‘Soccerhawks’ earn at-large NCAA tournament bid

Heaney: “We’re just excited to be in the Big Dance and to have a shot at competing for a National Championship.”


Noah Powers/The Seahawk

No. 10 Phillip Goodrum celebrates after scoring

Lanre Badmus, Staff Writer

After a long period of waiting and built-up nerves, UNC Wilmington men’s soccer received confirmation: they’re in again.

The Seahawks earned an at-large bid to be one of the 48 participants in the NCAA Men’s College Cup for the second consecutive season on Monday afternoon.

The no. 21 Seahawks (12-5-2, 5-1-2 CAA) will make their fourth-ever appearance in the tournament and play host to the Furman Paladins at UNCW Soccer Stadium in the first round on Thursday night. The kickoff time is set for 7 p.m. It will be the second straight year the Seahawks host a tournament game after beating Presbyterian 1-0 in overtime in the Port City last year.

The Teal-paved path

UNCW will be making its third appearance in five seasons, all of which have been courtesy of at-large bids. The Seahawks qualified this year by way of reaching the Colonial Athletic Association conference tournament semifinals as the second seed. Despite leading at the end of the first half, the Seahawks eventually fell to third-seeded Hofstra 2-1 in overtime last Friday.

The Seahawks enter the tournament off the back of a 2018 season that had more than its usual twists and turns; the effects of Hurricane Florence saw the team move home games to neutral sites in Greensboro and Elon, have to set up camp in hotels together while being away from the Port City for four weeks, and they even had their game jerseys stolen while they were in Charlotte.

Seahawk depth

However, despite all the challenges, the Seahawks were nationally-ranked for most of the campaign, even being ranked as high as 10th in the nation. Junior forward Phillip Goodrum’s conference-topping breakout year of 12 goals and four assists won him the CAA Player-of-the-Year award. Sophomore forward Emil Elveroth (11 goals and five assists), senior midfielder Joel Bylander and junior defender Mark Lindstrom all joined Goodrum on the All-CAA First Team.

Junior defender Wilhelm Nilsson and redshirt senior goalkeeper Ryan Cretens earned All-CAA second team honors, while junior midfielder David Lozano was named to the All-CAA third team. Freshman forward Cesar Cruz and redshirt freshman defender Drew Rabil made the CAA All-Rookie team.

The reactions

In an interview with UNCW Athletics, coach Aidan Heaney summed up the team’s reaction to selection in one word: “relief”.

“Absolute relief, to be honest,” the 18-year head coach said of UNCW’s selection to the field. “I think they were sitting here and [watching] the names keep getting picked out of the hat and we were starting to fear the worst. But we’re so excited to be playing at home in the big dance and to have a shot at a national championship.”

Heaney also mentioned the importance of being at home after all the team has had to battle through this season with the hurricane, and how he expects the home support to make a difference much as it did against Presbyterian last year.

Goodrum also echoed his coach’s sentiments about the relief and said that nerves had set in within him as the teams were being announced.

“I’m more nervous before watching that than I think I ever have [been] for a game,” said Goodrum. “I’m just ecstatic that the [NCAA Selection] committee still thinks that we’re a team that’s one of the tops in the country. Now it’s our turn to go show what we can do and make a run.”

Goodrum also talked about how he feels the support from the student body at UNCW Soccer Stadium will make a difference on Thursday night. But he also said how the team needs to regroup after ending the regular season with two straight losses (to Northeastern in the regular season finale and then Hofstra) and get back to the “nice brand of soccer” that saw them ranked in the Top 25 all season long.

Scouting the opponents

Furman (13-6-1), the Southern Conference champion, defeated UNC Greensboro 3-0 in the SoCon final on Sunday to earn an automatic bid into the tournament. The Paladins will also be making their third appearance in five seasons, and their 11thappearance overall. Junior midfielder/forward Emery May led the team in scoring this season with nine goals, while senior midfielder Laurence Wyke (seven goals, one assist), redshirt sophomore forward Cole McLagan (four goals, three assists) and senior midfielder Danny Kierath (three goals, six assists) are also key players for the Paladins.

“We know Furman’s a good side,” said coach Heaney. “Coach Doug Allison’s a good friend of mine, and he runs a quality program…it’ll be a tough game, but they all are at this stage.”

If the Seahawks advance…

…they will travel Charlottesville, Va. to face national 10th-seeded Virginia in the second round on Sunday.