The NCAA Selection Show is the dream for every college program. Hearing your name called and witnessing all the tears and screams with your teammates is a moment unlike any other. The 49ers did just that Monday afternoon.
The Charlotte 49ers (11-8-2) received their first round destination for the NCAA tournament, drawing the No. 3-seed Duke Blue Devils (12-4-3), who reached the national title game last season. The 49ers will travel to Durham, N.C., Saturday for a 1 p.m. kickoff against the Blue Devils, looking to stay hot after recently winning the Conference USA Championship this past Sunday against Florida Atlantic.
“We won three games in a row and I think we just want to keep that going,” senior Perri Bonner said. “I think when we first initially saw our name pop up we were all really excited because not a single person in that room has had that feeling before and then when you see the name that you are playing, everything is real.”
Duke is currently 6-2-3 while playing on their home turf, which sits about two hours away from Transamerica Field. The Blue Devils compete in the Atlantic Coast Conference, having to face top-tier opponents almost every weekend, making for a very tough strength of schedule.
“We knew we were going to have a tough game to play and it was just a matter of who and it was Duke and we are going to go in with confidence,” Martha Thomas said. “We’re going to train this week and anything can happen. We definitely aren’t going in there like its going to be hard but we’re definitely not going in there like its going to be easy.”
The Blue Devils are led by Ella Stevens, who has recorded eight goals and four assists on the season, while leading their team in overall points with 20. Imani Dorsey is not far behind Stevens, netting seven goals and five assists. With five other girls on the team with three or more goals this season, they have combined to outscore their opponents 40-to-14. EJ Proctor will be in the goal for Duke, allowing .66 goals per game in the blue and white.
“You’re talking about a national championship level program,” head coach John Cullen said. “It’s a wonderful challenge for our young team and one that we are excited to see what kind of level we can get to going forward.”
Cullen, in his eighth season with the program, will be going to the NCAA tournament for his first time as a coach, marking just the fifth time in program history that Charlotte has advanced to the Round of 64. Robbie Church, the Blue Devils head coach, will face his former team on Saturday after starting the Charlotte women’s soccer program in 1994 and coaching for four years. The 49ers will be accompanied by No. 1-seed West Virginia, No. 2-seed Notre Dame and No. 4-seed UCLA in their side of the bracket.
Thomas, recently named the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year, has recorded 10 goals and 10 assists to lead the team in her junior campaign, with the Conference USA Freshman of the Year Megan Greene not too far behind, marking 10 goals and 6 assists. Senior Katie O’Neill has burst on to the scene in the scoring column, being named the Offensive MVP this past weekend at the Conference USA Championship.
Although the 49ers have allowed 31 goals this season, keeper Anna Sheldon was recently named to the All-Tournament team, with senior defender Shelby Hicks being named the Defensive MVP of the tournament as well.
With the 49ers scoring a lot of goals over the past couple weeks and defending as well as they have all year long, look for a tightly-fought battle between these instate foes, as Charlotte will try to post an upset over the No. 3-seed Duke.
“Duke’s got a lot of hardware under their name and a lot of hype under their name,” Thomas said. “Two years ago we went in and tied Clemson and I think that this team this year is stronger then our team two years ago, so you never know.”