6 hours in D.C.: CCSU, Hoyas
Women’s soccer, men’s basketball will go up against Georgetown
For the Central Connecticut State University women’s soccer team, the pressure is off.
The Blue Devils, who will face No. 1 Georgetown in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday at noon, aren’t feeling the heat while riding a 10-game winning streak down to Washington D.C. They didn’t feel the heat in the NEC Championship against St. Francis last Sunday, either.
It was the Friday leading up to the championship game — in the semifinals, against Fairleigh Dickinson — that CCSU felt the most nerves of the season.
“We knew that we had to win on Friday to get into the finals,” head coach Mick D’Arcy said. “We knew that it would be a huge anticlimax if we didn’t. I think that’s where the pressure probably was – it came with the semifinal game. I thought we handled it pretty well. The final really took care of itself.”
The Blue Devils dispatched the Knights 2-1 to advance to the conference championship and eventually the NCAA tournament. Stress, fear and anxiety are out the window as the team prepares for the Hoyas.
“Now we’re in the NCAA’s, and I don’t think there’s a whole lot of pressure on them again,” D’Arcy said. “Now we’ve got Georgetown, the No. 1 seed. I don’t think a lot of people are paying attention to us.”
Maybe no one has been paying attention to the Blue Devils, 16-1-2, but that’s how they’d prefer it, as D’Arcy says humility is this team’s strength. They haven’t lost a game since August, when they dropped a match against UConn 3-2.
The NEC is in the rear view mirror as they prepare for the Hoyas, who boast the second best winning percentage in the country at 17-0-3. They won their third straight Big East championship this season, and are currently ranked second in the United Soccer Women’s Coaches Poll, just behind Stanford.
The Blue Devils aren’t among the nation’s best from a ranking standpoint, but do have the fourth-best winning percentage in the country (.895). It was in that one loss to UConn, however, that D’Arcy claims he realized this team was different from the other squads he’d coached over his 19-year tenure at CCSU.
“After the game, I looked around and watched the mood of the team,” D’Arcy said. “There’s been years we’d gone up to UConn and lost and the team walked off with their heads held high.
“I think the overriding mood when we left UConn was that people were just (ticked) off.”
The Blue Devils spun that anger and frustration following the loss in Storrs into a 16-0-2 finish to the season, a conference championship and a shot at their first tournament win since 2003.
They’ll do so from a position they’ve rarely been in this season — as underdogs.
“You do create some confidence by winning so many games, and having the success that we’ve had,” D’Arcy said. “I think we’re going in there knowing we can play.”
The men’s basketball team, slated to play the Hoyas at 6 p.m. at the Capital One Arena, aren’t thinking about the NCAA Tournament. At 1-0 coming off a win over the University of Hartford, the Donyell Marshall-led Blue Devils are just looking to get their season off on the right foot.
Georgetown, of the Big East, is one of the most historic college basketball programs in the country. For the Blue Devils players, Saturday’s game is a oncein-a-lifetime opportunity.
“To be able to go out there and play against a Georgetown, those are the guys that our kids see on ESPN and the big channels every week,” Marshall said. “For us to be able to play guys like that, it gives them a chance to try to prove themselves.”
This of course isn’t Marshall’s first bout with Georgetown. With UConn from 1991-94, Marshall and the Huskies battled the Hoyas in Big East play. Marshall averaged 25.1 points and helped beat the Hoyas 77-65 in 1994. He got elbowed in the face in the first half of that game, suffered a bloody lip, and his teammates wanted to get physical with the Hoyas. He had other plans.
“No, don’t worry about it, I’ll handle it on the court,” Marshall said. “And I remember coming back in the second half, just getting on fire, lighting it up. And we ended up winning the game.”
For the Blue Devils, winning the game against this Georgetown team would be ideal, obviously, but a chance to see where they stand against one of the nation’s best could be just as valuable for them come conference play.
“In the past years for us, we’ve had good experiences,” Marshall said. “Our guys have played tough against this bigger competition. At the end of the day, it’s something they can tell their kids, their grandkids.
“If you get the win, tell them even more.”