By Caleb Bailey, Staff Writer
The Armstrong Pirates soccer team earned an “At-Large” bid into the NCAA Tournament Nov. 10, despite having lost in the first round of the Peach Belt Conference tournament.
The team traveled to Columbus, Georgia on Nov. 14 to face off against the Wingate Bulldogs. A defensive struggle did not go in favor of the Pirates as they fell 1-0.
The Pirates entered into the game with a 13-4 record and an 0-3 mark all-time against the Bulldogs. Both teams were evenly matched and scoreless throughout the first half as both teams took eight shots on goal.
The Bulldogs essentially shut down the Pirates in the second half as they became the first team to outshoot the Pirates in nearly two months, finishing with a 16-10 advantage and only allowing two shots in the second half.
The first of the Pirates’ two shots came just a minute after Bulldogs’ Taylor Leybie pushed the lone goal of the game past Morgan Luckie in the 59th minute. Jenny Allen had a straight shot to the goal, but it sailed up and over its mark.
The Bulldogs held the Pirates off long enough to secure the victory and moved on to face the first-seeded Columbus State Cougars in the second round. The Pirates saw their season end with a 13-5 record with an NCAA Tournament appearance a year after missing the postseason.
“It’s been a good season,” head coach Eric Faulconer said, “ This team did get us back to the NCAA tournament after falling short in 2013. I am proud of them for that. We played and started a lot of young players this season and I think that will pay dividends in the future.”
As for his five graduating Seniors, Faulconer is proud and appreciative.
Faulconer said, “Our seniors were the last remaining members of our 2011 Final Four team. They went to the Elite 8 in 2012 and got back to the NCAA tournament this season. Their contributions to this program will be missed and they should be proud of their accomplishments both on the field and in the classroom.”
Despite graduating five seniors, the Pirates will retain a large majority of their starters from this season. In fact, eight of the eleven normal starters this year were underclassmen.
“Obviously its tough playing multiple top 25 teams,” Luckie said, “but its even more difficult when you don’t have much experience playing in those big games yet. I think the fact that we had so many young players who got so much experience this year will help so much for next year. We just need to gain a lot of confidence in ourselves and believe we can beat anyone.”
The pirates will now go into their off season before kicking back up with non-championship season practice starting in the spring.