After the regular season and conference tournaments end, there are always a handful of college coaches, whether basketball, baseball, or soccer, who have to hold their breath and see if their team is selected to play in the NCAA tournament.
Virginia Tech Men’s Soccer Coach Michael Brizendine is one of those coaches who will anxiously await the selection committee’s decision to pick 48 teams to compete in the College Cup. The Hokies sit firmly on the bubble and have to wait until Monday to see if they’ll continue into postseason play, or if they’ll pack their bags for the season.
“It’s awful,” Brizendine said. “One minute I think we’re in, it’s a slam dunk, and the next minute I’m like ‘oh gosh.’ You hate being there, but I just need to have confidence that the committee is going to feel the same way and look at the information the same way that I do. Just trust in that.”
One area that’s promising for Virginia Tech in the eyes of the selection committee is its rating percentage index (RPI). The Hokies are currently ranked 21st in the RPI, which measures a team’s wins and losses combined with its strength of schedule. Another interesting note is that six of the top seven teams in the RPI ranking hail from the ACC, demonstrating just how dominant the conference is in soccer.
Virginia Tech’s strength of schedule and quality wins also bode well for the Brizendine and Co. The Hokies opened the season with a 2-0 shutout at Creighton, who was No. 14 in the country at the time. It was Creighton’s first loss in a home opener since 1995. Virginia Tech’s marquee win of the season came against No. 1 Notre Dame in a 2-1 victory on Thompson Field. The win was the Hokies’ first victory over a No. 1 team since 2011.
“Creighton has dropped off a little bit, but they [the selection committee] know going to Creighton and winning a game is extremely difficult,” Brizendine said. “They don’t lose very many games at home. When we look at special things we’ve done this year, I would definitely put that in that category. Notre Dame here was awesome. If you mention that game to any of the players you’ll see a big smile come across their face. How many teams get to beat the No. 1 team in the country? We were able to do it. We’re excited about those things.”
A cause for concern for the Hokies is that they only sit with a record of 9-9. The majority, if not all, of the teams receiving at-large berths typically enter the College Cup with a winning record.
“Our biggest knock is that we’re .500,” Brizendine said. “That’s going to receive some criticism, but we’re playing the fourth hardest schedule in the country. There’s some teams out there with 12 wins, but they haven’t played one team in the top 50. Over half of our schedule is in the top 50 and away from home. I think we did a good job in our scheduling to put a case before the NCAA committee saying, ‘Look, we’ve done what is required. We went on the road. We played tough games. We won big games.’ That’s our encouragement.”
Virginia Tech’s biggest win of the year may have come in the 1-0 overtime victory against North Carolina State in the first round of the ACC tournament, behind the goal of Gaetan Roux. The game was essentially ‘win or go home’ in terms of the NCAA tournament for the Hokies. If Virginia Tech had fallen, they would have finished the season 8-9 and would be hard pressed to receive an at-large berth with a losing record.
“A lot of people thought that was a play-in for the NCAA tournament,” Brizendine said. “We thought that. We needed to get over .500 and we needed the RPI help. It was a back and forth game. NC State is really good. Getting that goal, from where I was sitting I could see when he [Roux] hit it that it was going to go in. It was extremely exciting to win a game like that, especially with this group.”
The Hokies are armed with a solid group of seniors led by goalkeeper Ben Lundgaard, defender/midfielder Collin Verfurth, and forward Marcelo Acuna. These players and many more were a part of Virginia Tech’s improbable run to the Elite Eight last year in the College Cup. The returners from last year’s team are tried and tested because of that run.
“What I like is that we have all these players who experienced that [the Elite Eight run],” Brizendine said. “They enjoyed that experience, they loved that experience, that will be an experience they remember for the rest of their life. They would like that again. You also know that’s extremely difficult to do. It’s getting in, hopefully trying to get a home game, and preparing for that opponent. It would be a tough road, there’s no doubt.”
Now Virginia Tech is just stuck playing the waiting game, anxiously anticipating hearing its name called for the NCAA tournament. In the meantime, Brizendine is focused on keeping things light at practice, but also preparing his team for the potential postseason appearance that lies ahead.
“This is a good time to decompress and get injured guys back healthy,” Brizendine said. “It’s really hard because we have no target to aim at. We just try to keep them engaged, so Monday when we hopefully get a bid they’re ready to go.”