Nov. 19, 2007
SPOKANE, Wash. - It's been an emotional rollercoaster for Gonzaga University's men's soccer team the last few weeks.
But Monday's announcement by the NCAA Men's Soccer Committee that the Bulldogs season would be extended was greeted with pure joy and excitement - once the shock wore off.
After dropping their three of their last four regular-season matches and being shut out in all four - with only a 0-0 tie to show down the stretch - optimism wasn't high for a NCAA Tournament berth following last Friday's 1-0 double-overtime loss to No. 3 Santa Clara University. The match-winning goal came 44 seconds from the end of the second overtime. Ten Gonzaga seniors thought, for all practical purposes, their collegiate careers were over.
Not even head coach Einar Thorarinsson was really paying attention to the Selection Show in his office Monday afternoon. That is, until he heard the name "Gonzaga" come out of his television set.
"I had the Selection Show on but was listening more than watching. I heard them say Gonzaga and I was trying to figure out who they were talking about that was in the tournament that we had played. I looked up and saw it (the bracket) and realized we were in," said the 13-year Gonzaga head coach.
"Einar poked his head in my office and said we were off to SMU," athletic director Mike Roth said. "He had a little grin on his face."
The Bulldogs finished 9-6-4 overall and 4-4-4 in the West Coast Conference. But the Bulldogs resume was NCAA worthy with wins over top-ranked and defending College Cup champion UC Santa Barbara and No. 15 University of Washington, a tie with No. 3 Santa Clara University and a 1-0 loss to No. 20 University of Wisconsin. Three of those four matches came away from the friendly confines of Martin Field, but all had come early in the season.
The Bulldogs will head to Dallas to face SMU Saturday night at 5 p.m. PST at Westcott Field. For ticket information, log on to http://www.SMUMustangs.com.
This will be the second NCAA Tournament appearance for the Bulldogs, their inaugural trip coming in 2001. Saturdays' winner will travel to Omaha, Neb., to face Creighton University Nov. 28. A Gonzaga victory over SMU would set up a battle of Jesuit universities in the second round.
Thorarinsson said the travel - and the opponent - won't bother the Bulldogs.
"We don't have anybody with playoff experience. SMU is experienced and the game is on their turf. We may not have as much playoff experience as SMU, but we have traveled and played big matches on the road. We had a tough schedule with the post season in mind," Thorarinsson said. "The latter part of the season was disappointing, but I knew (going into the season) we were a good team. We never gave up."
Senior forward George Josten almost wasn't around for Monday's hastily called practice.
"It's pure excitement. I almost drove home today for Thanksgiving. It's a good thing I didn't," Josten said. "I was in class. I had talked to (assistant coach Mike) Thompson. He called me three times while I was in class. I left class and called him. It was the longest 15 minutes of class I've ever been through in my life. We got a little lucky (in being selected) because we know we should have sealed this thing up a long time ago."
For senior defender Daniel Scott the news was even more special. Scott had to sit on the sidelines last Friday for Senior Day as a result of a red card picked up in the previous match.
"I'm at a loss for words. (John) Reha called and he was basically, "Like dude, you'll never guess what just happened." It was shear joy and a lot of screaming. I can't say enough about what it means. Last Friday was an emotional day. I didn't think we had a shot after losing. To be able to play again is a blessing," the native of Maui, Hawai'i said.
Fellow Hawaiian Vito Higgins, a senior keeper who played every minute in goal this season, was also thrilled.
"I got a text message from (assistant coach Mike) Thompson. I started sweating a lot. There's a lot of amazement. It means we have another chance to show the alums we're here for business. And I have (fellow Hawaiians and former Bulldog keepers) Josh Fouts and Mike McCarthy always on me. It's great to have a chance to represent all of Gonzaga," said the product of Kailua, Hawai'i.
Austin Washington, a senior defender from Spokane's Ferris High who transferred to Gonzaga from cross-town Whitworth College following his freshman season, was one of the last to find out.
"I found out just before practice," Washington said. "It's an amazing feeling. I couldn't be more happy."
Sophomore defender Tim Muravez, one of the young leaders on the team, echoed his temmates.
"Speechless," said the Corvallis, Ore., native when asked of his reaction upon hearing the news. "A friend called while I was in my room doing homework. I printed out my assignment and headed for practice. It's great. The older guys have taught us so much. I'm glad for them we got it."
In SMU, the Bulldogs are facing a team that was 13-4-2 overall and 6-1-1 in Conference USA. The Mustangs were ranked fifth in the final National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA)/adidas poll. But second-seeded SMU was upset in the opening round of the C-USA Tournament. SMU was eliminated by eventual national champion UC Santa Barbara in last year's NCAA Tournament, and lost to eventual national champion University of Maryland in the 2005 College Cup semifinals.