Zsani Kajan enjoyed one of the finest seasons in Red Storm history. (Photo courtesy of St. John’s)

The St. John’s University women finished arguably its best season in history in 2021, reaching the Round of 16 of the NCAA Division I playoffs for the first time.

The Johnnies, however, went down to a 7-1 defeat to top-seeded Duke University in Durham, N.C. on Nov. 21.

Maia Cabrera, a Rego Park, N.Y. native, scored the Johnnies’ lone goal. It was Cabrera’s third of the season and the sixth of her career. Jessica Garziano picked up her 10th assist for the Red Storm (13-7-3).

Despite losing the Big East championship game to Georgetown University, 1-0, the Red Storm earned an at-large berth in the NCAA Division I tournament. It was the first time, St. John’s advanced to the Big East final since 1994.

The opening round certainly was a tall order for the Johnnies. Brown University (12-4, 7-0), which won its 14th Ivy League title, were undefeated at home over the past three years with a 21-0-1 mark, dating back to Oct. 21, 2018.

On Nov. 13, St. John’s ended that streak as Ava Collins tallied a golden goal, propelling the Red Storm to a 1-0 win in Providence, R.I.

St. John’s continued its run on Nov. 19, defeating Samford, 3-0, on penalty kicks after playing to a 2-2 deadlock in regulation and extratime in Durham.

Having made only one collegiate appearance heading into the match, freshman goalkeeper Meghan Groah was called upon in the decisive penalty shootout. The Winchester, Va. native, who had not seen game action since logging 16 minutes and 49 seconds against Saint Joseph’s on Aug. 21, held Samford off the board. She made two saves and forcing another miss. Three of the Red Storm’s four shooters converted their penalty attempts – Garziano, Shannon Aviza and Michelle Money.

“I thought it was a really good team performance,” St. John’s head coach Ian Stone said. “Samford is a fantastic team. They have had a great deal of success and really gave us a fight. I thought we played very well and maybe could have capitalized on more opportunities, but it was great NCAA Tournament type game and we are so glad to get though and are looking forward to Sunday.”

Nicole Gordon, off a Garziano through ball, scored in the 15th minute.  Aviza scored her first goal of the season to give for a 2-1 lead in the 52nd minute. Zsani Kajan sent a free kick into the box that Aviza headed home. In the 82nd minute, Samford’s Alyssa Frazier converted a penalty kick to knot the score at 2-2, forcing extratime.

There were plenty of accolades to go around for the Red Storm.

Kajan was selected by OL Reign as the eighth player taken in the National Women’s Soccer League draft on Dec. 18. She became the second player in program history to be chosen in the draft, following in the footsteps of Houston Dash star Rachel Daly.

The Budapest, Hungary native wrapped a stellar five-year collegiate career, sparking the Red Storm. She tallied 17 goals and six assists in 23 games, earning Big East offensive player of the year honors for the second time and becoming the third player in program history to be selected to a United Soccer Coaches All-America team (second team).

Kajan finished fourth nationally in scoring and was one of eight Division I players to log 40 or more points. Thanks in large part to five multi-goal efforts, including two hat-tricks, Kajan tied Cristin Burtis’ 1994 record for third on the Red Storm’s season scoring list and trailed only Daly’s efforts in 2013 (23) and 2015 (19).

After leading the squad in scoring over the spring 2021 season, Garziano was named to the United Soccer Coaches East Region second team. The Melville, N.Y. native recorded a team-high 10 assists, for the second most in program history. The two-time all-conference selection registered five of her 10 assists during conference action to sit inside the top-three in the conference.

Garziano and rookie Athina Sofroniou also were recognized by the league’s coaches, finding a place on the second team and freshman team, respectively.