The biggest news of the night came when the Crimson men’s soccer team learned its seeding in the 2006 NCAA Championship Tournament. The Crimson, afforded the opportunity to host its first round game, will be playing Saturday at Ohiri Field against America East champions Binghamton University (9-6-5).
Playing in its first NCAA tournament since 2001, Harvard enters this year’s tournament with little experience on the national stage. The inexperience presented itself in an unexpected way yesterday.
“We all watched [the seeding presentation] together but funny enough, we had turned on the program five minutes late and missed our seeding,” captain Charles Altchek said. “We had to rewind it on TiVo to watch it.”
Two days after winnings its 12th Ivy League championship (and first since 1996), the Crimson also piled up accolades from media outlets around the nation.
First, the Ivy League honored Altchek as Player of the Week, freshman defender Kwaku Nyamekye as the Rookie of the Week, and junior midfielder Matt Hoff on its Honor Roll. Sensational freshman forward André Akpan—who led the league with 32 points—was also honored by Top Drawer Soccer as the National Rookie of the Year.
Winning the Ivy title gave the Crimson an automatic entry into the 48-team tournament. The NCAA selection committee grants every conference winner an automatic bid and selects 26 additional ‘at-large’ teams. The only other Ivy team in the tournament, Brown University, received one of these bids. The committee picks the top 16 teams of the tournament and grants each of them a first round bye.
Going into the last weekend’s season finale, Harvard was ranked 17th by Adidas/NSCAA National Poll and had an outside chance of gaining a first-round bye. Although the Crimson wasn’t awarded a bye, the team was not disappointed.
“We thought we might get lucky, but I think we’re in a perfect spot,” Altchek said. “If we had a first round bye, we would’ve played a home game on Wednesday and especially at Harvard, with classes and such, it would be tough for fans to come out and see the game.”
The Crimson squad certainly doesn’t seemed deterred by its tournament position, being placed in the same bracket as eighth-seeded UCLA and the No. 1 team overall, Duke University—a team Harvard lost to by only one goal earlier in the season.
“We’re going to embrace the challenge,” Altchek said. “If [our seeding] means we have to play another game to get to the final four then so be it. All the guys are excited and I don’t think anyone’s intimidated.”
Standing in the Crimson’s way towards national prominence are the Binghamton Bearcats. The America East champions earned their spot in the NCAA tournament by defeating Vermont 1-0 in overtime of their conference championship game. Harvard has some familiarity with America East teams, having played two of its teams, Vermont and Maine. Both contests resulted in victories for the Crimson, and it looks to continue the success against the Bearcats.
“It’s difficult to put a [conference’s teams] together in one category,” Harvard coach John Kerr said. “They’re all different teams and each feature different styles of play. Because we’ve never played them, it’ll be difficult to prepare for them. But we have to stay focused and make sure we prepare like we have all season.”
If Harvard wins this weekend, they would get the opportunity to travel across the country and play the Bruins (10-5-4). While the team is certainly aiming to continue their remarkable season all the way to the sweet city of St. Louis—for this year’s Final Four—the team remains focused on the task at hand against Binghamton.
“It’s our biggest game yet and we’re hoping we can get a lot of people to cheer,” Altchek said. “We’ve had great fan support all season and we hope to get as many people around the fences as possible.”