The NCAA selection committee can determine where the Merrimack College men’s soccer team has to travel for this weekend’s NCAA Tournament, but the Warriors themselves control how far they go in the tournament.
Ed. Note — This story also appears in the Thursday edition of The Eagle Tribune
That’s the mindset for the Warriors this week, after being selected as the No. 3 seed on Monday night in the East Regional. Merrimack (16-2-2) is on Long Island today at Adelphi University where they’ll face Goldy-Beacom in the first round.
Merrimack won the NE10 championship last Sunday and Adelphi fell in the NE10 semifinals. The Warriors beat Adelphi in the regular season. The stars seemed to be aligned for the Warriors to host this weekend’s Super Regional as the No. 2 seed, but instead the Warriors had to travel.
“We’re disappointed we weren’t at home, but that’s out of our control,” said senior goalkeeper Lucas Rezende, who is one of the top goalkeepers in Division II. “Making the NCAA Tournament is an expectation now for our team, and we knew we were in with the automatic bid. I think (traveling) might just fuel our fire.”
The Warriors captured their first NE10 Title since 1997 last Sunday. Facing eighth-seeded Bentley, the team that knocked off Adelphi in the semifinals, the Warriors carried a 1-0 lead into the final minutes before the Falcons tied the score with under six minutes left. Merrimack went right back on the attack, however, and Aasmund Joedahl scored for the Warriors just over one minute into overtime.
The NE10 championship had alluded the Warriors in recent years, losing in the semifinals the last three seasons.
“It was really exciting to finally win that championship and get that trophy for coach (Tony Martone),” Rezende said. “We have been so close, so many times, to be able to get that trophy for him was awesome. Doing it at home was incredible.
“When they scored late, we knew we had to keep attacking and put the pressure on them. Bentley is a good team and they had a few games down the stretch where they would score late and find a way to pull it off. But we believed in ourselves and knew that we needed to go right back to attacking, put the pressure on them, and that’s what we were able to do.”
The Warriors are fairly healthy heading into today’s NCAA Tournament opener, but Merrimack had battled injuries throughout most of this season. It’s been a blessing and a curse, with younger players filling roles that weren’t expected at the beginning of the season. Yet at the same time, those players are gaining necessary experience and it’s made the Warriors a deeper team as they head into the national tournament.
“Kevin Esper is a great example,” Rezende said. “He wasn’t starting earlier in the year but he has started the last five or six games, and he’s been killing it at midfield for us. He’s a good player and he’s come into his own and he’s had experience now.
“We’ve had a few guys like that. We’re all about team. We have confidence in whoever is out there to get the job done.”
With a win today, the Warriors would advance to play the hosts, Adelphi, on Saturday night (7 p.m.). Given the controversial seeding, it would seem appropriate, but the Warriors aren’t looking ahead.
“This is the NCAA Tournament, every team is a great team,” Rezende said. “We know how good Goldy-Beacom is and how strong they are. It’s going to be a very tough game but we’re ready for it. We feel prepared.
“We play a lot of great teams in the NE10 and also our non-league games against Caldwell, Molloy, LIU Post, those are all great teams. That schedule has us prepared for big games.”
NCAA East Super Regional
What: Merrimack vs. Goldy-Beacom (Deleware)
Where: Garden City, N.Y. (Adelphi University)
When: Tonight, 7 p.m.
Notes: The Warriors are ranked 10th in the latest United Soccer Coaches’ poll. … Goldey-Beacom enters the game as the Colonial Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC) champions with a 16-4-1 record. The Lightning defeated Jefferson, 2-1, in overtime in the conference finals to earn their first bid to the NCAA Tournament. … Merrimack downed Bentley, 2-1, on Sunday afternoon in a thrilling overtime victory at Martone-Mejail Field. The Warriors captured their first NE10 Title in 20 years. … Rezende is tied for third among Division II keepers with 11 shutouts, and his 0.58 goals-against-average is ninth in the nation.