As the UMBC women’s soccer team gathered Monday afternoon on campus to watch the unveiling of the 64-team field for the NCAA tournament, gleeful anticipation over its first appearance in the tournament was heavy in the air.
The Retrievers, who earned an automatic qualifier by capturing the America East tournament crown Saturday night, learned that they drew the No. 16 seed and will face No. 1 seed Virginia Tech on Friday at 5 p.m. Coach Leslie Wray said UMBC (13-5-2) was thrilled to see the school’s name in the bracket.
“We started cheering,” Wray said Monday evening. “I think they said a little something about us, and we weren’t able to hear it, but it was just so exciting for UMBC. I think they said that we have three more wins than we had total in the last five years. It speaks to the turnaround that this program has had. Just really ecstatic that we are even in the top 64.”
The Retrievers, who have set a single-season record for wins, were hoping for a more advantageous draw after Stony Brook, last year’s America East tournament champion, got the No. 12 seed. But Wray said the program’s lack of history with postseason success may have influenced the selection committee.
“We knew we were going to go to a higher seed,” she said. “I was hoping for something maybe in the 13-14 range. I know that last year, Stony Brook was a 12 seed coming from the America East. I can’t really determine why we’re a 16 instead of a 13 or 14. I knew we were going to be a lower seed. So we were going to have our work cut out for us whatever the seed. This is a strong Virginia Tech team, and we just have to really be prepared and have a game plan going into the game on Friday.”
As Wray mentioned, UMBC will have a difficult task against the Hokies, who compiled a 16-4-2 record en route to advancing to the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final before losing to Florida State, 1-0. The Retrievers are still coordinating an in-depth review of Virginia Tech, but Wray knew the basics.
“We know that they’re really quick, that they’re really fast up top,” Wray said. “They’re a top level ACC team, and they were a finalist in the ACC tournament. We know we have our work cut out for us to be able to compete with them, but we’re going to give it everything that we have, and really enjoy the fact that we’re in the NCAA tournament and keep plugging ahead.”