Soccer gears up for big weekend
The eighth-seeded Dartmouth College women's soccer team will meet the University of Wisconsin Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. on Chase Field in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Badgers advanced with a 2-0 victory against the University of Central Florida Wednesday night in Madison.
The matchup against Wisconsin marks the first time the Big Green women have ever hosted a NCAA tournament contest or have advanced past the first round. Although Dartmouth was invited to post-season play every year between 1993-1996, this is the Big Green's first-ever second-round contest after falling in road contests in the first round each of those seasons.
"Our team is definitely excited to be the first team in Dartmouth history to make it to the second round, but we don't want to stop there," forward Jen Murray '01 said.
Wisconsin comes to Hanover with an 11-7-2 record and finished second in the Big Ten during the regular season. They are one of six Big Ten teams in this year's NCAA Tournament. Dartmouth captured the Ivy League title and finished the season 14-1-2. The Big Green have not allowed a goal at Chase Field this season.
Sunday's meeting will be the first ever between the Big Green and the Badgers in women's soccer. Tickets for that match are currently on sale at the Dartmouth College Athletic ticket office (hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m.) and can also be bought the day of the game. Ticket prices are $7 for adults, $5 for Dartmouth students with ID and $5 for children aged 14 and under.
"I think it definitely says something about our program, though, that we are probably the smallest school in the top 20, as well as the only one that can't give out athletic scholarships. It is a great honor to be playing at home as well," Murray said.
Soccer is a funny game.
After a 9-1-1 start, there were four straight losses to teams with records of .500 or worse -- all matches in which the Big Green outshot their victorious foe by a substantial margin. Dartmouth couldn't seem to get a break.
But just when they needed a break most, Dartmouth got one. On Saturday, Brown squandered a two-goal lead and tied Harvard in Cambridge, 2-2. A day later, the Big Green kept the fans on edge but got two late goals from junior forward Mike Lewis to down Columbia, 2-1.
All of which sets up the Big Green and the Bears this Saturday, meeting in Providence at 4 p.m. to close out the regular season in a match that reaches far beyond the term "grudge match." It's a match to the death for the Ivy League title. Again.
Funny how things work.
A year ago, the Dartmouth College men's soccer team entered its final regular season match with Brown needing only a tie to clinch the Ivy League title. The Big Green went out and outshot the Bears, 16-2, but the game went to overtime. In the OT, Brown forward Marcio knocked home a perfect free kick that catapulted the Bears to the Ivy championship.
To call the result that day stunning would be an understatement. It was downright apocalyptic.
"I think we came off the field that day knowing that, on the day, we had been the better side," said Head Coach Fran O'Leary. "To the credit of our guys, they have never really talked about that game. But I think they are looking forward to the opportunity and play Brown for the NCAA bid."
Ah yes, how times have changed. Brown enters Saturday's match ranked 15th in the latest national coaches poll and 4-0-2 in the Ivy League. With Dartmouth at 4-2, the Bears are already assured a share of the Ivy crown for 1998.
The Ivy League champion also gets an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, though, and that's where the rub comes in Saturday's match. A Dartmouth win, gives the Big Green a share of the title with the Bears. The first tie-breaker in determining the recipient of the berth -- head-to-head competition. In such an event, advantage Dartmouth.
But things also haven't changed. Despite their victory over Columbia, this year's team has lost games where they dominate play but can't seem to put opponent's away, the very same plague that haunted them against the Bears last season.
However, last year Dartmouth figured a tie or loss would not knock them out of the 32-team tournament. In terms of NCAA play, Saturday is literally life or death for a veteran Big Green team that, with eight seniors in the lineup, is on its last go-round. In a season filled with late game-winning rallies, this would be the ultimate comeback.
"In some ways I think we're in a better situation than last year," O'Leary said. "Our role is quite defined -- we must win, or our season is over. Last year we obviously played for the win, but maybe in the back of our minds we thought a tie would work. We will go down there this weekend relaxed, knowing what we need to do. We have nothing to lose. All the pressure is on them. "