This is a test.
This is only a test for the men’s soccer team.
The Bulls (13-6-1) are one of 32 teams left in the NCAA Tournament and will be tested on everything they’ve learned this season when they travel to Virginia to face the Cavaliers in the second round of the tourney tonight.
Virginia (12-4-2) is the No. 13-ranked team in the country and has only lost one game at home this season. The Cavaliers received a first-round bye in the NCAA Tournament, despite a loss in the first round of their conference tournament.
But it’s not just Virginia that USF will have to overcome; it’s the pressure of the tournament, the team’s lack of experience and the weather – again.
The forecast in Charlottesville is for near-freezing temperatures, much like the weather the Bulls had to contend with in Connecticut in the Big East Tournament, where they played two games and did not score a goal.
“I spoke to the team and told them, ‘If you want to keep going in this tournament, you got to improve on your weaknesses,'” coach George Kiefer said. “One of our weaknesses is that we have to figure out a way to play better in poor conditions.”
All season long, the Bulls have gained experience playing in adverse conditions against quality opponents such as Rutgers, Providence and Connecticut. For a young team, experience is sometimes more valuable than a win.
“That was just a stage of immaturity of our team, just a lot of people are not too used to playing in that type of weather,” Hidalgo said. “Even though we weren’t able to come out with the results that we were looking for, I am sure that the team is way more prepared for the weather, than for any other game.”
Every game has been a maturation process for a young Bulls squad.
The Bulls only have two seniors – compared to 10 freshmen – on their 24-man roster.
Of the two seniors – Brian Gil and Hunter West – only Gil will no longer be on the team after this season. West will return next year because he redshirted this year.
“Gil’s the only one that’s leaving, so I’m playing for him,” goalkeeper Dane Brenner said. “He’s the unsung hero of our team. He’s pretty much what drives this team.”
Because they are young, a loss – although disappointing – wouldn’t be the end of the world for the Bulls, whose offense is charged by underclassmen.
USF’s leading scorer, Jordan Seabrook, is a freshman, and a sophomore, Rodrigo Hidalgo, leads the team in assists. Of the 40 goals scored by the Bulls this season, 37 were netted by either a freshman or sophomore.
Kiefer, who won a National Championship as an assistant at Connecticut in 2000, is confident that the young Bulls have the talent to beat anyone in the country.
“So far each week, we’ve been improving little by little,” Kiefer said. “It will be a very big challenge for us to figure everything out at this point.”
No matter what happens, the Bulls will take what they have learned from tonight’s game and apply it as needed.
“We’ve had a good season. We want to continue on and make the best of this year; we’re still a young team,” Hidalgo said. “The farther we go this year will just motivate us to even do better this year.”