Tiger soccer teams qualify

By KLINT SPILLER

kspiller@dailynews.net

The Fort Hays State University men's and women's soccer teams gathered together to watch the NCAA Division II selection show Monday.

Neither team was left disappointed, as the Tigers were rewarded with two berths to the national tournament. The FHSU women locked up a spot by winning the MIAA tournament on Sunday, and the men gained entrance by earning a No. 2 ranking in the Central region.

Not too shabby for two programs in their second year of existence.

Neither team qualified last year.

"It is a pretty good feeling to see your name pop up on the big screen and see the guys' reaction," FHSU men's coach Brett Parker said. "It's a neat feeling."

Due to a limited number of men's soccer teams in the Central region, only two teams earned qualifying spots, and each of those teams earned byes through the first two rounds.

As a result, the FHSU men's team (11-5-2) earned a No. 2 seed and won't play until the third round. The Tigers will face No. 14 Northeastern State University (12-4-3) at Doc Wadley Stadium in Tahlequah, Okla., on either Nov. 15 or 16.

FHSU has faced off with NSU twice this season and finished 1-0-1 against the Riverhawks. The Tigers are 2-1-1 against Northeastern State in the past two seasons.

"It's a tough team. They are ranked in the top 20 for a reason," Parker said. "For whatever reason, we've played well against them, but it will be a-whole-nother story with a berth to the national quarterfinals on the line. It is going to take on a whole new intensity."

If the Tigers win that match, they will enter the national quarterfinals against a team from the Midwest region, which features six teams. The top seeds out of the Midwest region include No. 5 Rockhurst University (17-2-2), No. 10 Quincy University (12-2-5) and No. 18 Saginaw Valley State University (15-2-3).

However, Parker said he's not concerned with what-ifs.

"I'm just excited to be where we are at and focusing on Northeastern," he said.

The FHSU women's soccer team (14-6-1) earned a No. 6 seed in the Central region and will face third-seed University of Central Oklahoma (15-2-3) in the first round at 1 p.m. Friday at Pitch at Gage Towers in Mankato, Minn.

The winner of that match will face second-seed Minnesota State University-Mankato (16-1-3), ranked No. 3 in NCAA Division II, in the second round at 1 p.m. Sunday at the same location.

The Tiger women were long shots to make the national tournament and had to defeat the No. 3, No. 2 and No. 1 seeds in their conference tournament in order to make it.

"It was amazing," FHSU women's coach Craig Shaw said. "It was one of those runs that people make movies about."

FHSU started its championship run by winning 1-0 at Truman State University in the first round. Then the Tigers defeated Central Oklahoma 2-1 in double overtime. They then improved upon that feat by knocking off top-seed No. 12 University of Central Missouri on the Jennies' own field 2-1 in double overtime.

"The whole time they knew they had to win this tournament (in order to make nationals)," Shaw said. "They knew they had the ability to win it, but they knew they had to play the games of their lives every single time."

The run was especially impressive considering FHSU was just 2-5 on the road prior to the MIAA tournament.

"In the games, they were so intense," Shaw said. "They just wanted it so much more than any of those other teams wanted it. They played together. They played like a family."

This is the first national qualification for a full team in a fall sport since the Tiger volleyball team made a regional in 2004.