Five And Fighting

A last-minute equalizer, a penalty-kick upset and the Tritons’ first conference title in three seasons have propelled UCSD to its 13th program appearance at the NCAA Division II West Regionals.

The Tritons will be hosting the six-team Regional — a precursor to the Final Four held in Evans, Ga. — Nov. 8 —10. UCSD goes in with the second-seed, behind first-seed CCAA opponent Sonoma State, a team the Tritons overcame in the CCAA title match. The No. 3 seed goes to Seattle Pacific University, a member of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, who will face sixth-seeded Brigham Young University-Hawaii today at Triton Soccer Stadium.

“Obviously we’d like to be first-seed, but I think it worked out for us,” UCSD senior forward captain Gabi Hernandez said. “It’s fine with us, though; we’d rather play two new teams outside of our conference.”

UCSD will take on the winner of the matchup between Seattle Pacific and BYU-Hawaii, two teams that have strong NCAA track records.

BYU-Hawaii’s inaugural season was back in 2006. Since then, the Seasiders have made two tournament appearances. The last time BYU-Hawaii appeared on the national stage was in 2010, when it fell in the first-round to UCSD, in a close 1–0 loss.

The tournament’s northwest representative, Seattle Pacific, holds something of a monopoly over its conference, the GNAC. Entering Division II just one year after UCSD did in 2000, the Falcons have won the conference title eight times and have only recorded 33 losses. Seattle Pacific was the tournament runner-up in 2005 and the tournament champion in 2008, when it defeated the Tritons in Regional play to advance to the Final Four. The Falcons have since failed to break out of the West Region, as Seattle Pacific lost to Cal State Los Angeles last season in the second round.

“We’ll be watching the games this Thursday, and from there I think we’ll start planning,” Hernandez said. “We’ll talk later about positioning, who’s dangerous, how to maximize our players and hopefully how to come out on top.”

UCSD is in search of its third national championship. In an unprecedented showing, the Tritons won back-to-back national titles in their first seasons at the Division II level. Since 2002, though, the only time the Tritons have been able to advance to the Final Four was in 2010, when UCSD was shut out 4–0 to Grand Valley State. The Tritons have five starters from 2010 on their roster, as well as a number of underclassmen who have proven their worth on the pitch.

“I’m very excited to be playing at home,” Hernandez said. “We usually get a lot of good support during playoffs. Hopefully the right environment and right atmosphere will help us out this weekend.”

UCSD’s first game will be this Saturday, Nov. 10 at 9 p.m. First-seeded Sonoma State will play its second-round match on Sunday, Nov. 11 against the winner between CCAA member No. 4 Cal Poly Pomona and No. 5 Western Washington.

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