ADRIAN, Mich. – It was a weekend of firsts for the Adrian College women's soccer team last weekend, and the Bulldogs are hoping to continue that trend as they look for a win in their first NCAA Tournament appearance, this Friday, Nov. 9 against Loras College at 8:30 p.m. ET on Wheaton College's campus.
Adrian punched its first ticket to the NCAA Tournament last week, picking up a pair of shutouts in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) Tournament. The Bulldogs beat Calvin 3-0 at home in the semifinal before taking down top-seeded Hope 1-0 on the road in the championship. The win gave AC its first ever MIAA Tournament Championship and second total MIAA Championship as the Bulldogs won the regular season title in 2011. Head Coach Ali Alamdari was relieved that the team didn't have to wait until the selection show to learn their fate, saying "We've had some close calls over the years in terms of making the NCAA Tournament, so it was great to lock it up with the AQ and take the waiting game out of it this time around."
The Bulldogs are one of five programs making their debut in the NCAA Tournament this year. Joining them are St. Joseph's (Maine) and Occidental as automatic qualifiers, and Bridgewater (Va.) and Vassar as at-large bids.
The Black and Gold are playing some of their best soccer of the year right now, heading into the tournament on a seven-match win streak, tied for ninth longest in Division III women's soccer, and have won 13 of their last 14 matches, with 10 of those 13 wins being clean sheets. The Bulldogs only allowed two goals against in the month of October and are currently riding 471 minute and 59 second shutout streak. Alamdari knows every team in the tournament is playing at a high level as well. "We're playing very well at the moment, but the same can be said for every team in the field, so we know that it will take our very best to advance no matter who we face."
Adrian has been led this year by its five All-MIAA selections. First Team junior Caroline Fleming leads the Bulldogs in points and assists, with 31 and nine, respectively. Fleming also leads the conference in points and assists. Her 11 goals are tied for the team lead with Second Team freshman McKenna Mahoney. Mahoney had a big week in the conference tournament, scoring the game-winning goals in both matches. First Team sophomore Megan Louwers has been the third part of the Bulldogs' attack, contributing eight goals and four assists, including two game-winning goals in the last week of the regular season. The aforementioned stingy defense has been led by First Team All-MIAA selections senior center back Rachel Rodeheffer and junior goalkeeper Ayverie Giller. Rodeheffer even found a scoring touch this year, heading home four goals in her final year as a Bulldog. Giller has started every match for AC this year and has posted a 0.76 goals against average so far to go with 69 saves.
The Bulldogs prepared themselves for a tournament run well, before the season started, scheduling a tough non-conference schedule, with three of the first five teams Adrian faced to start the year making the tournament. Wooster, Grove City, and Lynchburg all qualifying automatically for the NCAA Tournament with a conference championship. "As we prepared for a postseason run, our experience in Virginia (where they played Lynchburg) served us well," Alamdari said. "The even had an NCAA Tournament weekend feel, and I think it was excellent preparation for a team like us that hasn't been in this position before." Those three opponents join fellow MIAA school Hope to make four NCAA Tournament-bound opponents the Black and Gold have faced on the year.
Friday's match will see the Bulldogs taking on the Loras College Duhawks, winners of the American Rivers Conference (ARC) regular season and tournament championships. Loras and Adrian have one common opponent, as both teams beat North Central College (Ill.) in the regular season. The Duhawks are 16-3 on the year and have only lost one match since Sep. 4. Both teams were the highest scoring squads in their conferences, with Loras scoring 56 goals in 19 matches and Adrian netting 51 in 20 contests. The Bulldogs have the edge defensively, only allowing 14 goals, to the Duhawks' 25.
Loras also had five players earn All-Conference awards and had the ARC's top-scorer and Offensive MVP, Gretchen Schultz. The Duhawks are No. 3 in the North Region according the NCAA's rankings while the Bulldogs are No. 6 in the Central Region. Loras is making its 14th trip to the NCAA Tournament this year, going 12-12-2 in previous appearances. The Duhawks' 12 wins in the tournament are 18th-most among the 64 teams in this year's field. "Loras is a top quality side with a rich history of success in the postseason," Alamdari had to say about Adrian's first round opponents. "They play an up-tempo style that constantly puts pressure on the backs by playing difficult balls into difficult spaces, and they score a ton of goals. I expect an exciting match, and I'm certain that whoever advances will have earned it.
The other two teams in the Wheaton pod are hosts Wheaton and Northwestern (Minn.). Wheaton is an at-large qualifier from the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin and Northwestern automatically qualified for the tournament after winning the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference. Wheaton has a 16-3-1 record on the year, and Northwestern enters the tournament with an 11-6-4 mark. Alamdari acknowledged the talent in the pod, saying "At first glance we're fully aware that our pod is strong. But as you look throughout the Central and Great Lakes Regions, there's just not a single location with a clear path for anyone. That's a testament to just how many elite Division III teams come from this area of the country, and I expect we're going to see some heavy Midwestern representation throughout the tournament as it progresses."
The first match on Friday will be the Wheaton vs. Northwestern match at 6 p.m. ET, with Adrian and Loras playing at 8:30 p.m. ET. The winners of Friday's matches will meet on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET to determine who will advance to the Sectional Rounds next weekend. All the matches will be played at Wheaton's Joe Bean Stadium. Admission is $6 for adults, $3 for students and senior citizens, and $2 for children aged 3-12. Children under 3 are free.
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