Archive for Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Kansas soccer denied NCAA bid

November 8, 2005

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Caroline Smith sat in the loneliest spot in the world.

The senior placed herself on the grassy hill just outside Memorial Stadium -- elbows on knees, head on forearms -- with an isolated fire hydrant as the closest friend nearby.

There were tears. There had to be. What had started out as a day of promise had ended as a day of pain.

A season, an era, a career. It was all over.

And, for the moment, it was all too much to take in.

Smith and the rest of the Kansas University women's soccer players found out Monday they were not chosen as a one of the 64 teams for the NCAA Tournament.

Watching the announcement in the press box of Memorial Stadium, the experience was made even more painful as the players waited agonizingly as five other Big 12 schools received bids.

Still, there was hope to the end that the Jayhawks, 11-7-2 overall and tied for second place in the Big 12, would be awarded one of the final spots.

"I really felt like even going into the last one," Kansas coach Mark Francis said, "we were going to get in."

Jayhawks, from left, Nicole Braman, Erin Ferguson and Nikki Alvarez, react Monday after learning they wouldn't play in the NCAAs.

Jayhawks, from left, Nicole Braman, Erin Ferguson and Nikki Alvarez, react Monday after learning they wouldn't play in the NCAAs.

Blank stares soon were replaced by tears and hugs.

The season was over, and so were the college careers of Smith and four other seniors on the Kansas roster.

"I thought we'd be in for sure," Francis said. "I'm disappointed especially for the seniors. I think it was probably pretty close."

Kansas was the only one of the top six teams in the Big 12 not to make the tournament.

The Jayhawks had a legitimate gripe for not making the field over Texas. Kansas defeated Texas two weeks ago, 2-1, and also had one fewer loss in both the overall and conference standings.

Not only did the Longhorns make the tournament, but they were rewarded for their mediocrity by earning the right to serve as host for the first two rounds of the tournament at their home complex in Austin, Texas.

"That surprised me a little bit," Francis said. "We finished ahead of them in the conference. I'm not sure about the factors they look at."

Kansas faced eight tournament teams in its 20-game schedule this season.

Perhaps most cruel for the coaches and players will be the lingering thought of "what if" that will carry over when looking back at the season.

A victory against Texas A&M; would have given Kansas the Big 12 title outright. A victory against Nebraska in the Big 12 tournament mostly likely would have catapulted the team to a berth.

"Looking back at some of those games," Francis said, "those are the ones that probably ended up keeping us down."

Kansas University soccer coach Mark Francis talks with members of the media after the NCAA Tournament selection show. Monday, the Jayhawks learned they were left out of the 64-team field.

Kansas University soccer coach Mark Francis talks with members of the media after the NCAA Tournament selection show. Monday, the Jayhawks learned they were left out of the 64-team field.

Instead, the Jayhawks were left to focus on the only thing they now can control: the results of a next season so far away.

"I told the players we have to use that as motivation," Francis said. "Going to prepare for next year, we have to make sure we don't let some of those games slip away like we did this year."

Kansas also finished 11-7-2 in 2002. The Jayhawks failed to make the tournament that year, too, after losing its final game to Nebraska.

The Cornhuskers have ended the Jayhawks' season with a loss in three of the last four years.

Francis also didn't receive the chance to celebrate his 41st birthday. Though he brought cake into the room, it sat untouched in the corner after the seedings were announced.

The second loneliest spot in the world.

"Not the best birthday present," Francis said. "Not what I was planning on."

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