On Monday night, the 23rd-ranked Virginia Tech men’s soccer team was selected as the No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament. This is the fourth consecutive year that the Hokies have been selected for the tournament and the second in a row that they have been a national seed.
“Just making the tournament is very, very difficult, but to be a seed is really an honor,” said Mike Brizendine, head coach. “It’s a testament to the hard work that the guys have put in and obviously, I’m very proud for our senior class and everybody who is a part of the program.”
The Hokies will face New Hampshire this afternoon (Sunday) in the second round of the tournament. The Wildcats beat Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round on Thursday, winning 1-0. New Hampshire has reached the NCAA Tournament in each of the last three seasons and finished the regular season 14-1-3. They won’t be an easy task for Tech on Sunday.
“If you look at New Hampshire, they’ve only lost one game, and when I was looking at where we might end up, I had them as a seed,” Brizendine said. “They’re the 16th RPI team, so I think we might have one of the toughest second round matchups.”
Tech has found its way to the second round of the tournament in each of the last three seasons, including a trip to the third round last year and an Elite Eight appearance in 2016. Last year’s team beat Charlotte in the second round, but dropped their second matchup to in-state rival James Madison, 3-0. This year, the Hokies look to improve on their performance and go further in the tournament.
The Hokies finished the season No. 7 in the RPI rankings despite only having nine wins on the season. A lot of this success has to do with the schedule that the team played this season, facing ten teams that were selected for the tournament. This schedule has prepared the Hokies well for the postseason that lies ahead.
“The good news [about playing that type of schedule] is that it prepares you for that level of competition,” Brizendine said. “No matter who we play, it’s not like we’re going to be blown away by them; while they may be good, it’s not like they have an attack like Clemson’s.”
The tough schedule stems mostly from the league slate that the Hokies had to face. Of the 48 teams in the tournament, 10 come from the ACC. However, it isn’t just the volume of good teams in the league, but the talent as well. Four of the 16 national seeds in the tournament are in the ACC, including the three of the top four.
“The league was tremendous this year,” Brizendine said. “That’s why trying to get points and trying to get wins has been so difficult, and it really could be whether you’re home or away that makes the difference.”
An area for concern for Tech has been the defensive end of the field. The Hokies have given up multiple goals in eight of 17 matches this year and are giving up an average of 1.4 goals per game. They will need to become more consistent to survive and advance over the next few weeks.
“It’s been all over the board [defensively},” Brizendine said. “With some statistics, we played the second-hardest schedule in the country and reduced our shots against from the last few years, so in a lot of ways I’ve been happy with our trend, but the teams are getting less shots and scoring more goals. That’s the way it works, sometimes you get the breaks and sometimes you don’t.”
On the other end of the field, the Hokies have excelled. They’re ranked 21st in the nation with two goals per game and have had many contributors step up on the attack. Tech has scored multiple goals in all but five games this year, and has only been shut out twice. Those two games came against the top two teams in the tournament, Virginia and Clemson.
“Danny Pereira has come in there and done a great job, Kristo [Strickler] is Kristo and Jon [Ingason] has stepped up and scored some really big goals,” Brizendine said. “It’s been great and I think it also shows the quality of the services that we’ve gotten from people and some guys have delivered good balls and that makes it easier for guys to score.”
The Hokies won’t be content with another early exit in the NCAA Tournament and look to make a run in 2019. They have been prepared through the gauntlet of a schedule they have played this season, but now they have to execute and find a way to win against the best teams in the nation.
“These guys have been through it and they’re prepared and shouldn’t be getting rattled,” Brizendine said. “We will face a quality side and if we win on Sunday, the next game will be extremely difficult no matter where you’re at. It’s NCAA time and they’ve weeded out all of the bad teams, but that’s what it’s about and that’s why we play the game.”