FAYETTEVILLE -- Excitement turned to anxiety, then relief, in a matter of minutes Monday inside the Arkansas soccer team meeting room.
The Razorbacks were confident they would receive an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament, but they were left hanging until the final moments of the tournament selection show. Their name was the 59th of 64 unveiled, creating an audible sigh of relief that was followed by applause.
The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (11-10-2) will play at North Carolina State (14-5-2) in the first round of the tournament at noon Saturday in Raleigh, N.C. The Razorbacks are in the NCAA field for the second consecutive season and fourth time since 2013.
"It's out of your hands and anything can happen in those [selection committee] rooms," Arkansas Coach Colby Hale said. "Every publication had us in, and I don't even think we were a bubble team, but you never know.
"I'm excited for them. They have certainly earned this, and I think we're peaking at the right time."
The Razorbacks were the last of nine SEC teams unveiled during the selection show. Arkansas players were "90 percent sure" they would receive an at-large bid, senior defender Jessi Hartzler said, after a runner-up finish at the SEC Tournament, where the Razorbacks became the first team since the tournament was expanded to advance to the championship game after playing in the first round.
Arkansas won three games at the tournament in Orange Beach, Ala., including 1-0 over South Carolina in the quarterfinals. The Gamecocks are one of four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA field.
The Razorbacks' run bumped their RPI from No. 50 at the beginning of the SEC Tournament to No. 41 in the NCAA's final RPI released Monday.
"Winning in the SEC is a battle and a grind, so I think being able to overcome that this past week really meant a lot for our team," Hartzler said. "Earlier in the season we were struggling to find a way to win.
"This last week shows that when our backs are against the wall we just like to compete and have fun."
Arkansas played 13 of its 23 games against teams that made the tournament, with a record of 4-7-2 in those games.
Ten of the Razorbacks top 12 goal scorers are freshmen or sophomores.
"We had so many new faces and players; we played well, but I didn't feel like we were quite a team," Hale said. "Ultimately, I think we came together in Orange Beach. We'll get some rest, which we need, but there is no team in the country that will be playing as well as we are right now."
North Carolina State lost 1-0 to North Carolina -- another No. 1 in the NCAA field -- in the ACC Tournament semifinals Friday. Like the Razorbacks, the Wolfpack are in the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year. NC State advanced to the Sweet 16 last year.
NC State is 9-1-1 at home this season, with the lone loss coming to Princeton on Sept. 2.The winner of the game between the Razorbacks and Wolfpack will play the winner of a first-round matchup between Princeton and Monmouth the next weekend, likely at North Carolina's home field in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Arkansas' season ended last year with a second-round round loss to Clemson in penalty kicks at Chapel Hill, which is about 25 miles from the NC State campus.
"It's bittersweet to be back there," Hartzler said. "We're really looking forward to the opportunity."
Sports on 11/07/2017
Print Headline: UA sweats out bid to NCAA soccer tournament