Women #2 In NCAA Soccer Tournament

The women's soccer team enters the NCAA tournament as the number two seed in their bracket. That means they host their opening round game against Harvard and will host the second round game, if they win. Coach Alison Kulik has her team ready for what many think is a trip to the Sweet 16 and maybe much more.

North Carolina had been to the ACC women's soccer final an astonishing 21 consecutive years, and had win 19 titles. Boston College was seeking to win its first.

And for 103 minutes, #6-ranked BC was every bit #4 UNC's equal, doggedly battling the defending national champions to a 0-0 draw into double overtime. But in the 103rd minute, Casey Nogueira's excellent cross went off of BC defender Alyssa Pember and into the back of the net, giving UNC the 1-0 win on an own goal.

For the Tar Heels, it was a launching pad to their 20th ACC title. But for BC, it's meant one thing all week: they're ready to start NCAAs.

They will do just that on Friday evening, battling the Harvard Crimson at 4 p.m. on Newton Campus Soccer Field. BC is a #2 seed in their bracket. If they win, they will advance to play the winner of Boston University vs. UConn on Sunday afternoon, also at Newton field.

The #1 seed in BC's bracket is undefeated Stanford, and a trip to the Sweet 16 would almost certainly mean a voyage to California to the home of the Cardinal. It will be a gauntlet, but BC's ACC schedule has them ready to go.

"It was a tough way to crash out of the ACC tournament, but in terms of who's the last team we want to play before NCAAs, it's definitely UNC," said head coach Alison Kulik, hoping to guide the program to its first Final Four. "They're such a good team, and they have so much tournament experience, which is invaluable. Playing them really shows us how strong we are right now going into the NCAAs."

"The ACC had eight teams out of 11 make the national tournament," she continued. "Every game, every week is a battle. We were fortunate enough to win the regular season co-championship, and that required great effort every single game."

"In our last three games we've gone to double overtime – our regular season finale against Wake, our quarterfinal ACC game against UVA, which went to penalty kicks, and the UNC game. We're ready for high pressure situations."

BC's goalie, Jillian Mastroianni, has been superb this season, especially recently. She has amassed a 14-3-2 record with a 0.49 goals against average, with 11 shutouts. In the last five games, she has three shutouts and one game – UNC – in which she went 103 minutes before yielding a goal. And against UVA in the ACC quarterfinal, she stopped three penalty kicks in BC's shootout win.

"Jill's been playing so well," said Kulik. "It's funny, going into the ACC tournament we would have said that she is really strong all around, but the one weakness would be stopping penalty kicks. Then she goes out and makes three incredible saves to get us into the semifinal."

"The team's really confident in her, and when you have confidence in your goalkeeper, it makes your attack better, because you're comfortable taking more chances and going forward with numbers."

When asked what they were emphasizing this week in practice, Kulik said that they want to make sure to bury early chances.

"We want to take care of our early opportunities. We're a team that comes out with a lot of energy, and we get our best chances early on. If we don't take them sometimes we end up kicking ourselves at the end of the game."

"It's our style of play. We're fast-tempo, we like to attack with numbers. We play with a lot of spirit and energy – we've got individuals who love this game, love this team, and love this school. They've got great enthusiasm," she continued.

This weekend, BC will have the opportunity to defend its home field, something they've been able to do repeatedly in recent years.

"It's always one of our goals at the start of the year, to play well enough so that the committee feels we're deserving of hosting these early rounds," Kulik said.

"It's just great being at home. It's familiar. You're sleeping in your own bed, playing in your own field, you've got your home crowd behind you. It helps a lot."

Newton Field is also a familiar place for the three other teams in BC's sub-region. The Eagles hosted Harvard, BU and UConn this year, beating each of them. BC topped Harvard, 4-1 on September 18; they blanked BU 2-0 on September 2; and they downed UConn 3-0 in a scrimmage on August 22.

BC's first opponent in the tournament, Harvard, made it into the NCAAs as champions of the Ivy League, after winning their season finale against Columbia 2-1 in overtime. The Crimson finished 9-6-1 overall and 6-1 in league play, with wins over BC opponents Fairfield and Holy Cross.

Harvard also lost to BU and UConn during the regular season, and they come into the region as distinct underdogs. But Kulik had high praise for the Crimson.

"Harvard scored first on us back in our game, and that was the first time we'd been scored on," she said. "They've got two dangerous attackers, especially Melanie Baskind," who scored both goals in Harvard's Ivy-clinching win at Columbia.

"They're a well-coached, well-organized team and they'll be ready."

While she emphasized that BC was focused on Harvard, Kulik also spoke about UConn and BU.

The Huskies, "just like UNC, are a team that's been in the postseason more than almost any program, which makes a big difference," Kulik said.

UConn qualified for the NCAAs for the 27th time in 28 years. The Huskies knocked BC out of the NCAAs two years ago, beating BC on penalty kicks on Newton Field, and the memories are still fresh in the BC camp.

"It's a big rivalry game, we seem to run into one another often here and it would obviously be a really big local game if we were to play them."

UConn finished 10-7-2 and were fortunate enough to get a berth despite dropping their first round Big East tournament game to Villanova in penalty kicks.

As for BU, the Terriers come in off of their third consecutive America East Conference championship victory, downing Binghamton 4-0. BU finished 14-5-2 on the year.

"They're a rival in terms of recruiting for us, and of course the two schools in general are big rivals. Usually whenever we play them it's a one-goal game. We beat them by two this year but it was far from an easy game. You know they'll be up for it if it comes to us and them."

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