Arkansas puts NCAA perfection on the line in Raleigh

By: Matt Jones
Published: Friday, November 10, 2017
Arkansas' Jessi Hartzler (from left), Kayla McKeon, Lindsey Mayo and Cailee Dennis celebrate as Memphis' Valerie Sanderson (near) watches on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016, after Mayo's game-winning goal in their NCAA tournament first round game at Razorback Field in Fayetteville.
Photo by Jason Ivester
Arkansas' Jessi Hartzler (from left), Kayla McKeon, Lindsey Mayo and Cailee Dennis celebrate as Memphis' Valerie Sanderson (near) watches on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016, after Mayo's game-winning goal in their NCAA tournament first round game at Razorback Field in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — A streak of perfection will be on the line Saturday when Arkansas plays at North Carolina State in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament.

The Razorbacks’ brief history in the tournament includes an undefeated record in the opening round. Arkansas is 3-0 in first-round games since its first tournament appearance in 2013.

“We’re a team that is built well for tournament play,” said Colby Hale, Arkansas' sixth-year coach who is 9-5-4 in postseason games, including the SEC Tournament where the Razorbacks finished runner-up last week. “The team is extremely confident when we get to (the postseason). Our style of play is very difficult to prepare for, so I would think that’s a challenge for NC State and any team that plays us.”

Arkansas at NC State

WHAT: NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament, First Round

WHEN: Saturday, Noon

WHERE: Dail Soccer Field, Raleigh, N.C.

TV: ACC Network Extra via ESPN3.com and the WatchESPN app

RECORDS: Arkansas 11-10-2; NC State 14-5-1

COACHES: Arkansas: Colby Hale (68-51-12, 6th season); NC State: Tim Santoro (36-55-5, 5th season)

Notable: NC State coach Tim Santoro and Arkansas coach Colby Hale were on opposing sidelines in the Elite Eight of the 2011 NCAA Tournament - Santoro as an assistant at Wake Forest and Hale as an assistant at Central Florida. Wake Forest won 3-0….Sophomore Tziarra King, who leads the Wolfpack with 14 goals and 34 points, was named First-Team All-ACC….NC State is playing its first home game in the NCAA Tournament….Arkansas-NC State is one of three SEC-ACC matchups in the first round. The conferences have a combined 17 teams in the tournament; SEC 9, ACC 8.

Arkansas won 2-1 at Oklahoma State in its first tournament game in 2013 and 3-2 in overtime at Oklahoma in 2014.

The perfect NCAA first-round record was in jeopardy last November when Arkansas trailed Memphis 1-0 with less than three minutes remaining in Fayetteville, but a relentless offensive attack finally led to a Jessi Hartzler goal in the 88th minute to tie the game. Arkansas scored again three minutes into overtime to win 2-1.

“Our team just prides ourselves on our work,” Hartzler said. “A lot of times in these games, it comes down to heart and not necessarily talent on the field.”

“That’s something we talk about a lot; How bad do you want it?” goalkeeper Jordan Harris said. “We go into those games with that mentality.”

North Carolina State coach Tim Santoro said he has noticed Arkansas’ effort in the game film he has studied this week.

“Their work ethic is so good and they compete, and that’s something you can’t really coach,” Santoro said. “When you have a team that competes that hard and that fights, and that doesn’t give up…it’s just tough. There are a lot of qualities in the women’s game that make that hard to play against because they are not natural qualities you see in a lot of women’s teams.”

NC State could be the Razorbacks’ most difficult opening-round opponent in the tournament. The Wolfpack lost 1-0 to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament semifinals, one of five losses to teams that made this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Among the ACC teams to beat the Wolfpack this season were NCAA No. 1 seeds North Carolina and Duke, and No. 4 seed Florida State. Virginia, which played NC State to a scoreless tie, is a No. 3 seed.

“The ACC, we argue, is the best conference, and I’m sure (Hale) would argue the same for the SEC,” Santoro said. “Those schedules prepare you for these moments.”

NC State is 9-1-1 this season at home, with the lone loss coming to Princeton, the No. 4 seed in the same bracket. The winner of the Arkansas-NC State game will play either Princeton or Monmouth next week, likely on North Carolina’s campus in Chapel Hill.

“Sometimes you get caught up playing the same teams over and over, so it’s kind of fun to go play someone you don’t know a lot about,” Hale said. “Ultimately it will be about us and our ability to prepare well, and keep doing what we’re doing.”

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