For the first time ever, both the men’s and women’s soccer teams will be competing in the NCAA soccer tournaments. For the men, this achievement marks their eighth overall appearance and first since 2012. The women’s team, however, has competed in the NCAA tournament for the past five years, including an impressive run to the Sweet 16 last season.
Of the hundreds of collegiate soccer teams, only 64 make the Division III NCAA tournament. There are two ways that a team can qualify for the tournament: winning the conference or receiving what is called an at-large bid. An at-large bid is given to teams who have records that are considered deserving of a spot in the NCAA tournament. Teams hoping to receive at-large bids are judged on their overall record, record against ranked opponents, and strength of schedule among other factors. Often, teams that receive at-large bids reach the semi-finals or finals of their conference tournament.
The selection process helps give some perspective on how unique a feat it is to have both Swarthmore teams qualify for the tournament, as both the men’s and women’s team qualified via an at-large bid, despite not making the conference tournament.
Both teams, although hopeful, knew that their chances for a bid depended on the favorites around the country winning their conferences. If the best teams receive automatic qualifications to the tournament, they would not compete with the Swarthmore teams for at-large bids. However, if the best teams did not win their conferences, then they would almost certainly receive at-large bids ahead of Swarthmore.
“My teammates and I were really hanging on to the very last thread of hope of making the playoffs, said Samantha Barnes ’22. “There had to be like twenty games to go our way in order to make it and seventeen of those games did.”
The men’s team was a little more hopeful as they had a higher chance of making the tournament, and hosted a selection viewing party for the team. Given the team’s regional ranking of fourth, the men knew that they had a decent chance of receiving a bid. However, after the first 32 teams of the bracket were announced and with Swarthmore yet to be selected, doubts were starting to settle in.
“I didn’t even really expect us to make it going into the selection show,” said team captain Oliver Steinglass ’20. “As results started to go our way across the country, I got hopeful but tried to keep my expectations low.”
When Swarthmore’s name was announced, it was pandemonium. A previously a silent room became filled with shouts from the men’s players.
Although there was no viewing party for the women’s team, they were just as enthusiastic to hear their season would be continuing.
“I was shocked, surprised, happy, and started to tear up because I love this team so much and I’m so grateful that I get a few more practices and (hopefully!) games with them,” said forward Brittany Weiderhold ’20. “I was so excited that I dropped my laptop. Thankfully, it still works.”
The women’s team closed off their regular reason with a win at Haverford, bringing their final record to 12-5. Led by seniors Sydney Covitz, Brittany Weiderhold, Louise Rosler, Seneca Kinn-Gurzo, Emma Tapp and Eléonore Moser, the Garnet hopes to use their experience to go far in the tournament. Up top, the team is led by strikers Sophia Stills ’21 (five goals, four assists) and Weiderhold (seven goals, three assists).
Barnes noted how the team’s depth and experience will be key.
“Our team is definitely extremely confident going into the tournament and the fact that we have made it to NCAA for the past five years gives us incredible momentum to build off of and fuel us,” said Barnes. “We are an incredibly deep team with a lot of experience in the NCAA and coming off a tough season. We are buzzing for wins.”
Weiderhold has been to three NCAA tournaments; for her and the other seniors the uncertainty offered a unique challenge.
“As a senior it was a very odd feeling not knowing if my soccer career was over or not. In terms of this team and this year, I would say we’ve been unlucky in a few of our games this season, but I think luck is starting to shift our way and I am super excited to see what this team can do this weekend.”
On the other hand, the men’s soccer team finished the season with a 11-3-3 record, their best since 2013. Captained by Steinglass and Joseph Bradley ’20, the Garnet held an impressive 6-0-1 out of conference record. Woojin Shin ’21 and Joseph Barile ’21 led the team in goals with six each, while Trevor Homstad ’20 bagged five. Not any of the players on the men’s soccer team have experienced the conference playoffs, let alone the NCAA tournament, but they are looking to make some noise.
Steinglass remembers all too well that it was only two seasons ago when the team won a total of four games.
“To go from winning four games my sophomore year to making the tournament this year has been a testament to how hard the entire team has worked,” said Steinglass. “Thinking back to how poor our season was two years ago and the state of the program as a whole makes this achievement that much sweeter.”
Bradley also notes the change in the program, but his metric for the team’s standard predates his collegiate career.
“It’s pretty special. I grew up locally so I remember coming to watch Swat play in the NCAA tournament when I was younger, and being a part of bringing this team and program back there has been really cool.”
Although the men’s team is elated to be playing in the NCAA tournament, they are not satisfied with just an appearance. The Garnet are training to win and, for Bradley, this is nothing new.
“We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve done. There’s a reason that we’re here now, so it’s just business as usual. Hopefully, this second chance at keeping our season alive will give us the motivation to crank it up a notch in training and on game day.”
Steinglass echoed his fellow captain’s sentiment.
“I fully believe in the quality of this team and now that we have an opportunity to show ourselves on the national stage, I’m really excited to see how far we can go.”
Both teams will be playing this Saturday, November 16. The men play Roanoke in Jefferson Newport, VA, while the women face Arcadia at Carnegie Mellon University.
[Editor’s Note: Author Francis Eddy Harvey is a member of the men’s soccer team. Sports editor Joseph Barile is also a member of the men’s soccer team.]