The whirlwind continued for a tired East Tennessee State soccer team, but nobody was complaining.
Less than 24 hours after winning the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament in Fort Myers, Fla., ETSU drew a first-round NCAA tournament matchup with Coastal Carolina.
The pairings were announced Monday, and the team, fresh off a 15-hour bus ride, gathered at Beef O’Brady’s to watch.
The Bucs beat North Florida, 3-1, on Sunday for their second A-Sun title. They improved to 10-5-4 and will travel to Conway, S.C., on Thursday for a 7 p.m. game against a Coastal Carolina team that went 17-4 and won the Big South championship. The winner plays at Charlotte in the second round.
“It’s an incredibly quick turn around,” ETSU coach Scott Calabrese said. “You go from the high of playing and winning a trophy and then immediately you have to get ready to play again. The one thing we can say is we’re champions of the A-Sun. No matter what happens from here on, it’s something we can hang onto.”
The Bucs’ A-Sun championship might have come with a cost. David Geno, the program’s all-time leading scorer, left the game with an injury to a left foot that required surgery during the offseason. He broke a bone in the foot one game after scoring four goals for the Seattle Sounders U23 team and had a screw inserted. He also missed the start of the collegiate season while healing.
Initial X-rays were encouraging, Geno said, but he was on crutches on Monday.
“There’s no damage to the screw, so that looks good,” Geno said. “We’re going to do another X-ray and see how it is.”
Should the injury keep him out of action this week, the senior from Kingsport likely will have played his final game in an ETSU uniform.
“That wouldn’t be ideal, but we have a good team,” Geno said. “It doesn’t matter who is out there, the level is gonna be high so we’ll perform well.”
Calabrese was still taking a hope-for-the-best approach.
“We don’t know what it is yet,” he said. “It’s still up in the air. It would be disappointing if David couldn’t play. I would be disappointed for David. We would miss him, but we have played with a lot of different teams this year.”
Nate Hodges, whose goal opened the scoring in the A-Sun final, said the Bucs fully expected to be in this position.
“It’s just been a whirlwind for us, winning the game and coming back,” said Hodges, the A-Sun’s defender of the year. “At the same time, we expected to win. I’m just trying to keep the boys calm and make sure they play with quality. Hopefully I can lead them in that direction and that way we can have a real chance at it without being nervous.
“It’s definitely a bigger stage, but I don’t see why we can’t bring quality and confidence because we have so many seniors here. Obviously Coastal Carolina is a good squad. They’ve only lost four games and they’ve played 21. But we’re a good team too so we’ll see what happens.”
As the NCAA pairings began to go up on the screen, a couple of potential opponents passed by. Some thought ETSU might get Elon or Clemson. When those two schools were matched against each other, a murmur swept through the room. Other potential matchups came and went.
Finally, East Tennessee State was listed among the field of 48 and cheers erupted.
“That was brilliant to see that,” said ETSU goalkeeper Ryan Coulter, who broke the A-Sun career record for shutouts this year. “It just sinks in when your team is up there with all the big teams in the nation. If I learned anything from my time here it’s that was can compete with anybody.”
It will be the first meeting between ETSU and Coastal Carolina.
“All we know is they’ve been Big South champions on a number of occasions,” Calabrese said. “They have an excellent team. They have a history of going to the NCAA tournament and a they have a history of success. They’re one of the better teams in our region. I think it’s a great matchup.”
The Bucs lost to the College of Charleston in 2010 in their only other NCAA appearance. This will be Coastal Carolina’s 11th trip to the NCAA tournament. The Chanticleers, who are 7-1 at home this season, won two games in last year’s tournament.
After the pairings were announced, Calabrese passed around two rings to his team. One was his A-Sun championship ring from 2010. The other was a 2001 national championship ring from his time at North Carolina.
“I think we have a team that’s better prepared, more mature,” Calabrese said. “We’re able to play in tough environments. This is going to be exciting.”