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Nov 27, 2006

Demon Deacons prove worthy of seeding

Four teams have something to be thankful for coming out of this holiday weekend. Only one will be so lucky a week from now.

UCLA, UCSB, Virginia and Wake Forest have advanced to the College Cup and a shot at the national title.

For the first three programs, getting this far is as much an expectation as it is a goal. UCLA won the title in 2002. UCSB is making its second appearance in three years. Virginia is among three schools that have won at least five national titles. Wake Forest is a newcomer to the College Cup scene, making its first appearance this weekend, but the Demon Deacons have proven this season that they clearly belong.

Wake Forest enters the final weekend of the college soccer season the highest remaining seed (No. 2) after Duke was knocked out by UCLA. But at this point, seeding is even less relevant than it's been since the tournament began. The Demon Deacons' 18 wins are already a school record, but the team is looking for 20.

While it seems as though wins have come easy for Wake Forest this season, getting two more won't be easy. The team faces UCSB, the only unseeded team remaining after the Gauchos ended Northwestern's Cinderella season with a 3-2 win over the Wildcats. A day after Thanksgiving, UCSB was certainly grateful for midfielder Tyler Rosenlund. The junior had a hat trick, scoring all three goals in his team's win. Rosenlund, whose health has been a concern, entered the game with just one goal this season.

The second semifinal game will pit another top West Coast program and Atlantic Coast Conference school.

UCLA is back in the College Cup. It's a much-needed boost for a Bruins' program that has been stellar in recruiting but had appeared to be taking a step backward each year when it came to tournament results. However, the Bruins have turned that all around to earn a trip to Saint Louis. Sophomore midfielder Sal Zizzo led his team in its come-from-behind win over the top team in the nation, with two goals, including the overtime game winner.

The win over Duke was so big that some people are now picking UCLA to win it all, but there's no real favorite when it gets to this point. Still, the Bruins should have momentum on their side as they take on Virginia in the semifinals.

Virginia had a great run in the '90s, winning four of its five titles in a four-year span from 1991-1994. But that was over a decade ago, and those in Charlottesville, Va., want to see another one. The question is, "Can the school do it without Bruce Arena at the helm?" So far, the answer has been no, but that might change by the end of the week.

The Cavaliers were runners-up in 1997, but no one ever remembers the team that comes in second. Back in the College Cup for the first time since that finish, Virginia has been battle-tested in the ACC. The team advanced by beating Notre Dame 3-2, ending the deepest run the Irish have ever made in the tournament.

Now, these four teams advance to the College Cup for a shot at the national title. Three will leave Saint Louis disappointed, but they can at least take something from the fact that nearly 200 teams across the nation would be thankful to have even made it this far.

Maria Burns covers college soccer for ESPNsoccernet and is a writer and columnist for The News-Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Ind.). She can be reached at mariamburns@gmail.com.