Twelve minutes after 5 p.m. Monday night, the Collis TV lounge exploded with applause and cheers. It was the time that the NCAA Men's Soccer Championship bracket was announced and the soccer gods smiled upon reigning Ivy League champion Dartmouth as the team players had gathered to follow the draw on ESPNEWS. For the first time in school history, the team was seeded in the draw and will receive a first-round bye.
The Big Green (10-2-5) earned the automatic NCAA berth courtesy of its better head-to-head record against fellow Ivy League champions Yale and Brown. The team was given the No. 16 seed, the last spot that guarantees an automatic place in the second round of the tournament on Tuesday, Nov. 22.
Dartmouth will have to wait until Friday, Nov. 18, to learn the name of its opponent. The Big Green will face the winner of the first round clash between St. John's (9-5-5) and Marist (10-8-5) on its way to glory. Should it win its second round battle, Dartmouth will face one of the best teams in the nation, top-seeded Atlantic Coast Conference regular season champion, University of Maryland (15-4-1).
"It has been a season full of exciting moments and thrilling outcomes and this tops them all. It is a very rewarding feeling to have the NCAA committee recognize us as one of the seeded teams in the tournament, even though I did not expect it," Dartmouth head coach Jeff Cook told reporters. "I do not want to think past the first game, as both St. John's and Marist are teams that can stop us on our way to a match against Maryland," he added.
"There aren't a lot of teams in the country with just two losses. I think we're very deserving of the seeding and hopefully we'll prove it," commented senior co-captain P.J. Scheufele '06. He was also relieved that the team will not have to play in the First Round games on Friday. "I would be on the field no matter what. But the few extra days will give me time to recover," he added. Scheufele is currently suffering from a bruised bone, but says he'll be at 100 percent strength before Nov. 22.
"We don't follow the polls too much, but we still felt it was unfair that we were not ranked throughout the season. I think this is a well-deserved recognition that we are finally getting," said a visibly excited midfielder Mike Ordonez '08.
Marist just won the MAAC Championship on Saturday after defeating top-seeded Fairfield in the final. The Red Foxes are lead by junior striker Keith Detelj, who has scored 11 goals and recorded five assists for a total of 27 points. Marist and Dartmouth have never faced each other in NCAA tournament play.
St. John's will be playing in the NCAA tournament for a 14th consecutive time, as it won the 1996 trophy and reached the final in 2003. The Red Storm is lead by senior midfielder Matt Groenwald, who has scored five goals and recorded four assists for 14 points throughout the season. The Big Green has played against St. John's once before in the NCAA Tournament. In 1992, the Big Green came away with a 1-0 win in Hanover to advance past the Red Storm.
Dartmouth will be making its second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance and its ninth overall. The Big Green holds a 4-7-2 overall record in the history of the competition. In 2004, when Dartmouth last played in the NCAA Tournament, the team tied Boston University 2-2 in the first round, but the Terriers advanced on penalty kicks, 4-3.