ALBANY — Eleventh-ranked College of Saint Rose will have a giant target on its back when it faces Daemen in the opening round of the NCAA Women’s Division II Soccer Tournament Friday night at 6 at Sullivan Field at the Plumeri Sports Complex.
The top-seeded Golden Knights (17-2-1) have a storied history in the sport, including six final four appearances and the 2011 national championship. They’ve reached the NCAA tournament in 15 of the last 18 years, with a 24-11-5 record in those appearances.
But the Northeast-10 Conference champions might be short-handed at a most inopportune time, as Player of the Year Nina Predanic will be a game-time decision because of an undisclosed injury suffered in last week’s 3-2 win over Southern Connecticut State with 10 seconds left in overtime in the conference title game.
“She is nursing a little bit of an injury,” Saint Rose head coach Laurie Darling Gutheil said. “We will see how it goes. She is a very committed student-athlete who takes care of her body with the utmost attention, time and devotion. She is not 100 percent. We’re still trying to give it 24 hours.”
The coach would not commit to having her star player in the lineup.
“If it’s the best decision for her and the team, she will play. It will be a game-time decision,” Darling Gutheil said. “It doesn’t change our team. We are rotating four players up top. She brings an extra special talent to the club, but we have a tremendous team that surrounds her. If the other girls have to step up, that’s what will happen.”
Predanic led the conference in goals (18), points (49) and assists (13). The next-closest scorer in the league trails her by 21 points. Predanic is also second on the team’s all-time scoring list with 129 points.
Even if Predanic plays, it’s a good bet that she will be double- or triple-teamed.
“Nina has faced that numerous times, not just this year,” Darling Gutheil said. “She’s been a fabulous player since she arrived on campus. She’s technically brilliant, and plays with an amazing talent and flare. She’s a joy. She’s garnered a tremendous amount of attention, and she handles it well. She’s truly a team player. We expect her to play as much as she can, given her health.”
“We are very excited for the next two games, but we will take them one at a time,” Predanic said. “We had three goals this season. The first goal was to win the Northeast-10 Conference regular season. The second was to win our tournament title. We got them both. Now we’re trying for our third goal, to reach the final four.”
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake product Morgan Burchhardt is a sixth-year senior after tearing the ACL in her left knee twice and receiving two medical red shirts.
“My first year on the team was 2014, and we went to the final four,” said Burchhardt, who has 107 career points. “We had two or three girls from that 2011 national championship on that team. We’re in the same situation as in 2014. We have to make sure we have our heads on straight.”
Daemen (11-3-3) earned its way into the tournament with an at-large bid and is making its first NCAA appearance. The Wildcats have eight shutouts and are led offensively by senior forward Jamie Boyar, the program’s all-time leading scorer with 18 goals this season.
The winner of Friday’s game plays the winner of the Stonehill-Jefferson game for the regional championship Sunday back at Sullivan Field at 1 p.m.