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Washington State, Eastern Washington advance to NCAA women’s soccer tournament

UPDATED: Mon., Nov. 6, 2017, 8:26 p.m.

Eastern’s M’Kenna Hayes, center, grins as she congratulates Chloe Williams on a goal during the Eagles’ 3-0 win over Northern Colorado in the Big Sky Conference title match on Sunday. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern’s M’Kenna Hayes, center, grins as she congratulates Chloe Williams on a goal during the Eagles’ 3-0 win over Northern Colorado in the Big Sky Conference title match on Sunday. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Looking for a little respect, the Washington State and Eastern Washington soccer teams both found some during Monday’s bracket unveiling for the NCAA College Cup.

For the Eagles, it was a No. 14 seed – a rare achievement for a team from the Big Sky Conference – and a rematch Saturday with defending champion USC.

For the Cougars, it came simply from making the 64-team field – a reward for playing one of the toughest schedules in the country.

“We all felt we deserved it, but you never know,” said WSU coach Todd Shulenberger, whose club spent three anxious days before earning a date at Central Florida on Saturday.

“We were excited, but a little nervous for sure,” added Shulenberger.

The Cougars finished only 9-7-3 overall and 4-6-1 in the Pac-12, but the committee looked beyond the numbers and saw what Shulenberger did: that WSU was better than its record.

In all, seven Pac-12 teams made the field, including No. 8 UCLA, whom the Cougars beat 1-0 in Pullman on Oct. 19. Two days later, they narrowly fell to USC, 2-1.

“Every day is a war in the Pac-12,” Shulenberger said. “There is no rest in practice or in games, and that’s something we’ll take into the NCAAs.

The Cougars also will take a staunch defense. WSU earned 10 shutouts this year, 12th most in the nation.

Central Florida (13-1-3) won the American Athletic Association championship.

If WSU wins, it will play Tennessee or Murray State in the second round.

Meanwhile, Eastern’s spot in the field was safe after they won their second straight Big Sky Conference title at home on Sunday.

With a school-record 16 wins, the Eagles were hoping for a decent seed - and got it, albeit against the defending champs.

Last year, the Eagles gave USC a decent game before falling 3-1 in Los Angeles.

With a return trip, “a lot of the uncertainties are out of it,” Eastern coach Chad Bodnar said. “We can work on some things, and we know the field, so now we can work on a game plan to give ourselves a result.”

This year the Eagles set program records for the longest unbeaten streak (11 matches) and scored a school-record 47 goals, which ranks sixth in the nation.

If Eastern knocks off the Trojans, it would play Baylor or Rice in the second round.

The College Cup will take place at the new Orlando City Soccer Stadium from Dec. 1-3.