Wright State soccer coach Jake Slemker could sense something positive developing as his team warmed up for the first NCAA tournament match in program history at Notre Dame on Thursday.
Because they’d played a quality schedule — and built confidence with a late-season surge — no one seemed to be in awe of the Irish or content just to have made it that far.
“We talked about that as a staff,” Slemker said. “We could tell there was a certain focus with the guys. It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, we did it.’ It was, ‘Let’s keep going.’
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“That’s why we schedule the way we do. When we play an ACC or Big Ten team, it’s just another game that we’re ready to play. We’ve played those big-name schools before. We’re not worried about that. We’re focused on what we can do.”
The Raiders advanced to the NCAA Round of 32 with a 3-2 victory — the first win in the tourney by a Horizon League school in five years.
They’ll play 13th-seeded Michigan (11-4-5) in Ann Arbor at 1 p.m. Sunday. The game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network-Plus.
Junior Alex Hummel tallied his first goal of the year just 27 minutes into the match off an assist from senior Deri Corfe, and then sophomore and Michigan native Zion Beaton scored his first goal off a Stefan Rokvic assist.
Corfe, a first-team all-league pick and native of Chester, United Kingdom, then put his individual skills on display and connected for a commanding 3-1 lead.
“He picked the ball up on the left side and did one of his patented fake-shot moves. He sold two defenders and cut inside and just bashed the ball at the far post in the upper corner. We were saying last night, ‘It’s SportsCenter worthy.’” Slemker said.
Notre Dame (10-8-1) scored late to cut the lead to one but couldn’t get any closer.
“We moved the ball really well, especially in transition. We knew with their three-back system, there’d be a lot of space out wide, and that’s where we’re very dangerous. It kind of suited us. We found those pockets of space and exploited them,” Slemker said.
The Raiders, who improved to 11-8-2, have won five straight heavy-duty matches the last two weeks — the regular-season finale to qualify for the conference tourney, three in a row to win the league title and then the conquest of Notre Dame.
Before that surge, they went 2-6-2 over a 10-game span.
“We always talk about that as a team and staff: Three weeks ago, we were banging our heads on the door, like, what do we have to do here?” Slemker said.
“Now, everyone has come together and everyone is on the same page. They’re fighting for each other. It’s pretty amazing to watch.”
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