Another milestone every week.
First, it was a steady climb for the Alabama women’s soccer team, which achieved a new program record for their highest national finish. Eventually, the Crimson Tide made it to #1.
Now it’s a march in the NCAA tournament. Each win is more history for a program that hadn’t won a postseason game until last fall.
Friday night is a game for a place in the College Cup – the sport’s Final Four. They meet Duke at 6 p.m. in Tuscaloosa in a previously unthinkable run.
Every single-elimination bracket comes with a mental challenge, but this is really unploughed snow for this Crimson Tide group. So how do they balance the ultimate goal of this unprecedented journey with enjoying the ride?
“I think we were very good at taking it one game at a time,” said coach Wes Hart. “But with that said, we’re not afraid to talk about making history. We didn’t shy away from the rankings and stuff like that. For us, we use that as an affirmation of ‘look how good we can be’.”
Alabama (22-2-1) got to that point with victories over Alabama State, Portland and UC-Irvine. The seeding in the region remains as No. 1 Alabama will meet second-seeded Duke for a College Cup spot. The Blue Devils (13-4-3) made it to Friday by beating South Carolina, one of two teams to beat Alabama this season.
This is a Duke program that has played in three college cups since 2011 and has gone by one win in each of the last two seasons.
Alabama had never won an NCAA tournament game before upsetting Clemson the previous season. So these are two programs with completely different bloodlines, but Hart is all about keeping the momentum going.
“It’s always been about giving them more and more confidence and less about grounding them down or keeping them humbled. For us it was a question of how we can continue to show them how good they are. We did that and it worked. so let’s keep it up.”
Hart knows the way to the College Cup from his time as an assistant coach at Florida State. The Seminoles won a national title and finished second in his two seasons there before coming to Alabama in April 2015.
The Crimson Tide reached that moment with an offense unmatched this season. His 73 goals lead the nation by a margin of eight over the second-best total. Duke has a total of 44 goals while playing three games fewer. In terms of shots, Alabama is 5th at 20.1 per game while Duke is 83rd at 14.2 per game.
Goalkeeper McKinley Crone was in charge, conceding just 15 goals in total (0.63 per game).
“It’s really exciting to be a part of what this program has accomplished this year. But one thing we’ve tried to note is that we’re not done yet. And there is still more to achieve.”
The Alabama Duke winner will advance to the College Cup semifinals, scheduled for December 2 in Cary, North Carolina. The national title game will be played on December 5th at 5pm CT.
Michael Casagrande is a reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @ByCasagrande or on Facebook.