As the No. 1 seed in the America East tournament, the UMBC women’s soccer team has worked hard to reap the rewards of that status, capturing the program’s first regular-season conference title, earning home-field advantage in the semifinals and final, and enjoying a first-round bye in the quarterfinals.
At the same time, however, the expectation is that the Retrievers (11-5-2 overall and 6-2-0 in the league) are the favorites to take home their first tournament championship. And history would appear to be on their side.
Fifteen of 17 regular-season champions have won the ensuing tournament. The only discrepancies took place in 1996 when Vermont collected the regular-season crown, but Towson emerged as the tournament champion and in 2012 when Boston University captured the regular-season title, but Stony Brook took home the tournament crown.
But that trend held little weight with UMBC coach Leslie Wray.
“We are the first seed, and we feel that. But this season is so new and the success is so new,” she said Friday morning. “We know the work that we have to put in. So there’s really never that comfort in, ‘Oh, we’re the first seed.’ I don’t think we will ever have that comfort. … Winning this season is so new that we’ve just got to keep pushing through each and every game.”
Making their third appearance in the America East postseason, the Retrievers are seeking their first victory in the tournament. As No. 6 seeds in 2003 and 2005, they lost to Maine and Binghamton in the quarterfinals, respectively.
“I don’t know if there’s pressure to win,” Wray said. “I think the pressure is what we put on ourselves. I’m not feeling pressure from the community or from anybody at school. It’s what we want to do as a team and where we set our goals now. We’re putting on the pressure like, ‘Look, we’ve done it before, and we can beat Hartford again.’ Like I said, not taking anything for granted. We know we need to play. What I keep telling the team is this is a special team and this kind of season doesn’t come around very often, and we need to take advantage of the team we have and the chemistry and the work that we’ve been putting in. We need to take advantage and keep this season going as long as possible.”
That first win will have to occur in Sunday's semifinal at 1 p.m. at Retriever Soccer Park in Catonsville against No. 4 seed Hartford, which rallied to edge No. 5 seed Vermont, 2-1, on Thursday night. UMBC decisioned the Hawks, 2-1, on Oct. 24, and that familiarity hasn’t receded.
“Hartford is really still fresh in our minds,” Wray said. “We just played them last week. So we know what to expect from Hartford. I know that they might have a player back that was injured against us. But I think matchup of us versus Hartford is good. Having them fresh in our minds, we’re not taking anything for granted. We know it’s going to be a tough match, and hopefully, we are as rested as we need to be, and we’ll be ready to go on Sunday.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun