Oneonta State’s longest road trip of the season could be just around the corner.
Of course, the Red Dragons men and women will have to win an awful lot between now and Dec. 6, when the NCAA Division III Tournament semifinals will start in San Antonio, Texas.
Two seasons removed from their first NCAA D-III championship-weekend trip to Texas, O-State’s men will make their third straight tournament appearance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the University of Rochester. The Red Dragons (11-4-4) of the SUNY Athletic Conference will play Oberlin College of the North Coast Athletic Conference in the second of two first-round men’s games at Edwin Fauver Stadium. Neither team won their respective conference tournament titles, but both received Pool C berths into the field of 61.
Tournament host and University Athletic Association champion Rochester (13-2-2) will meet North Eastern Athletic Conference winner SUNYIT (16-1-2) at 5 p.m. Saturday in the other first-round game at Fauver Stadium.
Oneonta will play first-time NCAA qualifier Oberlin (13-3-4) for the first time in program history. The Red Dragons are 2-1 against the other teams in their mini-pool as they lost to Rochester, 1-0, in 2010 but won a pair of 4-0 games against former SUNYAC foe SUNYIT.
O-State won the SUNYAC’s regular-season crown to earn the top seed for the conference tournament but lost to Plattsburgh, 1-0, in the semifinals.
“As we found out in the SUNYAC Tournament, being the dominant team in the regular season counts for nothing,” O-State coach Iain Byrne said in a media release from the college. “Making our third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, we know how difficult it is to win games against this level of competition. Postseason soccer is all about performing on the day. The team that limits its mistakes and takes their chances usually ends up winning.”
All-SUNYAC first-teamer Dylan Williams, a sophomore, leads Oneonta this season with 23 points (10 goals, three assists). Zef Saljanin is next with 16 points (seven goals, two assists), followed by Alex Winiarski (12 points), Luke Halberg (10 points) and Jake Sutherland (10 points). Halberg also made the SUNYAC’s First Team. Sutherland earned a spot on the Second Team.
Goalie Vincent Pellegrino will bring a 0.75 goals against average, a 5-3-3 record and three shutouts into Saturday’s NCAA opener. Fellow keeper Daniel DeBottis is 5-1-1 with a 0.74 goals against average and one shutout for Oneonta, which has outscored opponents, 43-14, this fall.
“We know that the NCAA tournament is a collection of the best teams in the country, so there are no easy matches,” said Byrne, whose program will make its seventh NCAA appearance. “The guys are excited to be playing soccer at this time of year. Our goal is to play to the best of our ability and hopefully entertain the crowds with some attacking soccer.”
Saturday’s winners will meet Sunday in Rochester at a time to be determined. Sunday’s winner will advance to sectionals next weekend.
O-State’s women open NCAA play at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at William Smith College. The SUNYAC champion Red Dragons (12-4-3) will meet Skyline Conference winner Farmingdale State College (13-9) in the second of two games at William Smith.
The first game pits Liberty League champ William Smith (17-1) against Colonial States Athletic Conference winner Cabrini (12-3-5) at 11 a.m. Saturday. Winners will meet Sunday back at William Smith.
Oneonta will play Farmingdale State for the first time in program history. The Red Dragons haven’t played Cabrini, either, but they’re 0-2 against William Smith.
O-State will make its 14th NCAA appearance and first since 2010, when they were knocked out of the sectional round by William Smith.
“I know we have a tough road ahead of us, but we are playing great team soccer right now and anything can happen,” said O-State coach and Stamford graduate Liz McGrail, who played for the Red Dragons around the turn of the century. “We have talked about making small steps forward each day all year and that is all we can continue to do.”
SUNYAC Player of the Year Karly DeSimone, a senior, has 11 goals and seven assists for Oneonta, which has outscored its opponents, 38-15, this season. Kayla Ceschini and Jessica Lyden have contributed 13 and 11 points, respectively.
Sophomores Rori Stark and Kelley Murphy have shared time in goal. Stark is 4-1-3 with a 0.62 goals against average and four shutouts. Murphy is 8-3 with a 0.94 goals against and two shutouts.
Oneonta will be attempting to reach the national championship game for the first time since 2003. That season, O-State won its only NCAA Division III women’s soccer title with a 2-1 overtime defeat of the University of Chicago at Red Dragon Field.