It has been three years since both the men’s and women’s soccer teams hosted the NCAA tournament the fall of 2006, when this year’s squads’ eldest members were mere freshmen. What has evolved are two teams that have returned to the same spot they found themselves in three years ago hosting the first rounds of the NCAA in hopes of moving on.
For the women, that means Fauver Stadium is the venue for both the first and second rounds. UR will take the field on Saturday evening, when it faces off against Westfield State College a team that UR hasn’t faced since the ’80s.
‘We don’t know much about [Westfield State],” head coach Terry Gurnett said. ‘I’m expecting them to be tough when you have 16-1-2 record, obviously you’re doing something right and are going to be a quality opponent.”
The Owls have only one common opponent with UR from this season Utica College whom they both beat handily. But Westfield State also has an important intangible on its side momentum. The Owls have not lost a game since they opened the season with a 1-2 overtime loss to Springfield College on Sept. 4.
But despite being held scoreless in a tie versus Case Western Reserve University this past weekend a result that ended any chance of holding sole possession of the University Athletic Association title UR has the experience of playing against a competitive UAA schedule that includes two other teams that also qualified for the tournament.
Defensively, UR has only allowed 10 goals this season and never more than two in a game. On the offense, junior Bridgette Varin and last season’s UAA Rookie of the Year sophomore Ellen Coleman have put opposing defenses in their place.
If UR wins on Saturday, it will take on the winner of the Rowan College and Massachusetts Institute of Technology game on Sunday.
The men, meanwhile, return to the tournament after tying Case Western 0-0 in the final game of its regular season. Ranked No. 8 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll, UR earned a bye for the first round and will play the winner of a first-round game between SUNY Plattsburgh and Bowdoin College on Sunday.
Plattsburgh enters the game no stranger to success this year marks their 21st-straight winning season. As for the NCAA tournament, they’ve qualified in seven of the past 14 seasons. Bowdoin returns to the postseason for the first time in five years thanks to a strong conference showing that allowed it to receive a Pool C (or at-large) bid into the NCAA.
For the Yellowjackets, lack of experience will hardly be an issue. Of the eight graduating seniors, six are on the starting lineup, including the two leading goal scorers in forwards J.J. Dennstedt and Scott Cady. On defense, UR is anchored by two three-year starters in goalie Michael Peacock and defender Phil Proud.
‘Our greatest strength has been our balance,” head coach Chris Apple said. ‘We are tough defensively, and our goals are coming from multiple people and in multiple ways this makes us difficult to defend.”
Both teams will enjoy the home-field advantage, but in the end, the focus for each team is advancing deep into the postseason, one game at a time.
Hilfinger is a member of the class of 2010.