Paul Boyd is a sports reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was voted Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2018.
Razorbacks earn No. 2 seed in NCAA Tournament
Arkansas' Parker Goins is shown during an NCAA Tournament game against East Carolina on Saturday, May 1, 2021, in Greenville, N.C. (Photo by Steven Sepulveda, ECU Athletics)
The University of Arkansas women’s soccer team earned a No. 2 seed, the highest in school history, and could host its first three matches in the NCAA Tournament as the field was announced Monday afternoon.
Arkansas (16-4) will face Southland Conference tournament champion Northwestern (La.) State at Razorback Field in the opening round. The date and time have not been officially announced, but the match will be played either Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
The Razorbacks, ranked fifth in the United Soccer Coaches’ Poll, lost 3-0 to Tennessee in the finals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Sunday. It was the sixth straight loss for Arkansas in the tournament title game.
Arkansas coach Colby Hale said it’s possible the Razorbacks missed out on a No. 1 seed by losing in the tournament final, but he pointed to the possible home-field advantage throughout the Sweet 16 round as being a bigger deal. The Razorbacks have never played more than one round at home in the NCAA Tournament.
“I can’t imagine anyone’s pumped to come to Razorback Field on a Friday night and play us in a one off,” Hale said. “Everyone in America would probably say that this is one of the toughest places to play in America, so it’s massive. So to have the potential of three home games, it’s huge. You could not say how big it is.
“The difference in a 1 and 2 (seed) isn’t much. The difference in a 2 and a 3 is enormous. A 3 seed hosts one game, while a 2 seed hosts a minimum of three.”
Arkansas, which won its third straight SEC regular-season title this season, is 19-3-1 at home over the last three seasons and 6-1 against ranked opponents since 2018.
Hale isn’t a fan of the conference tournament format, playing three or four matches in less than a week.
“That’s not how soccer is meant to be played,” Hale said. “We’re not really built for that third game, but that’s not what the NCAA Tournament is. That’s what we’re built for. The vibe’s really good, actually, and they’re excited for it.”
Senior Parker Goins, this year’s SEC Midfielder of the Year and an All-SEC first-team selection for the third time, said the NCAA Tournament format is a better fit for the Razorbacks.
“We play with such high intensity and our pressing, not many teams do it,” Goins said. “Just being able to play it over the course of a few weeks is to our advantage, I believe.”
Arkansas will be making its sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and eighth in 10 years under Hale. It lost in the Sweet 16 a year ago to eventual national champion Santa Clara. It was also the second time in school history the Razorbacks made the Sweet 16.
Northwestern (La.) State (12-5-2) defeated Incarnate Word 1-0 in the Southland Conference tournament finals to secure the league’s automatic berth. It is the Lady Demons’ first tournament appearance since 2005 and fifth tournament title in school history.
With a win, the Razorbacks would host the Virginia Tech/Ohio State winner in the second round.
Hale said he doesn’t know much about the Lady Demons, who also won the Southland Conference regular-season title. Hale will begin to find out more quickly, but he has confidence in his team.
“We haven’t obviously seen too much of them, but they won their conference,” Hale said. “We’ll start watching and get a sense of who they are. Anyone who won their conference is going to be good.
“My initial take is we’re good enough to beat anyone, but we've got to play hard to do it. The ball is in our court a little bit.”
The Women’s College Cup is scheduled for Dec. 3 and 5 at Stevens Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.