November 23, 2012
ANOTHER ONE FOR THE ROAD?
FDU men will try to make it 3 straight road wins as it visits North Carolina in NCAA Sweet 16 Sunday
By Michael Lewis
|Jack McVey leads FDU with six goals.
Photo courtesy of FDU SID
Unseeded Fairleigh Dickinson University will try to continue its improbable road run through the NCAA Division I men's tournament on Sunday when the Knights visit the University of North Carolina, the ninth-seeded side.
But don't say the word improbable to coach Seth Roland. He has seen his team play and train this season and has seen the Knights become a respected team to be reckoned with.
FDU's last great run in the NCAA tournament came in 2001 when the Knights reached the Elite Eight before losing to the Tar Heels in extratime.
"You know, the crazy thing is, in 2001 it seemed completely like a fairy tale or a magical run. It was so improbable," Roland said earlier this week. "Is it serendipitous now? Yes. But is it a total shock to me? I'd say absolutely not. I'd say we knew we had the potential to be a very good team this year.
"There were times during the season; it was like, 'Oy, we're not going to be very good.' While you're sorting through things, I see a little light at the end of the tunnel. I think maybe we can be good. Then the second half of the season we hit stride. Our guys were very committed to the NEC [Northeast Conference] championship."
That's when the Knights defeat Monmouth in the semifinals and Saint Francis (Pa.) in the final via penalty kicks.
"It kind of hardens you," Roland said. "It puts a notch or two in your belt as far as mental toughness goes and you believe you can find a way to win."
The Knights (11-5-6), coming off road victories at St. John's and Saint Louis, will try to find another way to win in Chapel Hill, N.C. at 5 p.m. ET.
The Tar Heels (15-3-3) will offer another challenge for the Knights, who have been playing with confidence and focus the past recently, Roland said.
"You can't be shaking in your boots," he said. "You have to be able to step up in their faces and put them under pressure. They like and space. They're very technical. They're a good possession team, very athletic in the back with an experienced goalkeeper and very technically gifted midfielders and attack players. It's going to be a real challenge. We like how we're playing. We feel if we can just keep doing what we're doing, that anyone is up for grabs."
If FDU wins, it will reach the Elite Eight against the winner of top-seeded Notre Dame and 16th-seeded Indiana next weekend.
The Knights were forced to play first- and second-round road games within four days, not an easy feat. They defeated 18th-ranked St. John's, 1-0, on Thursday, Nov. 15, before pulling off another surprise with a 2-1 extratime win at Saint Louis on Sunday, Nov. 18.
"Going into St. John's -- I have a tremendous respect for Dave [Masur, the coach] and his program and his players -- arguably they're like Nolan Richardson's Arkansas basketball teams of 15 years ago, playing 40 minutes of hell. They try to pressure you all over the field. We have a lot of respect for them and their program. Yet, we were confident. We felt if we can dig our heels in from the start that we could prevail. From the opening whistle, we competed hard and competed well and we won and we were deserving winners."
Next was eighth-seeded Saint Louis University on Sunday, Nov. 18.
"We are definitely confident, but . . . . no sense of overconfidence," Roland said. "We are just confident we can get the job done and we are playing well. We go out there and from the opening whistle we're playing really well. We were unlucky not to be up two-nil at the half. Their keeper made two or three outstanding saves.
"We come up in the second half, it was going back and forth. As most good teams, they had us on our heels after we took the lead. Most good teams playing at home when they're down a goal, they're going to put you on your heels. But we were pretty resilient as we were in both cases. We bent, but didn't break. When Saint Louis tied us, there was no panic. We were very composed and just competed."
The key to the Knights' success has been playing solid team defense and sharing the wealth on scoring.
Over the past 14 games -- which included six consecutive shutouts -- FDU has registered an 8-1-5 mark, allowing only eight goals while scoring 15.
"That's a credit to our goalkeeper, who has been outstanding," Roland said of junior Jacob Lissek, who has a 0.93 goals-against average and 10 shutouts.
Roland added that team has been "defending all over the field in a coherent and cohesive manner. A lot of it is the way we have been pressuring teams and defending as a team. And a lot of it has been the way we have been able to establish a rhythm and keep the ball.”
Lissek has recorded 10 shutouts, to tie the school record of 21, with another year of eligibility remaining.
Lissek, Roland said, has "really come into his own this year. He's really has a good presence about him as very good shot stopper, especially as a guy 6-foot-three. He's playing with a lot of confidence. He's been doing a great job."
The other strength is the midfield.
Senior Jack McVey, who hails from the Isle of Man, England, is the Knights' leading goal-scorer with six, as his game-winner vs. Saint Louis was his first since Sept. 28). Freshman Jan Aubert of Norway is next with five goals (tied with Jamaican forward Nico Wright). Senior Anthony Moore (two goals, seven assists), also from the Isle of Man, and sophomore Anders Vest-Hansen of Denmark comprise the rest of the midfield.
"Those three have helped us establish a tempo of the game," said Roland, who also praised the play of Wright, who "has been doing a great job in the NCAA tournament, holding the ball, keeping it for us, helping us get forward."
It has all fallen together for the Knights.
Asked how far his team can go in the tournament, Roland replied, "I'll give you the proverbial coach- speak. We just make it one step at a time. A couple of weeks ago, it might have been difficult for people to imagine being in the position we are in now. We took care of business. Now it's North Carolina. We feel we can take care of business, but we have to prove it and do it on the soccer field. If we can do that, then we will be even more confident going into the Elite Eight. Carolina presents a challenge, an obstacle, one that we look forward testing ourselves with."