As Saturday draws near, many Niner fans are focused on the football game however a more important fútbol game is taking place on the same day. The Charlotte women’s soccer team travels up the road to Duke for the first round of the NCAA soccer tournament, playing Saturday at 1 p.m..
This is the fifth time the 49ers have appeared in the NCAA tournament, the first time under head coach John Cullen and the first time the any of the girls on the the team. Their competitor, Duke, was the runner-up in the NCAA tournament last year and are expected to make a run in the tournament again this year. While nerves are apparent for the girls in green, the underdog position gives a unique comfort to the players.
“If you go in as the underdog, the other team has more pressure on them than the underdog does. I’m really excited,” junior Martha Thomas said.
The lower seed didn’t seem to effect the 49ers during the conference tourney, as the sixth seed Niners defeated a four and a three seed team in their pursuit to the championship. Duke is undoubtedly the favorite on Saturday, but expect the Charlotte squad to play a highly competitive 90 minutes.
“It feels like everything we’ve been working for the whole season is paying off. We’re focusing on going into the match with confidence. We have nothing to lose,” Thomas said.
With only a few days to prepare for the first round match, Cullen said the team is focusing on “the little things” during practice. Though the 49ers have a tough row to hoe ahead of them, it’s better than the alternative: not playing in the post-season.
“You get nervous when you don’t go to these events, you start questioning where you go wrong. Once you get to this level, it shows that you’re doing a lot of things right. The pressure is we want to get back to this level again next year. We want to be like our men’s program to go to these programs year in and year out,” Cullen said.
Regardless of the outcome this weekend, the 49er women’s soccer program has made a statement this season that is sure to carry over with the young team to next season.