A round of applause filled the Big East room, then the men’s soccer team filed out as if it were business as usual.
Players, coaches and administration gathered Monday to watch the announcement of the men’s soccer teams selected for the NCAA Tournament on ESPNews with an at-large bid.
The Bulls were slated to face longtime foe Stetson – which made the NCAA Tournament on the automatic Atlantic Sun bid after winning its first conference title 2-1 Saturday over Campbell – on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the USF Soccer Field. The game will be USF’s 11th appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The team has a 5-9-1 all-time record in the tournament.
According to fourth-year coach George Kiefer, whose career record is 40-26-6, nothing has surprised him this season, especially the way this year’s postseason has played out.
“I know how talented we are,” said Kiefer, who will be making his first NCAA Tournament appearance Friday with USF. “It’s just been a matter of keeping the guys focused. If we had said in August that we’d win the regular season Big East, get to the finals and draw Stetson in the first round of the tournament, we’d be happy with our accomplishments thus far.”Goalkeeper Dane Brenner was not fazed by the announcement.
“I pretty much knew we were going to get a bid,” said Brenner, who posted three shutouts this season. “It was more of who we’re going to play, where we were going to play in our bracket and when we were going to play. If we hadn’t gotten named, it would have been ridiculous.”
The Bulls accomplished a lot this season, including finishing with the best conference record in just their first year in the Big East and having a freshman – Jordan Seabrook – lead the conference in scoring with 11 goals and eight assists for 30 points.
But the lack of recognition has left a chip on the players’ shoulders.
“It is nice to finally get some recognition,” said sophomore Simon Schoendorf, who had 14 points this season and last season shared the Conference USA Freshman of the Year award with teammate Rodrigo Hidalgo. “It is really time for us to prove to the nation that we are one of the best teams.
“We didn’t get any recognition until (today). (The players) won awards that are really not that important, but players like Jordan Seabrook should easily get Rookie of the Year, you know? But he was ignored. Things like that make you doubt, but once we saw teams like West Virginia that we dominated (make the cut), we were thinking it’d be really unfair if we didn’t make the tournament.”
Six other Big East teams were selected as well: Connecticut, which was seeded eighth of the 16 teams that receive a first-round bye, West Virginia, St. John’s, Providence, Notre Dame and Seton Hall. The winner of the USF vs. Stetson game will face No. 13 Virginia (10-5-4) on Oct. 22 in Charlottesville, Va.
On top of the blank stares received from the league, USF has also been snubbed in most polls. Even in the postseason, the team is only ranked No. 18 by College Soccer News.
Players now use it as motivation.
“We’re use (to being ignored) as motivation,” Schoendorf said. “We have to use it to prove our point from now on.”Brenner agrees.
“I didn’t feel like we got as much respect as we should have, but I like that,” Brenner said. “I like that for the guys because it just drives us more to want to get noticed.”
The Hatters are a familiar team to the Bulls. In addition to the 2-1 overtime win over Stetson on Oct. 19, USF has faced the Hatters 24 times since 1965 – the program’s inaugural year – and compiled a 20-4-1 record.
Still, no one was shocked Monday, and the players think they earned the bid.
“I wouldn’t say (we’re) surprised. We have a lot of potential on our team,” Schoendorf said. “We’re capable of doing whatever, and even though we have gotten this far, we still have potential, but we still have deserved everything we have achieved this season.”