USF snags NCAA at-large bid

Despite finishing sixth in the Big East Red Division and missing out on the conferences postseason tournament, the USF mens soccer team earned an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament and will host a tournament game for the second straight year.

Its a great reward for the team. Weve battled through a lot this season, sometimes with three or four guys out, and the group kept staying with each other, head coach George Kiefer said. I think theyre very deserving of the reward and we look forward to our first game.

The Bulls return to the NCAA Tournament for the sixth consecutive season and will play a familiar opponent in their 2012 tournament opener.

USF will open the tournament at home against Florida Gulf Coast, a team that the Bulls beat 3-0 on Sept. 25 at Corbett Soccer Stadium.

Weve already played them before, but that means nothing, senior Kyle Nicholls said. Its a fresh tournament game and were putting that game aside because theyre a very good team.

The at-large bid came despite a slow finish to the regular season for the team. USF was 2-3-3 following the win over Florida Gulf Coast and ended the season with a loss to DePaul in the only conference win for the Blue Devils, finishing the season 8-5-4, 2-3-3.

USF was aided by early wins over ranked opponents in Tulsa, SMU and wins over perennial contenders Michigan and St. Johns, along with finishing No. 26 in final RPI rankings.

The Bulls play Florida Gulf Coast on Thursday at 7:15 p.m.