.
The third CCSU player to obtain rookie of the year status in four seasons, Klukowski was a catalyst in the Blue Devils’ stretch drive toward a playoff berth, scoring five goals over his last four games, including the lone marker in CCSU’s playoff-clinching win over Sacred Heart. The only player in the conference to earn Brine/NEC Player and Rookie of the Week honors that season, he ranked second in the NEC among freshmen with 17 points and third with seven goals. Klukowski was also the leading NEC scorer in league play with six goals and 14 points.
“As a freshman I didn’t know what to expect,” Klukowski said. “Every game was a new experience, so I just gave it everything I had and tried to play to my strengths.”
Holder finished his career at Central in 2005, leaving a void in the playmaking department. Klukowski filled it.
As a sophomore, Klukowski totaled another 17 points. He scored three goals and had 11 assists, leading all NCAA Division I players with .733 assists per game. Klukowski earned his second straight first team all-conference selection and was named an All-North Atlantic honoree by NSCAA/adidas following the season, but the Blue Devils, who were ranked in the nation’s top-20 early in the season, failed to qualify for the NEC Tournament.
“I was hugely disappointed to miss out on the NEC Tournament last year,” Klukowski said. “I felt we had a strong team, but we were unlucky with injuries to key players throughout the season.”
Despite the setback, Klukowski forged ahead, spending the beginning of his summer playing in the Premier Development League for the Ottawa Fury. And on July 2, Great Britain announced its World University Games roster. Klukowski was one of 20 players selected to play in the August games.
"It was an honor for our soccer program and the University," Blue Devil head coach Shaun Green said. "Yan works so hard on perfecting his skills. If any student-athlete deserved to perform on such a high stage, it is definitely Yan."
Central Connecticut Director of Athletics C.J. Jones echoed Green's thoughts.
"To have Blue Devil soccer players play in consecutive World University Games is an honor for the men's soccer program, the department and the University," Jones said. "Yan's accomplishment is a testament to the hard work and dedication he, his teammates and his coaching staff display every day."
Among other preparations for the trip to Bangkok, Klukowski spoke with Harrison, who had played for the U.K. at the 2005 World University Games in Kizmir, Turkey.
“Alex told me to enjoy the experience, because I would not be in a similar experience unless it was the Olympics or World Cup,” Klukowski said.
The 20-player team, which was comprised of 16 U.S.-based players (the largest contingent ever for a British team at the Games), drew Morocco, Mexico and Kazakhstan in Group D.
Klukowski scored two times during Great Britain’s opening three contests, helping lead the squad into quarterfinal round action versus Canada. He registered his first goal in the team’s opener, a 1-1 tie versus Mexico. Trailing 1-0 in the second half, Klukowski's equalizer forced a shootout to determine who would advance to quarterfinal action if the teams were level on points. Great Britain won, 5-4, on penalty kicks with Klukowski scoring on the team's first chance.
A physical education major at Central Connecticut, Klukowski jump-started a Great Britain comeback victory against Morocco on Thursday, Aug. 9. With the team again trailing 1-0 at the half, Klukowski evened the score and started a 4-0 run. Great Britain then clinched the top spot in Group D with a 1-0 victory against Kazakhstan.
Klukowski’s squad lost to Canada in the quarterfinals and finished the Games with an eighth place effort.
“It was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” Klukowski said. “To be involved in a tournament of that magnitude was fantastic. You get to see a host of people from different parts of the world, so that in itself is a great experience to learn about other cultures.”
With the experience behind him, Klukowski pressed on. He was determined to work CCSU back into the NEC Tournament.
After reaching the round of 16 -- the first team to do so since Central became a Division 1 program -- the sky's the limit in 2008.
“Yan has been a brilliant captain for our team,” Green said. “He has stepped it up time and time again and demonstrated a high level of commitment to this program.”
And, he did more than lead them back to the NEC Tournament. Klukowski sparked the Blue Devils run to their first Northeast Conference Championship, registering at least one point in the final five regular season games – CCSU went 4-0-1 during the stretch and claimed the final of four spots in the NEC Tournament.
After Central Connecticut upset the first and second seeds – Monmouth and St. Francis (PA) – to win the program’s first-ever conference title, Klukowski led the Blue Devil charge to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship. He scored a goal and had an assist in a first round upset of No. 15 Harvard and then had a goal and two assists in CCSU’s second round upset of No. 9 Tulsa. Klukowski finished the tournament with nine points on three goals and three assists after scoring the lone Blue Devil goal in the team’s season-ending loss at UMass in the third round.
No Central Connecticut men’s team had ever won one NCAA Tournament game, let alone two, in the school’s Division I era. Klukowski and a young Blue Devil squad – it will lose just two seniors heading into 2008 – are now anxiously awaiting the opportunity to become the first to win three.