Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Best kind of busy
The Tech men's soccer team is thrilled with all of the extra attention.
BLACKSBURG -- It is time for finals at Virginia Tech. But it is also time for the men's soccer final four.
The Tech men's soccer team has more than exams on its mind this week as it prepares for its first appearance in the College Cup. The Hokies are two wins away from the first NCAA team championship in any sport in the school's history.
"Sometimes you're studying and you get that feeling like, 'Wow. I'm in the final four,'" midfielder Scott Spangler said.
The 11th-seeded Hokies will face an ACC rival, second-seeded Wake Forest, in a 5 p.m. semifinal. Friday in Cary, N.C., near the North Carolina State campus.
"It's uncharted territory for everyone," midfielder Charlie Campbell said.
The Hokies (14-3-5) played a regular-season game on Fox Soccer Channel this year, but Friday's semifinal will air on a more high-profile channel -- ESPN2 -- which will also televise Sunday's 3 p.m. final.
"We have the opportunity to manifest ourselves to the entire nation, what we're made of," said junior forward Patrick Nyarko, a Ghana native. "We're pretty excited. ... We're getting to the national spotlight now."
"To play on ESPN2 is going to be pretty awesome," senior midfielder Ben Nason said. "I definitely can't wait."
They might even make the highlights on ESPN's "SportsCenter."
"One of our players could potentially be a 'Top 10 play,' " said senior defender Marcus Reed. "We could be on the other side of a 'Top 10 play.' It's something neat, something different."
Reaching the final four has great meaning to many.
"It's exciting because ... I remember watching on ESPN2 since I was maybe like 10 years old, watching the College Cup and always dreaming of going and playing in the College Cup," said Campbell, a sophomore who made a key block in last weekend's quarterfinal win at Connecticut.
Advancing to the semifinals is a big deal for the team's foreign players, too, even though the College Cup didn't mean much to them growing up.
"You realize how much it means to the coaches, how much it means to the players," said Robert Edmans, a forward from England. "It's been our goal all season to try to get silverwear, so it means the world."
To Reed, what the team has accomplished has not sunk in.
"Once we get down to that final four and we start realizing ... we're on national television, we could win a national championship if we just win two more games, I think it's going to start hitting me then," said Reed, whose team is in the NCAA tournament for the fourth time.
On Saturday, Tech won 1-0 at third-seeded Connecticut on a first-half goal by Nyarko.
The Hokies piled on top of each other at the end of the game.
"When you get the clock ticking down from 10 to 1 and then the final whistle goes, it's a beautiful feeling," Edmans said.
Although this is a quiet week on campus because of finals, the players have received feedback from students and professors.
"Everywhere you go, people congratulate you," Nyarko said. "We're pretty happy to be doing this and getting the people happy with a little diversity, not only football."
Coach Oliver Weiss had planned to spend this week on a recruiting trip in Ghana. Instead, he has been preparing for Wake Forest (20-2-2) -- and doing more interviews than usual.
"I need a publicist just to get through this week, which is not bad because we don't get much coverage," Weiss said after talking on the phone with an ESPN2 announcer.
Tech tied Wake 3-3 in Blacksburg in October. Tech is 2-9-2 in the series, with the last win coming in 1997.
Even with the biggest game in its history looming, Tech isn't taking it easy in practice. On Monday night, Nyarko -- one of the best players in the nation -- suffered a bruise on his lower right leg after getting entangled with Edmans during an intrasquad scrimmage.
Nyarko practiced Tuesday. Weiss and Nyarko each said the bruise is not serious.
"You don't need that four days before the College Cup, but it's part of the way we do things and it's part of the reason why we're successful," Weiss said.