South Florida earns shot at Wake Forest
South Florida coach George Kiefer didn't need to search for the right words to explain to his team the threat UNC Greensboro posed to the Bulls' tournament dreams.
"We took some excerpts from other coaches about what Greensboro was able to do to them," Kiefer said. "We had a few quotes from their games about how Greensboro just outworked them. How they were doing it with a lot of energy, a lot of heart, a lot of fight."
For three straight weeks, the Spartans upset one team after another. UNC Greensboro powered its way through the SoCon tournament securing an unlikely tournament bid, and then knocked out Duke and ninth-seeded Loyola (Md.) in the NCAA's first two rounds to set up a Sweet 16 matchup against USF.
It even appeared for a few brief minutes -- although it may have seemed like an interminably long time for Bulls' fans -- as if the Spartans were on the verge of doing it again in Saturday's game.
UNC Greensboro scored less than two minutes into the second half and held a 1-0 lead until senior Jordan Seabrook scored the equalizer in the 83rd minute to send the game into overtime.
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South Florida (15-4-2) wrote the final chapter in UNC Greensboro's Cinderella story as the Bulls bested the Spartans 3-1 in penalty kicks.
"You can't really get that experience in training," Kiefer said of his team's ability to keep its calm as time ticked away. "Sometimes, when you're down a goal, it gets hectic and you start to rush things, but I felt like they kept playing. They stuck with how we do things. They didn't get panicked. I think we did a good job of breaking Greensboro down. To get the goal gives us a lot of confidence."
Bulls goalkeeper Jeff Attinella stopped Greensboro's first two PKs en route to securing the win.
"We really fought hard to get that goal back, and we've been saying all year that we want to make history at USF," Attinella said. "The way we battled back and got it in PKs was really exciting for us."
However, USF has little time to reflect on the accomplishment as the team turns its attention from preventing an upset to pulling one off. The Bulls travel to face reigning national champion Wake Forest (22-1-1) on Saturday. The Demon Deacons are coming off a 7-0 thrashing of Dartmouth.
"For us, it's about us," Kiefer said. "I can't control Wake. I wish I could, but I can't. So we'll just focus on the things we can get better at, and we'll go to Winston-Salem just concerned with South Florida."
His players share that sentiment -- and a belief that this team has yet to accomplish all it's capable of achieving.
"We're just looking at ourselves right now," senior defender Yohance Marshall said. "At the beginning of our season, we set forth goals as to where we actually want to be. Not all our goals are met yet. We're still working hard to go as far as we can go. We think this team is a special team and something great is supposed to happen."
Elsewhere in the NCAA tournament
Not that there was ever any doubt (even after the Deacs squeaked by William & Mary with a 1-0 overtime win), Wake Forest continued to clearly establish itself as the team to beat with its 7-0 victory over Ivy League co-champion Dartmouth.
In a weekend of relatively tight games, Indiana was the only other program to come away with a decisive win after beating Big Ten foe Michigan 3-0. Andy Adlard led the Hoosiers, scoring the game's first goal and adding an assist on the second. Indiana travels to St. John's in a rematch of the 2003 national championship game (which, for what it's worth, Indiana won 2-1).
Northwestern defender Geoff Fallon's first goal of the season couldn't have come at a better time. The senior scored the game-winner 15 minutes into the second half of the Wildcats' 1-0 win over fifth-seeded Akron. Northwestern (15-4-3) lost three of its last four regular-season games, but the Wildcats have rebounded to come up with the wins when they count and make the Elite Eight for the second time in three years.
Chicago's other Sweet 16 team wasn't so lucky, as the University of Illinois-Chicago lost to North Carolina 3-2 in overtime. It was a well-earned victory for the No. 13 seeded Tar Heels, who tied the game with three minutes left in regulation and added the winning goal eight minutes later.
Maryland rounds out the trio of ACC teams in the Elite Eight after knocking out Cal. The Terps will meet Creighton, which defeated Connecticut in overtime.
The biggest surprise so far is that there have been relatively few surprises. The tournament's top three seeds -- and six of the top eight seeds -- are still alive.
Northwestern is the only remaining unseeded team in the tournament, but late-season struggles aside, the Wildcats' success isn't shocking considering the team was ranked as high as No. 3 this season and spent most of the year in the national top 10.
So much for a Cinderella story this year.
Maria Burns Ortiz covers college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.