|Charlotte 49ers have chance to boost credentials in NCAAs|
|First round match vs. Mercer|
|Published Wednesday, November 20, 2019 4:40 pm|
|PHOTO | LEROY HARDEN|
|The Charlotte 49ers (11-3-4), who have spent the entire season ranked in the top 25, host Southern Conference champion Mercer (14-6) in the NCAA tournament Thursday at Transamerica Field.|
The Charlotte 49ers need to live up to expectations.
There is no question the program is good – elite even – by spending the entire season ranked in the top 25 in the nation. Postseason play is expected. A strong performance during the regular season is expected. However, going to the Conference USA tournament game for three consecutive seasons and losing each time is not enough. The No. 15 49ers (11-3-4) host Southern Conference champion Mercer (14-6) Thursday at 7 p.m. in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“I think it took the selection show and our name getting called out to really kind of jump us out of our bit of self-wallowing that we had lost the final again,” Charlotte coach Kevin Langan said. “When we saw our name, I think everyone in the program over the last two days has been getting really excited for tomorrow night.
Charlotte knows their way to the NCAA tournament, with 14 trips to the playoffs. They have appeared in the tournament eight of the last nine seasons, with seven of those coming under Langan. In 2011, they appeared in the College Cup Final. However, they are less familiar with Mercer, a team making their fourth trip to the tournament. The last time they faced each other was Oct. 14, 1978. It ended 2-0 Charlotte at Mercer.
“We’re a program that has great tradition getting in the NCAA tournament over the last decade,” Langan said. “It’s not a program that we’re familiar with playing, but being in the same region we have similar opponents.”
Charlotte enters the tournament in far better shape than last season. They had 10 days of rest between the end of the regular season and conference tournament, which they received a bye to the semifinals.
“We were averaging a game every two and a half days at this time,” Langan said. “This would’ve been our seventh game this time last year. We really felt battle worn last year. This year we had a good break before the conference tournament. We’ll have had four days since Sunday for the NCAA tournament. We feel healthy. We feel ready for the fight.”
Leading Charlotte are a pair of seniors: C-USA Goalkeeper of the Year Elliot Panicco and midfielder Teddy Chaouche, who earned first-team all-conference. The 49ers rank fourth in the nation with a 0.570 goals-against average; they’ve conceded 11 goals and earned eight clean sheets. Junior defender Patrick Hogan, a first-team all-conference selection, has been crucial to their defensive development. In the attacking third, Chaouche has pulled the strings. He leads the 49ers with seven goals and eight assists. Hogan, as well as all-freshman forward Axel Sigurdarson, follow Chaouche with three goals each.
“For Teddy and Elliot, I know they took the final defeat harder than most because it was their last go at the conference tournament, and they were desperate to get silverware,” Langan said. “You don’t want to make the occasion any bigger than it is. It’s just another game. They’ve been playing soccer their whole life. It’s just 11 players against 11 players – all top college players. You’re trying to get that balance between try and enjoy the moment, let’s really relish it, and not creating monsters in your head.”
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