When the moment happened at Monday’s NCAA Tournament selection show watch party, the University of Rhode Island men’s soccer team didn’t celebrate much.
Perhaps the Rams were hoping to host a first-round game. Maybe they were aware of a tough road ahead as they trek to Syracuse.
Or maybe they weren’t happy to simply be in the field.
A year after following up an A-10 title with a first-round loss, the Rams won the conference again and are aiming to stay a while on the sport’s biggest stage.
“I think last year, we were maybe a little bit just happy with getting the A-10 trophy,” senior Ludvik Benco said. “And now we’re kind of used to it. We have a little motivation, too.”
The Rams will visit Syracuse for the first-round game tonight at 7 p.m. They’ll carry an 11-game win streak into the NCAA Tournament, which includes a dramatic run through the A-10 bracket. The defending champs were the top seed and they romped past Davidson in their opener. The semifinals were a much different animal, but URI prevailed over Fordham in a shootout. They beat Dayton 1-0 on Sunday to capture the crown.
“Honestly, I’ve lost track of how many wins we have in a row, but we have a lot of momentum going forward and I think we can use that,” junior Lucas Gesmundo said.
The A-10 championship is the eighth in program history and one of the most hard-won, thanks to the shootout. Goalie Stefan Schmidt made three saves and Simon Trcka converted his shot in the ninth round of the shootout to give URI the win.
“I don’t know what my heart rate was at that point but it was definitely on edge,” Elliott said. “The players did a great job, stepped up with the PKs. Stefan saved three, which helped. But when it goes to PKs, anything can happen and we were happy to advance at that point.”
Edvin Akselsen scored the lone goal in the 1-0 win over Dayton and Schmidt recorded the shutout.
Winning another title was the objective from the start for the Rams, who lost some significant pieces from last year but had another veteran core to lean on. They started the year with a tie and two losses, but have only lost one game since then.
“After we played St. Louis away, we kind of stuck together as a team and figured out how to play,” said Benco, who earned Most Outstanding Player honors at the conference tourney. “We struggled a little bit at the beginning to adapt to each other. We have some new players. But we’ve definitely turned it around. We’re on a good streak.”
In the NCAA Tournament last year, URI led 3-1 into the 75th minute against Connecticut but ended up losing 4-3 in overtime.
“I really think last year was a little disappointing,” senior Stavros Zarokostas said. “We want to go further than the first round. I think that disappointment is going to carry us through – play with a little more passion, a little more emotion.”
Syracuse earned an at-large bid to the tournament after going 7-6-5 and 2-4-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The winner visits national No. 16 seed St. John’s.
“We have a lot of seniors in the group, so they don’t want the journey to end,” Elliott said. “And a lot of them have a bitter taste in their mouth from last year’s NCAA Tournament, so they want to keep rolling. They’re all pumped and I’m excited for them. They’ve done a tremendous job. Really proud of the group for getting this far and winning another A-10 championship. But now we have more work to do.”