6 hours in D.C.: CCSU, Hoyas

Women’s soc­cer, men’s bas­ket­ball will go up against Georgetown

Hartford Courant - - Sports - By Shawn McFar­land sm­c­far­land@courant.com

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.”

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