PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — For the first time since 2014 (but fifth time since 2011), the La Salle University women’s soccer team is headed to the NCAA Tournament.
The Explorers will visit Rutgers on Saturday in the first round.
It has been quite a ride already for the Explorers. They are 17-3-2 and they won the Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship in pretty dramatic fashion. In the semifinals, the Explorers trailed Duquesne 1-0, but scored in the 89th minute on a goal by Katherine Hennessey to force overtime where they eventually won on a goal by Madison Bower. Then in the A-10 title match, La Salle and VCU played 107 minutes of scoreless soccer before Maci Bower’s overtime goal gave the Explorers the title and an automatic berth in the tourney.
“Coaching for twenty years in the Division I ranks, you’re very lucky to have a couple special seasons,” La Salle head coach Paul Royal tells KYW Newsradio. “And it comes down to the special kids that we have and [this] is one of those years. Things are really bouncing our way on the field. It’s just really been a lot of fun and a joy to be around the girls and see them succeed on the field.”
This success this season comes just a year after La Salle struggled to the tune of a 4-10-4 record. Royal talks about what changed from 2016 to 2017.
“I think it was the girls’ commitment to each other,” he says. “They became great teammates, they put a lot of differences aside. Talent was very similar, it just goes to show you that the team dynamic is essential to success. I think that’s what’s really made it. I think around mid-season they fulfilled our expectations and everything else just kept going forward from there.”
Rutgers is 12-2-5 on the season and the Scarlet Knights impress Royal.
“Obviously they have a great coaching staff,” he says. “They are the top defense in the country. I think they have only allowed five goals, so it’s going to be quite a chess match out there on the field. However, with us coming in with the #6 attack in the country, it should definitely be a contrast. I can honestly see it being just a 1-0 type of game either way. But I’ll tell you, I have a lot of confidence in our girls, they are figuring out ways to win games that they probably had no right to and that’s why I like our chances against a really quality squad in Rutgers.”
That last NCAA Tournament appearance for La Salle back in 2014 also saw the Explorers play Rutgers in the first round. The Explorers lost that match-up 2-0.
The winner of this match gets the winner of Bucknell and West Virginia in the second round.
Saturday’s match starts at 5:00pm.