For the women's tennis team at Loyola and both men's and women's teams at UMBC, inclusion in the NCAA championships that begin this weekend comes as a reward with the hope of a learning experience, instead of any true opportunity for an upset.
"Our kids are thrilled to be involved," said Loyola coach Rick McClure, whose 22-4 team earned its second straight NCAA bid by winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
This year, McClure's team gets a bus ride to Williamsburg, Va., to play No. 14 William and Mary today. Last year, his team got to go to Vanderbilt. Despite a 6-0 loss, the trip was golden.
"Last year, being able to fly, it's the total package," McClure said. :"If you'd said you'd have Loyola playing the ninth-ranked team in the country, it's an honor to play a team like that in this sport."
In William and Mary, Loyola plays a team with four players' among the top 100 in college tennis. McClure said he's familiar with the school from regional tournaments during the season.
"We see them every year at the Rolex tournament," McClure said. "They've had years where they've been in the top five in the nation."
At UMBC, both the men and women get to travel. In Champaign tomorrow, the men play Illinois, the nation's fifth-ranked team and a genuine national title contender. In Los Angeles, the women play No. 12 Southern California tomorrow.
During a recent practice, UMBC coach Keith Puryear told players on both of his teams that while there might be crowds and nicer facilities, they should save the gawking until after the matches.
"We're going to look to play well," Puryear said. "We're not playing the school's name, we're playing the little yellow ball."
The UMBC women should be better prepared than their male counterparts, having played in the NCAAs last year. Unlike in last year's shutout defeat against William and Mary, the team has an opportunity to show its talents against teams that aren't familiar with UMBC.
"The East Coast basically knows us," said Nicole Russo, UMBC's No. 1 player on the women's side. "Now we have a chance to go across country and hopefully establish something."
The UMBC women (15-4) face a USC team (15-8) that finished fourth in the Pac-10 Conference, but finished the season ranked No. 12 in the country.
The men (18-6), who nearly made the tournament last year, face an Illinois team (22-3) that has won four straight Big Ten titles and made it to the NCAA quarter finals last season.
It's a tough first opponent for a team that hasn't played a Top 25 team all season.
"Teamwise, I don't know," men's No. 1 Oscar Lopez said. "Everyone on their team is really tough, but we still have to go and fight."