The Creighton soccer team’s strong finish made it easy on some of its fans.
The Bluejays, unbeaten in their last 11 games, were awarded a No. 12 seed Monday in the NCAA tournament and a first-round bye. Creighton will open play in the 48-team tournament Sunday with a match against the winner of Thursday’s first-round contest between Air Force and Washington.
A stumble or two down the stretch, and the Bluejays might have played in the opening round in Omaha. Creighton coach Elmar Bolowich already had been told by some fans that would have created a tough decision: attend the game or head to the Bruce Springsteen concert at CenturyLink Center.
“I went to a Bruce Springsteen concert in North Carolina at the Dean Dome,” Bolowich said. “It was unbelievable. It would have been a tough, tough pick for someone that has tickets.”
Instead, Creighton fans can see “The Boss” on Thursday, then turn out Sunday to see if their team can take a step toward reaching the College Cup. The second-round game will be played at 5 p.m. at Morrison Stadium.
Creighton clinched its spot in the tournament Sunday by winning the Missouri Valley tournament with a 2-1 victory over Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. The win left the Bluejays with a 15-3-2 record, and they moved up to No. 11 in the NCAA’s RPI ranking.
The NCAA’s placement of Creighton in the bracket provides some interesting subplots. Creighton’s first game could come against a Washington team coached by Jamie Clark, who was CU’s coach in 2010. Clark’s staff includes Jeff Rowland, who was an assistant at Creighton in 2010.
“Jamie is a good guy, and I appreciate him as a coach,” Creighton senior Andrew Ribeiro said. “Jeff Rowland, his assistant, was a great guy, too. They’re good people, and I really wouldn’t mind playing them.”
Said teammate Brent Kallman: “I have a ton of respect for Coach Clark, and Jeff Rowland as well. They were really fun guys to play for, and if they do end up coming to Omaha, their players will play hard.”
Washington brings a 12-4-3 record into its match against visiting Air Force, which also has a strong Creighton tie. Former Bluejay goalkeeper Kevin Doyle, who was a CU assistant from 2001-2006, is an assistant for the Falcons.
Air Force earned its spot in the field by winning the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation’s automatic berth, slipping by New Mexico in the tournament championship game by winning a shootout. Air Force is 10-8-4.
If Creighton wins Sunday, the Bluejays could be facing a rematch against Akron. The Zips earned the No. 5 seed and face the winner of the Niagara-Michigan match on Sunday. An Akron win would allow the Zips to host the third-round match against the winner of Sunday’s match in Omaha.
Creighton and Akron played to a 1-1 double-overtime tie Aug. 31 in Omaha.
“It would be great to play a Sweet 16 match at Akron,” Kallman said. “That atmosphere is crazy. I was fortunate enough my sophomore year to play there. They have really great students and it’s a crazy place to play. It’s about as cool a place to play in that I can think of.”
Of course, Bolowich will caution against looking ahead as his team prepares for Sunday’s match.
“At this point, you have to beat good teams,” Bolowich said. “All these teams are riding on a high, either by winning their conference or by having a great season. It’s just a matter of surviving and advancing. That’s something I learned from Dean Smith at North Carolina.
“You just have to look game to game in the tournament. You have to deal with adversity, the opponent’s style of play and maybe having to travel. We’d look forward to it if we’re lucky enough to get by our first opponent and we’d have to go to Akron.”
NOTES: Creighton season ticket holders have until 4:30 p.m. Friday to purchase their same-seat locations for Sunday’s game from the Ryan Center ticket office. Seats not purchased by ticket holders will be made available to the public at 10 a.m. Saturday. Prices are $20 (adults) and $15 (youth) for upper-level seats, $9 for adult lower-level reserved and general admission and $6 for youth lower-level reserved and general admission.
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