As the USF men’s soccer team gathered at Beef O’ Brady’s on Fowler Avenue to watch the NCAA Selection Show on Monday, coach John Hackworth announced to his players that they would train later in the day if selected.
A little more than an hour later, the Bulls took to the practice field, as they received an at-large bid into the 48-team NCAA Championships. The playoffs begin this weekend at Penn State, where the Bulls (14-6) will tackle Akron (10-5-1) in the first round of the Championships.
Hackworth said the Bulls’ ambitious schedule – playing such perennial powerhouses as Duke, Saint Louis, UAB, North Carolina and FIU – was what clinched the berth.
“I think we deserved it with our strength of schedule and our 14 wins,” Hackworth said. “I know where we rated in the RPI – we were rated 22nd in the RPI. So to not take a top 25 team in an at-large pool of 28, I was pretty confident we were going to get in.”Postseason play is especially meaningful for seniors, and USF midfielder Matt Cavenaugh is no exception. Before this year, Cavenaugh played one season at Wake Forest and two at USF without tasting NCAA competition.
“As I was just telling these guys, I’ve been home the last three Thanksgivings, had to miss out on it, and was kinda brooding over it every single year,” Cavenaugh said. “So it’s really nice to be able to go this year.”
The Bulls appeared in jeopardy after losing to Marquette 2-1 in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA Tournament on Thursday, but Hackworth said the selectors factored in regular season results more than postseason play. USF had beaten Marquette 1-0 eight days earlier.
Marquette reached the final of the C-USA Tournament, losing to Saint Louis 2-0, but the Golden Eagles barely missed out on an at-large berth. Saint Louis, the C-USA regular season and tournament champion, is the sixth seed in the NCAA Championships and received a first-round bye. The Billikens will host the winner of the matchup between Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Missouri-Kansas City.
The other C-USA team in the tournament, UAB, has a tough first-round match against Furman at Clemson.
USF plays Akron, the Mid-American Conference Tournament runner-up, the day after Thanksgiving. The winner goes on to play the host Nittany Lions on Sunday.
- Khari Williams covers men’s soccer and can be reached at email@example.com