No need for a glass slipper
Charlotte heads into semifinal with experience and confidence
HOOVER, Ala. – Cut out the talk about a glass slipper and crashing the ball. That’s the message from unseeded Charlotte heading into the NCAA Men’s College Cup.
Friday at 6 p.m. ET, the 49ers face a second-seeded Creighton team making the program’s fourth College Cup and 19th NCAA tournament appearances. The winner plays top-seeded North Carolina or No. 13-seed UCLA at 4 p.m. Sunday in the championship match.
“We’ve seen stuff about a Cinderella story, this and that, about not being seeded and all these high-ranked teams,” said Tyler Gibson, a redshirt sophomore midfielder. “Those are just names in the past that have done well. This is a completely new year. This whole season we’ve played great teams, highly-ranked teams and done well against them. We are just ready to compete.”
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It’s still the seventh NCAA tournament and second College Cup appearance for the Charlotte program, including a 1996 tournament run when the 49ers became the first Conference USA team in any sport to reach the national semifinals. As the only nationally-ranked team in the Atlantic 10 this season, Charlotte (16-4-3) lost in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament but defeated four ranked teams, including third-seeded Connecticut, to reach the College Cup.
Senior defender Isaac Cowles said “it wasn’t much of a disappointment” that the 49ers did not receive a national seed.
“I think it actually helped us, because after losing at conference, we were so eager and ready to play as quick as possible,” he said. “We just needed to prove to ourselves that we could win and win against anybody.”
Now, the 49ers face their first Missouri Valley Conference opponent this season and a legendary coach in Elmar Bolowich, who is in his first season at Creighton after spending 22 seasons at North Carolina and leading the Tar Heels to the 2001 national championship.
“At this point seeded or unseeded, Charlotte has done their homework to be here so they deserve it,” he said. “They play with a lot of confidence.”
Bolowich’s squad also has confidence. The Blue Jays (21-2-0) enter on an 11-match winning streak and are one of the nation’s top defensive teams with a 0.21 goals against average.
Senior forward Ethan Finlay, a two-time Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year and MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist, said composure is the name of the game at this stage.
“The first 10-15 minutes are going to be fast,” Finlay said. “They’re going to be energetic and high paced. At that point, it’s about which team can start to dominate and dominate the other team, which team can get composed and play its game and not play out of themselves, because of the stage, all the fans and the TV. It’s knowing yourself and that it’s just another soccer game.”
Finlay leads the Bluejays with 14 goals and six assists. MVC Goalkeeper of the Year and MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist Brian Holt set an NCAA record with his 43rd career shutout in the quarterfinal win against South Florida.
Charlotte’s leading scorer, A-10 Rookie of the Year Giuseppe Gentile, has three goals and an assist in tournament and leads his team in goals (10) and shots (67).
The 49ers defeated UAB in nearby Birmingham in an NCAA second round last month.
“We talked about it and decided that we had some choices to make about whether we fancied coming back down here in a couple of week’s time,” Charlotte coach Jeremy Gunn said. “Luckily, the players had enough fun down here that they wanted to come back.”
If the shoe fits.