USF hosts Stetson in NCAA first round

USF defeated Stetson 3-0 in its final exhibition game in August. This time, there’s a lot more on the line.

The Bulls (13-3-3) face the Hatters in the first round of the NCAA Tournament tonight at 7:30 at the USF Soccer Stadium, with the winner getting a shot at top-seeded and undefeated Akron.

“To be sitting here and having a home game in the NCAA Tournament is a credit to our coaches and captains that did a great job of keeping the momentum going from last year,” said USF coach George Kiefer. “We lost a lot of big-time players from last season’s run, but this team had a great regular season and deserves to be here.”

The Bulls lost key players, including defender Yohance Marshall and forward Jordan Seabrook, who both went on to the professional ranks, from a push to the elite eight of the NCAA tournament last season, Kiefer said.

However, the Bulls can’t look at last year, junior defender Javed Mohammed said. Mohammed, who leads USF with nine assists, said the focus of the team is totally different.

“As a team, we have not really accomplished anything this season,” Mohammed said. “So, we are hungry for success and know that if we play South Florida soccer, we will come out victorious. I have faith and confidence in my teammates to advance far in the NCAA Tournament.”

The Bulls should be well rested, not having played since a Nov. 8 loss to Notre Dame in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament. Stetson (14-3-2) earned a tournament berth by clinching the Atlantic Sun championship. It’s the Hatters’ first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2005 – when they lost to the Bulls 3-0.

Despite the history Stetson has with USF and a shot at Akron, Kiefer said there is little talk of anything but winning tonight.

“We gained experience by facing Stetson earlier this season and know that they are a fast team who moves the ball around very quickly,” he said. “It will be a challenging match for us, but our players are focused and ready to go.”