The Wright State men’s soccer team had hoped it did enough to make the field of 48 in the NCAA tournament for the first time. The Raiders have an RPI rating of 35 and were ranked all season in the national polls until falling to UIC in the Horizon League championship.
But despite a banner year under first-year coach Jake Slemker, they weren’t awarded an at-large berth when the bracket was revealed Monday. Most of the bids were gobbled up by major conferences such as the ACC, which put nine teams in the tourney for the second straight year
The Raiders finished 13-3-3 — their most wins since also notching 13 in 1992 — and won the second regular-season league title in program history. They also were competitive with teams that made the NCAA, beating West Virginia, 3-0, at home and losing narrowly on the road to Virginia, 2-1.
“There’s a few teams we’re pretty shocked got an at-large bid ahead of us. With everything we’d put together, we thought we had a pretty good shot,” Slemker said.
“We had a good year, but our expectations were to play in the national tournament, and we fell short of that.”
The Raiders were the fifth-highest scoring team in the nation going into the league tourney, averaging 2.47 goals per match. But they survived a 1-1 tie with Milwaukee in the semifinals by prevailing on penalty kicks and then were beaten by UIC, 3-1.
“I don’t know if it was tired legs or the games just got a little tighter, but the goals weren’t falling our way,” Slemker said. “I think our tie in the semifinals hurt us pretty badly.”
On the NCAA Selection Show, Jeff Bacon, the Division I men’s soccer tournament chair, addressed the committee’s thinking on at-large berths, particularly the ACC’s record haul.
“At the end of the day, they’ve got great programs that really do put results on paper. And frankly, it’s harder for those schools because they maybe don’t have as great a record because they play in such a tough league, so how do you balance that? How do you look at teams that may have eight, nine, 10 wins compared to others with 13,14, 15 but play in different conferences?” he said.
“It’s always a challenge, but we try to look at what those teams do inside and outside the conference. … It’s certainly a difficult conversation, but we try to stick to what the teams did on the field.”
The Raiders are expected to be strong again next season since four all-league offensive players, including national assist leader Jackson Dietrich, and conference goalkeeper of the year Joel Sundell will be returning.
“We’ve got to get back to work and rebuild the areas we need to improve so we can get over that hump,” Slemker said.