Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Razorbacks looking for better than 2nd round finish
Arkansas coach Colby Hale watches a first round NCAA Tournament game against Arkansas-Little Rock on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — The previous two times the Arkansas soccer team hosted a first-round NCAA Tournament game, its season came to an end in the next round against a team from the ACC.
Coming off a 3-0 first-round victory over North Texas at Razorback Field last week, Arkansas is hopeful to end that pattern when it plays North Carolina State on Thursday at 4 p.m. Central on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah.
The Razorbacks never have defeated an ACC team in the NCAA Tournament, and have been eliminated by an ACC team four times in the past five seasons.
Arkansas lost to Virginia Tech in double overtime last season in the second round; to North Carolina State in the 2017 first round; to Clemson in penalty kicks in the 2016 second round; and to Duke in penalty kicks in the 2014 third round. All four games were played in North Carolina at sites hosted by an ACC team, including on the North Carolina State campus in Raleigh two years ago.
Arkansas vs. NC State
WHAT NCAA Soccer Tournament second round
WHEN 4 p.m. Central
WHERE South Field, Provo, Utah
RECORDS Arkansas 17-3-2; North Carolina State 11-6-4
NOTEWORTHY North Carolina State finished fifth in the ACC during the regular season with a conference record of 4-2-4. … Arkansas has recorded 13 shutouts this season, a school record. … Arkansas Coach Colby Hale won his 100th career game with last week’s first-round victory. Hale was initially credited with his 99th victory, but a discrepancy was discovered in the Razorbacks’ record book that had shorted him a victory during the 2015 season.
“They were good teams,” Arkansas Coach Colby Hale said, “but I think we’re a different team this year, too.”
The Razorbacks (17-3-2) are looking to make it past the second round for the second time in program history and first time since 2014.
North Carolina State (11-6-4) defeated Navy 3-0 in its tournament opener last week. The Wolfpack have won five of their past six matches, with the only loss during that time coming to North Carolina in the semifinal round of the ACC Tournament on Nov. 8.
North Carolina, which suffered its only loss of the season to the Razorbacks in September, is one of three common opponents for Arkansas and NC State, along with South Carolina and Minnesota. The Razorbacks were 1-2-1 in games against those teams, and the Wolfpack were 0-4.
“We watched a lot of the North Carolina game,” Hale said. “We watched a lot of video. We’ve got a pretty good feel for who they are. They’re a good soccer team.”
Hale said the teams have different styles. Arkansas will try to speed the game up, while NC State will try to slow it down.
“It will be a tempo game,” he said. “It will be interesting to see who can control the tempo.”
The Razorbacks were dominant in their tournament victory over North Texas, Hale said. Arkansas outshot the Mean Green 26-1, and put North Texas away with two goals in the final nine minutes.
“The first game is always tough,” Arkansas goalkeeper Katie Lund said afterward, “… so getting over this hurdle was great for us, and moving forward we have some good momentum.”
The winner of Thursday’s game will play again in Provo on Saturday in the 16-team round of the tournament against either BYU or Louisville. The Cougars and Cardinals are scheduled to play at 7 p.m. Central Thursday.
BYU (19-0-1) is the only unbeaten team in this year’s tournament and was the No. 2 seed in its bracket, which gave it home-field advantage through the tournament’s first three rounds.
Arkansas, the No. 3 seed in the bracket, was hopeful for a No. 2 seed after winning the SEC regular-season title and finishing the regular season with an RPI of No. 6.
“They’re pretty ticked,” Hale said of his team. “I think they’re pretty motivated to try to show people that we were a two seed.”
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