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Tech soccer earns first NCAA tournament berth in program history

Posted: November 5, 2012 - 5:34pm  |  Updated: November 6, 2012 - 1:07am
Texas Tech soccer reacts after making the NCAA Tournament field on Monday in Lubbock. The Red Raiders make the tournament for the first time in program history and will host North Texas on Saturday night in Lubbock. (Zach Long)  Zach Long
Zach Long
Texas Tech soccer reacts after making the NCAA Tournament field on Monday in Lubbock. The Red Raiders make the tournament for the first time in program history and will host North Texas on Saturday night in Lubbock. (Zach Long)

After seeing Monday morning’s rankings, Texas Tech soccer coach Tom Stone knew his Red Raider soccer team was going to be in the NCAA tournament.

Sitting pretty as the No. 22 team in the nation in the latest RPI ranking, all Stone had to do was sit back, relax and watch “Texas Tech” float across the screen.

When the Double T finally did get put in one of the brackets on Monday afternoon — after 60 schools before it had been placed — Stone watched his team’s euphoric celebration.

“You just want it for them,” said Stone, now in his sixth year at Tech. “You just want to see them experience something great and achieve something that they’ve worked so hard for. And they belong in this event.

“So for them to come through when they needed to and to have stepped up in the big moments and lived through pressure-packed games and won some huge games, It’s just really great to see them get what they deserve.”

Tech will host Sun Belt Conference champion North Texas (16-4-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday at the John Walker Soccer Complex for the first NCAA tourney game in program history.

The Red Raiders (15-5-1) set a number of program highs this season — including most wins in a season and first win at the Big 12 Conference tournament — but it all started with the seniors, Stone said.

A number of players came to Tech when the Red Raiders were bottom feeders in the Big 12 to build the program, and without them, Tech’s name never would have crossed the screen on Monday afternoon.

Senior Dawn Ward scored 13 goals as a freshman, but only had six goals her next two seasons as younger players moved past her on the depth chart.

But Ward took on a new mentality this year as a senior and has been a catalyst for the Red Raiders — the exact kind of mindset a postseason team needs.

“It’s all about the team,” said Ward, who scored game-winning goals against Texas and twice against Kansas. “It used to be, when I was going through some struggles, it was just about me. In order to become a winning team, you have to give your heart and soul to the team and not be focusing on (yourself).”

Tech junior goalkeeper Victoria Esson also had to have a quick change in the way she thought about soccer when she came to Tech.

The talented New Zealander transferred from her home country to Tech two years ago, she said, sat out a year because of transfer rules and then earned a starting spot last season.

Esson and the Red Raiders had to learn last season not to take any games off, as one of the most talented group of Red Raiders was still left out of the postseason.

“I think the biggest thing that I learned was that we can’t throw away games early in the season, especially in non-conference,” Esson said, “because that comes back to bite us later on and that’s exactly what happened to us last year.”

The top 16 teams, as determined by the selection committee, are seeded, with four-seeded teams in each of the 16-team brackets.

The winner of Saturday’s game will play either No. 1 seed Florida State or unseeded Mississippi State Nov. 16 or Nov. 18 in a site still to-be-determined.

The Red Raiders and Mean Green two teams last faced in 2010, a 1-0 Red Raider victory in Lubbock.

That season was the first Stone watched the selection show at Tech, a sign of things to come.

“These kids have worked so hard,” Stone said. “You want it for them more than anything else, and to watch them be able to rejoice in each other and celebrate each other’s impact on the season was a wonderful thing.”

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