Newcomers dominate College Cup field
CARY, N.C. -- Wake Forest has at least a little experience playing in the NCAA College Cup. That's more than the other three teams in soccer's final four can claim.
While Cup newcomers Massachusetts, Ohio State and Virginia Tech are preparing for their first berths in the national semifinals, the Demon Deacons hope to build on last year's brief appearance -- the only other time they've made it this far.
"We do think it helps, and it's good to have that experience under our belt having been here before and gone through these types of events, seeing the media and everything that comes along with the College Cup," Wake Forest defender Julian Valentin said Thursday. "We're hoping to use that experience in a positive way, and hopefully we'll be a little more prepared this year and we'll make a good run at it."
The second-seeded Demon Deacons, the highest remaining seed, take on Atlantic Coast Conference rival and No. 11 seed Virginia Tech in the first of Friday's two semifinals, followed by a matchup of No. 5 seed Ohio State and unseeded Massachusetts, the only remaining team that did not receive a first-round bye.
Wake Forest lost the only previous College Cup match in school history, 4-3 in the tiebreaker to eventual national champion UC-Santa Barbara last year.
Now the Demon Deacons (20-2-2), who lost to Boston College in the ACC title game, face a rematch with the Hokies. Their first meeting ended in a 3-all tie -- a game in which Virginia Tech twice rallied from two-goal deficits.
"I think we found out in that game that we had something special," Hokies coach Oliver Weiss said. "That helped our team with motivation and also with confidence."
Virginia Tech (14-3-5) is coming off a 1-0 quarterfinal victory at third-seeded Connecticut, and has matched the school record for victories in a season.
"Our players have just matured, taken more responsibility on their own," Weiss said. "We've become a very tight-knit group this year, more so than in years past."
In the other semifinal, UMass will play its second seeded opponent when the Minutemen take on Ohio State (16-3-5). The Buckeyes have not lost in 14 straight games, took the Big Ten title, earned their first top-16 seed and eliminated UC-Santa Barbara in the third round.
"What we do best and what our players have grown to understand is we defend as a team," Buckeyes coach John Bluem said. "We have instilled in the players a strong feeling of doing our jobs defensively. You will see a well-organized team that is committed to getting a shutout and stopping the opposition's chances. At the same time, we are a team that can hurt you on the attacking side of the game in a number of ways."
UMass (17-7-1) upset No. 1 seed Boston College in the second round, then won twice on its home field to reach its first College Cup.
The Minutemen ended the regular season unranked, but have come on strong in the postseason, winning the Atlantic 10 and beating Illinois-Chicago in the quarterfinals to extend their unbeaten streak to seven.
"I don't think anyone realized how big [the College Cup] was until we walked into the stadium and saw the field and everything," forward Bryan Hogan said.
The semifinal winners play Sunday for the national championship.