It was a bittersweet moment for the St. John’s men’s soccer team at their viewing of the NCAA Tournament selection show on Monday night.
The team gathered in the Carneseca Arena lobby to learn they earned a well-earned three-seed in the national tournament. The top 16 teams receive a seed and are granted a first round bye and home field advantage. But the players attended the party with the fresh memory of losing in the Big East Tournament final.
St. John’s will open play in the tournament at Belson Stadium with a 5 p.m. game on Tuesday, Nov. 25. They will host the winner of a first-round matchup between Boston University and Fairleigh Dickinson. The three-seed is the highest in University history.
Senior captain Rory Quinn was not surprised by their seeding, despite the heartbreaking loss to South Florida on Sunday.
“It’s about right,” Quinn said. “We’ve worked all season for a high seed. It’s like two different seasons. Our high caliber of play all season is what is going to help us.”
Yet, after the defeat in Florida and with the three-seed target on their backs, teams will be gunning to take down the Big East Red Division champions at Belson Stadium. If St. John’s doesn’t lose in their first three games, they are guaranteed three home games.
“We’ve put so much time and effort into it,” junior Ryan Soroka said. “But when you have a seed, they have a little more drive to come in and beat us.”
Opening rounds begin this weekend at regional sites, then the Round of 32 begins with the 16 seeded teams. After a long and strenuous regular season and conference tournament, a high level of fitness comes into play more than ever. This is something head coach Dave Masur has stressed during his entire coaching career.
The St. John’s program has prided itself on athletic fitness, and it’s that factor that should help the Red Storm down the stretch of the College Cup.
“It’s a pretty grueling stretch of games and school,” Masur said. “So we make sure we proportion that appropriately. There are a lot of components of making sure the guys feel fresh and are on top of things.”
The team would like to resort to its greatest strength all season: the defense. St. John’s led the NCAA in goals against average for the majority of the year. Leading that crew was the 2008 Big East Defensemen of the Year, Joel Gustafsson. The junior has conformed to the Masur school of fitness.
“When I came here, I wasn’t used to all the fitness,” Gustafsson said. “Back home, it was more ball work. Now, I realize the importance of it. I feel like I’m becoming a better player because of it.”
But the thing that will drive Gustafsson the most is the do-or-die pressure that comes with the NCAA Tournament. While some may be affected by the strain of the postseason, Gustafsson and his teammates use it as inspiration.
“I don’t think you have to quiet that voice,” Gustafsson said.
“You can use it to motivate you and practice better. No one is trying to not think about it, because we know the importance of every game and we’re not afraid of what’s coming.”