By Winston Hsiao
For the men’s soccer team, Saturday’s victory over Princeton, which clinched a share of the Ivy League title, seemed like the perfect cap to an already memorable season. But on Monday, the Elis (10-3-4, 5-1-1 Ivy) learned that their season is just beginning.
The Bulldog players and coaching staff crammed into a third-floor classroom in Ray Tompkins House yesterday afternoon, anxiously awaiting the announcement of the NCAA Tournament pairings via a live ESPNews Telecast. The mood became restless as players groaned over what seemed to be endless coverage of the AL MVP Race and Monday Night Football. As if the wait could not get more painful, commercials came next.
But at 5:15 p.m. EST, the celebration commenced.
The Bulldogs not only earned an at-large bid to the College Cup, its first postseason berth since 1999, but also get a home game in the opening round Friday night against Stony Brook (12-4-4).
Yale, Brown and Dartmouth finished with identical Ivy records, but Dartmouth received the automatic bid virtue of a tiebreaker. That left the Elis and Bears praying for their postseason lives on Monday.
Coming into the announcement, Yale had many reasons to be optimistic. The Elis ended the regular season as the 25th-ranked team in the nation and third in the New England Region. But the cautious Bulldogs were in this position before. In 2003 Yale finished the season with a national ranking but were left out of the College Cup. So while boasting an impressive record with a difficult schedule this year, the team was careful not to be too confident about their chances.
A hush went over the room when the first page of the bracket was displayed, revealing that the other Ivy bubble team Brown had made the College Cup. Barring an unprecedented three Ivy teams making the tournament, Brown’s pick seemed to signal that Yale might be the odd-team out.
Midfielder Tyler Guse ’09 said he was afraid that the Brown selection meant the end of Yale’s season.
“I’ve been checking some Web sites that predict the brackets and I came across a Web sites saying that at the most two Ivies would get in,” Guse said. “I thought that would be us and Dartmouth, so I was a little nervous with the Brown [selection].”
But then after five more tortuous minutes of highlights and commercials, ESPNews displayed the second page of the Eastern region announcing the good news.
“Everybody jumped up and I just fell right back down,” keeper Erik Geiger ’08 said. “It’s really more of a relief because I felt we belonged in that tournament. I was confident. When the first page [showed] two Ivy teams, I sunk because I’ve never heard of three Ivies. So it was just high, low, then really high again.”
Yale will host a dangerous Stony Brook team who on Saturday won its first America East Tournament Championship in school history over Binghamton off of penalty kicks.
Defender Jordan Rieger ’07 said the team will do plenty of studying on their upcoming opponent.
“[Yale head] coach [Brian Tompkins] said they are a good matchup for us but besides that we don’t know much about them,” Rieger said. “But I guarantee we’ll know a whole lot about them by the end of this week.”
If Yale beats Stony Brook they will travel to Storrs, Conn. to battle interstate rival UConn, who earned the No. 8 seed and a first round bye in the tournament. But for now the focus is squarely on taking care of business at home this Friday.
In a post-announcement speech, Tompkins congratulated his team but warned the work is far from over.
“Keep your mind on the jobs, you have to have amnesia,” Tompkins said. “We didn’t come this far to trip ourselves. If Stony Brook plays a good game and beats us then we’ll say ‘good game’. But we’re not going to beat ourselves.”
Rieger emphasized that the elation over the selection must be short-lived.
“We can be happy tonight, [especially] for the seniors,” Rieger said. “But tomorrow when we wake up it’s all business again.” Despite trying to keep a level-head as they have done all season, the Bulldogs couldn’t help but revel in the moment. Even the usually cool and collected Tompkins could not hide his excitement with a final message that caused an already revved-up team to erupt.
“With all that being said, I guess it wouldn’t be a soccer speech without a …’How Bout Them Bulldogs!’”