Coastal Carolina will face ACC powerhouse Wake Forest in the second round of NCAA Men’s Soccer Tournament.
The Chanticleers, who found out their tourney opponent Monday afternoon during the NCAA Selection Show, will travel to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to take on the Demon Deacons at Spry Stadium on May 2. The tournament was originally planned for last fall, but it was postponed due to the pandemic.
CCU’s second round draw means the team was awarded a first-round bye for the first time in program history.
“We’re straight in the Round of 32, which is really, really pleasing and it’s very deserving,” head coach Shaun Docking said. “The committee looked at it and gone [Coastal] won the Sun Belt in the fall in a very competitive Sun Belt and [Coastal] continued to play non-conference games against very good opponents this spring.”
Coastal Carolina automatically qualified for the NCAA Tournament in November after defeating Georgia State on penalties to win the Sun Belt Tournament. In a typical, non-pandemic year, the Chanticleers would watch the selection show on a Monday, find out their opponent, and then prepare for a Thursday or Sunday game that week. Instead, the team has had to wait more than five months to have this moment.
“For us, sitting around for five months, training, playing, and trying to recreate games that mean something, has been challenging,” Docking said. “But it’s a great challenge and certainly something we much rather would have had than not play at all.”
The Chants and the Demon Deacons have crossed paths in the tournament before. While Wake does hold a 5-2 series lead over Coastal, one of Coastal’s two wins came in the Round of 32 in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
“We’re very familiar with the program,” Docking said. “We know what to expect. They’ve got a very good team.”
The Demon Deacons boast a record of 11-2-2 and they’ve manufactured an incredible fall and spring season with a young squad. In their last regular season spring game on April 2, the Deacons started only one junior in forward Kyle Holcomb. The rest were sophomores and freshmen, including a redshirt freshman in goal.
Coastal senior forward Claudio Repetto knows what it’s like to be a nightmare for goalkeepers, scoring four goals during this 2020 campaign. However, he’s well aware of how good of a program Wake Forest is, despite the youth.
“They’re a very good team. That’s why they’re seeded No. 5,” Repetto said. “It’s not just about the defense. The whole team defends and the whole team attacks. Of course, we are going to study them and see what their strengths and weaknesses are.”
Docking also knows the type of talent Wake has.
“At the end of the day, good players are good players," the coach said. "It doesn’t matter how old they are or what year they are. You still have to win the game."
While Wake does have a youthful lineup, the Chants have also dabbled with a younger lineup for much of the fall and spring seasons.
“We’re starting five, six freshmen or first-year players. It’s exciting for the future,” Docking said. “We’ve been doing it all year and we’ve been winning games.”
Two of those key young players are freshman forward Ethan Hackenberg and sophomore forward Conor Pugh. Hackenberg scored an overtime winner over Georgia Southern in the fall, while Pugh has tallied three goals and three assists over the course of the entire season. It’s work that older players like Repetto have noticed.
“The blend of the [senior] leadership and the young guys has been critical,” Repetto said. “Leaders are obviously important, but the energy that the young guys have and seeing them giving everything they’ve got has been critical for us as well.”
One player who has been key for Wake is junior forward Kyle Holcomb. Holcomb has scored eight goals this year along with three assists. Three of Holcomb’s goals have come in the final two minutes of play, including two game-winners.
“Our whole team has to play well,” Docking said. “We’ve got a lot of great players on our team. It’s going to be a lovely challenge for them to try against guys that get a lot of recognition. Whether [Holcomb] scores or not, we just have to make sure that we win the game.”
Coastal may be youthful, but they do have tournament experience on their roster with players such as Repetto, defenders Marcelo Lage, Nicholas Itopolous and Kasper Skraep. Senior goalkeeper Tor Saunders adds to that experience and knows what it takes to make it to the national championship game after being with Akron during their 2018 championship game run.
“I can speak on my own experience. I’ve had some great experiences with those Akron teams,” Saunders said. “It’s definitely a completely different world when you get to the tournament. Every game is magnified a bit more. With those games come a lot of excitement so I think it’s going to be important to keep the guys heads calm and just realize that it’s just another game.”
Saunders added that the team is excited and ready to “embrace the opportunity.”
Coastal Carolina is no stranger to playing ACC opponents in the NCAA Tournament. In the university's 15 tournament appearances since the year 2000, the Chants have faced an ACC opponent 12 times. Coastal is 3-3 in their last six matchups versus ACC opponents in the tournament, with the last two matchups including a 3-1 upset at No. 8 Clemson in 2017 and a come-from-behind 3-2 double overtime win over N.C. State in 2019.
Should Coastal Carolina defeat Wake on Sunday, it will be the fifth time in program history that Coastal makes it to the Round of 16, the last time happening in 2017. In terms of reaching a national championship, Repetto said he believes the team has already proven its potential.
“We just have to go out there and give our 100% because that’s how we win games," he said. "With our heart, with our work ethic."
The winner of Coastal Carolina-Wake Forest will take on the winner of No. 22 Kentucky and No. 16 New Hampshire on May 6.