Navy knew its name would be called during the NCAA women’s soccer tournament selection show on Monday.
After all, the Midshipmen had earned an automatic berth by capturing the Patriot League tournament title on on Saturday.
Per tradition, the Navy women’s soccer players and coaches gathered in the Bo Coppedge Room of Alumni Hall on Monday afternoon to watch the selection show on NCAA.com. There were the usual hoots and hollers when it was announced Navy would face New Mexico in the first round.
The Patriot League champions will meet the Mountain West Conference champions next Tuesday, April 27 in Wilson, North Carolina. Navy and New Mexico, which have never met in women’s soccer, will have a 6 p.m. kickoff at the Gillette Soccer Complex.
“We’re super excited. Personally, I’m super excited. This is everything I could have asked for my senior year,” senior midfielder Emily Keast said following the selection show.
Because of coronavirus, the entire NCAA tournament for women’s soccer is being played in the state of North Carolina.
In five previous appearances in the NCAA tournament, Navy always played at a school located within reasonable driving distance.
This year is different in another way, too. The tournament field is 48 teams instead of the usual 64.
“This year’s selection show was exciting for just that reason. The NCAA had some leeway with scheduling opponents since we’re all going to be in the same venue,” Navy coach Carin Gabarra said. “It’s going to be very exciting for two programs that know very little about each other to square off.”
Of course, Gabarra and assistants Rob Blanck and Mike Melton went to work quickly to learn more about New Mexico, which beat San Diego State 2-1 on a goal by junior forward Jadyn Edwards in the 96th minute to capture the Mountain West regular season title.
The Lobos improved their record to 10-1 with all games coming against conference opponents. The lone loss was at the hands of Utah State, 1-0.
New Mexico is led by coach Heather Dyche, who now owns a 64-38-10 record in six seasons. She has led the Lobos to three appearances in the Mountain West Conference championship game, finally breaking through this year to claim the crown and earn the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 2011.
Dyche was named Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year after New Mexico outscored opponents 26-4 this season. Edwards was one of four Lobos named first team All-MWC as she was joined by three seniors — forward Gwen Maly, goalkeeper Emily Johnson and defensive midfielder Alexa Kirton.
Navy received plenty of postseason accolades as well with Gabarra being named Patriot League Coach of the Year and junior midfielder Victoria Tran earning Midfielder of the Year. Freshman wing defender Chloe Dawson was chosen as Rookie of the Year.
Meanwhile, senior midfielder Kristina Dzhandzhapanyan and junior defender Avery Fries were both named first team All-Patriot League along with Tran (River Hill), who leads the team in scoring with three goals and two assists.
Dzhandzhapanyan scored Navy’s lone goal in regulation as the game ended in a 1-1 tie. After neither team scored during a pair of 10-minute overtime periods, the contest was determined by penalty kicks.
Swiger came off the bench to save two of the three shots she saw, while Keast scored the clinching goal in the fourth round of penalty kicks as the Midshipmen captured their sixth Patriot League title.
Those three seniors along with the juniors and sophomores played in the 2019 NCAA tournament when Navy lost 3-0 to host N.C. State in Raleigh, N.C.
“When we found out we were going to have a spring season, we wanted to get back to the NCAA tournament so badly. That’s every soccer player’s dream and  was such a great experience,” Keast said.
“We’re looking forward to a new challenge. A lot of our team has been there, so I think we’re going to come into ready and knowing what to expect. I’m happy but we want more.”
This will be Navy’s sixth appearance in the NCAA tournament during the 28-year tenure of Gabarra. The Midshipmen have notched one win to go along with four decisive losses.
Navy played William & Mary to a scoreless tie in the first round of the 2006 NCAA tournament, advancing 5-4 on penalty kicks. In the second round, top-seeded and host North Carolina beat Navy, 4-0.
Navy has also lost 5-1 to No. 5 Penn State (2003) and 4-0 to No. 12 West Virginia (2007).
“It’s the NCAA tournament, so you’re always going to go against a high-level opponent that is playing good soccer,” Gabarra said. “We have a lot of talented players. Patriot League teams can get wins against Top 20 teams.”
Navy closed the regular season by playing four games from March 27 to April 9. The Midshipmen then played Wednesday and Saturday of last week.
“We need to reorganize a bit. We’ve played a lot of games in a short amount of time, and that takes a toll on the body,” Gabarra said. “We need to relax and get back into a rhythm. We didn’t get to train a lot toward the end of the season. Now we can sit back, take a breath and focus on our team and the areas we feel need to improve upon.”
Navy did not have every member of the roster available for a single game this season until the Patriot League tournament. The entire Midshipmen team, including players and coaches, are fully vaccinated.