University of Central Arkansas men’s soccer coach Ross Duncan was not surprised by the Missouri Valley Conference champion Bears’ pairing for the first round of the 38-team NCAA playoffs.
UCA (8-10-1), which defeated Bradley on penalty kicks and Missouri State in overtime for the MVC title Sunday, will take on American Athletic Conference champion SMU (15-2-1) in a regional first-round game Thursday in Dallas.
"That’s who we thought we would get," said Duncan after the selection show Monday. "We are very familiar with them because we recruit the same area and a lot of the same players."
The winner of the UCA-SMU match will play Georgetown in the second round.
Wake Forest, the runnerup last year, is the No. 1 seed in the tournament. The University of North Carolina, the No. 3 overall seed, is the top seed in UCA’s regional.
The Bears started slowly this season. Duncan said the turnaround came in a double-overtime loss to Missouri State in the MVC opener.
"That was a defining moment," said Duncan. "It gave us a chance to take a look at how we were doing things as a program. We pulled together after that."
UCA, a provisional member of the Missouri Valley since the Southland Conference does not offer men’s soccer, made the NCAA for the first time.
"We play to savor every moment," said Duncan.