WVU Opens NCAA Tournament Play

The No. 6-seeded West Virginia men's soccer team kicks off NCAA tournament play when it hosts UNC-Greensboro today at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va., at 7 p.m.

The Mountaineers (15-2-3) received a first round bye in the tournament after compiling a nine-match winning streak and then advancing to the championship game of the Big East tourney for the first time in school history. West Virginia's .825 winning percentage is tied for the fourth highest among 199 Division I schools. Today's match marks the second consecutive season the program has hosted an NCAA tournament game. The only other time the Mountaineers hosted a match was in 1973 when they fell 3-1 at the hands of new Big East member and traditional NCAA power South Florida.

WVU will get an offensive boost on tonight as M.A.C. Hermann Trophy – collegiate soccer's version of the Heisman – semifinalist Jarrod Smith is slated to start. The Havelock North, New Zealand, native scored 14 goals in just 15 matches before sitting out all three of his team's Big East tournament games with a hamstring injury.

UNC-G's Spartans (15-7-1) advanced to the second round after defeating Virginia Tech, 2-1, on Saturday, Nov. 11, in Greensboro, N.C. Scott Jones netted the game winner on a free kick with less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation. The win marked the third consecutive season the program has advanced in the NCAA tournament. West Virginia and UNC Greensboro have never met before on the soccer pitch, and the two teams do not share any common opponents in 2006 either. So don't expect the Mountaineers to change anything they do just for UNC-G.

"I think with any team you have to watch out for their top forwards," first-year WVU head coach Marlon LeBlanc said. "Greensboro has two top forwards that can go forward and score goals. I don't know if it is problematic. We have dealt with that all year along. We've played some of the top kids in the country. We'll be aware of them. But we approach it the same way we approach any game. We don't make any special concessions."

A Mountaineer win would mark the team's second trip to the third round in nine program NCAA tournament berths. The only other time occurred in 1981 when West Virginia received a first round bye and then recorded its first NCAA tournament win in school history over Virginia in Charlottesville, Va. However, there were only 20 teams invited to the tournament back then. The winner of tomorrow's match will face the winner of the No. 11 St. Louis-Northwestern match, which is slated to kick off at 8 p.m. EST in St. Louis, Mo.

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