There’s a thrill that comes with playing in an National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament. Teams that qualify from all over the country get a chance to change their program’s history by winning a national championship.
In Division III men’s soccer, 64 teams from all over the country get a chance to do that. Rowan men’s soccer is one of those 64 teams. That journey began this previous Saturday in Fredericksburg, Virginia as they played Salve Regina University in the first round of the tournament.
The game went scoreless and went into a penalty shootout. The Profs prevailed in the shootout to win 4-2.
Head Coach Scott Baker looked at the penalty shootout as a terrible way to lose but an awesome way to win. Being on the winning side, he credited his team for showing resiliency and their depth in the victory.
“Obviously, it took a little bit longer than we wanted and maybe expected but in the NCAA tournament, if you advance, that’s what’s important,” Baker said.
Freshman Jake Logar was nervous watching the shootout against Salve Regina as the team did not register any luck in shootouts this season.
“Throughout that whole week, we were just practicing [and] practicing to see who was going to be the most confident,” Logar said. “The first five were definitely the most confident. I wanted to take it. Each win, I’ll pick the spots that they were picking throughout the week and just put [the goal] away.”
Going this far into a season can come with many bumps and bruises, as Baker would say. The importance of depth is crucial for a team playing in a national tournament and Baker believes having players fill in for injured players and play at a high level can help carry the team.
“We say it all year that everybody’s important and we need everybody and this time of year is when it really shows,” Baker said.
The win advanced the Profs to the second round and played University of Mary Washington the following day. There was more scoring than the previous game and more drama. The Profs came away with a 3-2 victory in double-overtime.
Baker believes that the obstacles and adversity that the team has dealt with throughout the season has prepared them for challenges presented in the national tournament. He credits the team’s successful road trip in Chicago earlier in the season for preparing them for big games.
“Our trip to Chicago, playing Chicago and North Park on the road was really helpful in that moment, and that experience of reminding the kids of what we did a month or so ago and playing and beating teams at that high level,” Baker said. “And we were capable of and they went into [the game] really confident.”
Logar, who scored Rowan’s first goal of the game against Mary Washington, felt that the victory was big for them as the Profs were not expected to win the game by many people.
“Going down 1-0 early was like a wake-up call [so] we had to come back and do something,” Logar said. “Going in 1-1 at the first half was good, we wanted the second half to be better and win [the game] but unfortunately, that didn’t go our way.”
Seeing their fellow freshmen teammates Wilby Alfred tying the game and Jay Vandermark scoring the game-winning goal was a thrill for the team as they quieted down Mary Washington’s home crowd.
“All their fans were chirping at us so to finally hear them quiet and hear us celebrate together was something special,” Logar said.
The win against Mary Washington advanced the Profs to the Sweet Sixteen, and they will travel to Amherst, Massachusetts to play top-ranked Amherst College. For the men’s soccer program, this is the farthest they’ve advanced into the national tournament since 2001, where they reached the quarterfinals.
Baker expects that the game against Amherst will look a lot like a New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) game.
“[Amherst is] very direct, they’re intense, they’re physical,” Baker said. “They play with a lot of the same type of enthusiasm and energy of the teams in our conference. We’ll see if the conference, as it has prepared us for the past weekend, prepares us for this weekend. But I feel really confident and I think it has [prepared us] and we’ve been in tough games before with teams that bring that energy and emotion, and we feel really good that we’re ready.”
Logar believes that if the team plays their game and outwork and outplay Amherst College, this is the team’s opportunity to show that they belong on the national stage.
“This is our shot to show the country why we’re the best and why we could beat teams we’re not expected to beat,” Logar said.
Rowan will travel to Amherst, Massachusetts this Saturday, Nov. 23 at 11 a.m. to play Amherst College in the third round of the NCAA Division III men’s soccer tournament.
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