Photo courtesy of Steve McLaughlin Photography
Three of the four entrants in the 2011 College Cup were all expected to be here at season’s end.
The same can’t be said about UNC Charlotte, which qualified as the Cinderella of the NCAA Tournament.
Back-to-back victories against two of the nation’s top programs – first Akron and now this past weekend’s penalty-kick triumph over UConn – has the 49ers in the College Cup for just the second time in their history.
Giuseppe Gentile’s goal with five minutes remaining kept the dream alive after Connecticut senior Tony Cascio had given the Huskies the lead in the 82nd minute. That allowed Charlotte to hang on through overtime and triumph in penalties.
But heading to Hoover, Ala., for the biggest weekend in college soccer, Charlotte will be the obvious outsider to hoist the national championship, with three programs with more prominent pedigrees lying in wait for them. That hasn’t stopped them before, though there’s no question they face an uphill battle on Friday evening.
Creighton poses a particularly difficult challenge for the 49ers right off the bat, boasting the nation’s best defense and possessing enough spark in the attacking third to be considered real contenders.
Along with the Bluejays, the presence of North Carolina and UCLA were expected at the beginning of the year, setting the stage for what should be another exciting College Cup weekend.
Top players of the quarterfinals
1. Defender Matt Hedges, North Carolina
The 6-foot-4 central defender had been stellar all game against St. Mary’s before his 53rd-minute header off a corner kick gave the Tar Heels a lead they didn’t relinquish.
2. Forward Giuseppe Gentile, UNC Charlotte
Without their freshman leading scorer popping up and scoring the equalizer, it would have been lights out for the 49ers after Cascio’s go-ahead goal. But Gentile was clutch once again, and even bagged his spot kick to get Charlotte off on the right foot during the penalty shootout.
3. Forward Ethan Finlay, Creighton
One of the nation’s most consistent scorers all year, it was Finlay to the rescue in overtime after the Bluejays outshot South Florida 20-6 in the game but couldn’t find the back of the net until the senior delivered in the 97th minute.
NSCAA announces Hermann Trophy semifinalists
The field of contenders for the 2011 MAC Hermann Trophy was whittled to 15 semifinalists over the weekend. A number of College Cup entrants, such as North Carolina’s Billy Schuler and Enzo Martinez and Creighton’s Ethan Finlay and Brian Holt made the list.
The full list of semifinalists:
F Ashton Bennett (Coastal Carolina), F Dom Dwyer (South Florida), F Ethan Finlay (Creighton), F Evans Frimpong (Delaware), F Chandler Hoffman (UCLA), GK Brian Holt (Creighton), M Enzo Martinez (North Carolina), F Darren Mattocks (Akron), F Billy Schuler (North Carolina), F Mark Sherrod (Memphis), M Luis Silva (UC Santa Barbara), F Yannick Smith (Old Dominion), F Casey Townsend (Maryland), F Andrew Wenger (Duke), F Gyarsi Zardes (CSU Bakersfield)
Martin sets collegiate record for wins
While Division I men’s soccer was busy sorting out the College Cup field, a record was being set in the Division III tournament.
Jay Martin, head coach of the Ohio Wesleyan, captured the national title with a 2-1 victory against Calvin College on Dec. 3. With the win, Martin surpassed former Wheaton (Ill.) coach Joe Bean for the all-time lead in victories by a men’s college coach with 608 wins.
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, college and youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. You can follow him on Twitter @travismclark.