We gathered in the Taffner Field House video room awaiting our fate. Nerves ran through the room as football highlights from the weekend flashed across the screen on ESPN News as we waited for the selection show to begin. In a few minutes, 48 teams would be pleased to learn they have made the NCAA Tournament, but for those teams expected to get in, it would reveal the journey they must travel to raise the trophy in Cary, N.C.
Despite our disappointing regular season record, we had slight hopes of getting a top-16 seed in the tournament assuring us a home game in the second round. The team straightened up in their seats starting intently at the screen as the host of the selection show began to speak. Our empty brackets lay on our laps ready for the 48 teams to be entered in their respective spots. With our pens in position, we stared at the screen for the first part of the bracket to be revealed. As the first graphic appeared on the TV, we immediately discovered our fate. St. John’s sat on top of Marist and to the left of Dartmouth who were awarded the 16 seed. Our eyes moved to the lines directly above Dartmouth, and there sat No. 1 seeded Maryland, a potential opponent in the Sweet 16.
Last year established our intense dislike for Maryland as they were the team that stood in the way of our trip to Los Angeles for the final four. That was the second defeat we suffered to them that year and those thoughts lingered in my head for the whole summer. Seeing Maryland on the line above established bittersweet emotions. We were dying to get the chance to avenge our defeats from the previous year; however, did we want to face such a team in the sweet 16?
Pushing these thoughts from our mind, our concentration narrowed to Marist. A whole week of intense preparation climaxed in the first-round game at Belson Stadium last Friday night. With the loud and raucous student section providing a great atmosphere, we out-shot Marist 26 to 3. Despite a few scary moments we walked off the pitch with a 3-1 victory and the right to play Dartmouth in the second round of the tournament.
Still with Maryland lingering in the back of our minds, our concentration again narrows to Dartmouth for our Tuesday evening match at 5 p.m. Dartmouth failed to enter a bid to host a tournament game, leaving them to travel to Belson Stadium for the match-up. One of its last NCAA victories came in 1991 over none other than St. John’s.
Emotions will run high and a battle will ensue Tuesday night on the slick turn of Belson. One team will have nine months to dwell over their loss on Tuesday night ruminating over their performance. The other will travel to College Park, two victories away from the Final Four.