What did it mean for Jordan Branch when Washington State’s name went up on the NCAA women’s soccer bracket last week?
“It meant that all our hard work meant something,” said Branch, a senior defender who will end her career with another spot in the postseason.
That’s the expectation for a program that has reached the NCAAs eight of the last 10 seasons. It means even more after the Cougars missed out last year.
“That just made us super determined to get back,” said junior goalkeeper Ella Dederick, who will lead WSU into a first-round match Saturday at 4 p.m. at Central Florida.
“We were just super determined to get back in,” Dederick said.
The Cougars (9-7-3 overall) gutted their way through a brutal Pac-12 schedule to earn at-large berth against the eighth-ranked and No. 2-seeded Knights (13-1-3).
“That’s something we will take into this match,” third-year WSU coach Todd Shulenberger said. “We can’t get wait to get away from this Pac-12 gauntlet and play someone new.”
On the other hand, the Knights have Pac-12 talent, Shulenberger said.
UCF, which won the American Athletic Conference regular season, has won 22 league titles and enters the tournament on a 16-match unbeaten streak. The Knights are playing in their 21st NCAA Tournament.
“They’re a very good team, very athletic,” Shulenberger said.
The Knights, who enter the tournament on a 16-match unbeaten streak, will be playing in their 21st NCAA Tournament and their first as a No. 2 seed.
UCF has moved on to the second round in seven of its last nine NCAA Championship tournament appearances. The Knights advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2014.
The Cougars will counter with an opportunistic offense and a defense that’s posted nine shutouts, which ranks 12th in the nation. WSU has conceded just 15 goals all season.
WSU is 2-8-3 in the NCAA tournament, last advancing to the second round in 2011 after moving on with penalty kicks over Kentucky after a 1-1 draw in double overtime.
The winner will face Tennessee or Murray State. The second round and Sweet 16 will be held Friday and Nov. 19.