Maryville College's historic men's soccer season continues, as the Scots learned their destination for the NCAA Tournament on Monday afternoon.
In front of nearly 80 friends and fans in Cooper Athletic Center's Orange Room, Maryville learned they will travel to Lynchburg, Va. to face off with the Kenyon College Lords on Nov. 12. The time is to be determined.
MC earned the NCAA bid via automatic qualifier for winning the USA South Athletic Conference Championship – the program's first in school history.
On Monday, Head Coach Pepe Fernandez knew his squad was in, which was different from previous years.
"It's a completely different feeling from the Great South or the 15 years that we were independent," he said. "I've seen so many teams here – men and women – with two or three losses sit here and not get into the tournament. It's really painful and tough on those kids to know it's over at that point. All that said, I'm really proud of this team for getting in. We're really excited about the chance to represent the USA South, and hopefully, we will go up to Lynchburg and do really well."
Maryville faced an uphill battle in the conference tournament finals, playing to an emotional 2-1 double-overtime win over Methodist University. On Saturday, emotions were even higher during a thrilling 2-1 win over N.C. Wesleyan College for the tournament crown.
For senior forward Caleb Lucas, relaxing during Monday's selection show was a relief.
"It was great to be playing at home, but at the same time, there was a lot of pressure to not lose at home," he said. "That is the last thing you want to do is bring it home and lose. This is kind of the culmination of all of that. You just sit and see whose next. You see what we have achieved with so few teams getting in and the caliber of those teams that we'll be playing against."
The Scots' automatic qualifier sparks the squad's first NCAA appearance in 11 years and only the fourth trip in school history for the men's team.
Maryville last reached the national stage in 2005, when the Scots reached the NCAA Sweet 16. Maryville finished that season with a 15-5-2 mark.
"Over those 11 years, we've won now our eighth or ninth conference championship and several regular seasons, and you can't get in as an at-large bid," Fernandez said. "Hopefully, this will represent all the teams that were just right there. It's really satisfying to the kids. I told them during the games, that all of us [coaches] have been around so long, wins and losses come and go over the years. This team was so fun to watch and fun to be around, that we really wanted to see them continue to play."
Maryville (18-2, 9-1 USA South) will carry their single-season wins record to play against the Lords, who finished the regular season with a 17-2 mark. Kenyon finished their conference season with an 8-1 tally, falling only to DePauw University in the North Coast Athletic Conference.
Kenyon won the NCAC Championship with a 4-1 win over DePauw in the Semifinals. The Lords knocked off Oberlin College, 2-1, in double overtime after trailing 1-0 in the first four minutes for the title.
"There won't be a bad team in the tournament at this point," Fernandez said. "We've seen No. 1 seeds go down in the first round, and we've seen No. 1 seeds win it. We're going to see a good, hard, tough team every single time. Kenyon has one common opponent with us, Centre, and I know a little bit about them…I know they have a great tradition up there, and they've been to a lot of tournaments. I know they will be a good team."
Kenyon and Maryville both defeated the Colonels of Centre College – a team ranked No. 17 in the country at the time. Kenyon knocked off Centre, 1-0, on Sept. 21, before the Scots defeated the nationally ranked opponent, 6-1, on Oct. 2.
For Lucas, that was after the Scots had a major turning point in the season with a conference loss.
"It's been long," he said of the season. "The key point in the season was losing that conference match to Greensboro. At that point, it was a reality check for us that we had a lot of work to do. We haven't lost a game since then. We've had almost everyone stay healthy, except for Tim. Even with Tim getting injured, he's fought through it. We've been battling all season. We've earned everything that we've gotten, and we've worked hard week in and week out. So, I'm really proud of my team, and I think we're all proud of ourselves."
The Scots lost to Greensboro in overtime, 2-1, and have since set a new school record win streak that has lasted through 14 games. Over that streak, Maryville has averaged 4.4 goals per game, outscoring opponents 62-13.
Kenyon is on a streak of their own, winning their last nine. The Lords have 3-2 double-overtime win over Oberlin College in that span – a No. 15 team in the country at that point.
Kenyon has scored 25 goals in their nine-game streak, averaging 2.78 goals per contest.
"We talked about this a lot last year, as being one of our goals to get [to the NCAA Tournament," Lucas said. "Not getting it last year, we came back even hungrier this year. On top of winning the regular season and the conference tournament, this is all just extra credit. We just want to go as far as we can, and I know that this means a lot to all of us, all of the seniors, especially."