LOUDONVILLE — First, there was the excitement. The thrill for the Siena women’s soccer team of winning the program’s first MAAC championship since 2015 — in penalty kicks, no less — and then hearing their name called when the bracket for the NCAA tournament was revealed.
“Then,” Siena senior defender and co-captain Deanna Lomino said, “you kind of buckle down, and it’s back to business.”
The Saints have been “back to business” since April 19, when they learned they’d be facing Arizona State in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and are aiming to stun the Sun Devils when the two teams meet Wednesday at noon at Johnson Stadium on the campus of East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina.
“We did a really good job building up to it,” said junior goalkeeper Leslie Adams, the 2020-21 MAAC Goalkeeper of the Year. “Now, we just have to bring that energy down to North Carolina, and we’ll be good.”
The Saints departed campus Monday en route for North Carolina, where the entire 48-team tournament will be held.
They made the trip with more than two decades of history working against them.
MAAC teams are just 1-23 all-time in NCAA women’s soccer tournament play. The lone win was in the conference’s first-ever tournament appearance, when Fairfield beat Central Connecticut State in a play-in game. The Stags were promptly knocked out by UConn once they entered the main bracket, kicking off a string of 23 consecutive first-round losses for the conference’s representatives.
And yet, the Saints boarded their team bus Monday brimming with confidence and energy. After all, what better time to break that streak than at the end of an unprecedented spring soccer season that was rescheduled due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, and what better team than a Siena squad that was picked to finish eighth in the MAAC this year, only to turn in a 6-0-2 campaign, win the program’s first-ever regular-season league title in its 29 MAAC seasons and win the conference tournament for the first time since 2015?
“We have nothing to lose at this point,” senior forward Carrie Krohn said. “We’re going in as the underdog. We have everything to prove in this tournament. No MAAC team has ever won in the NCAA first round, so that’s a really important step for us to take.”
In looking to advance to a second-round matchup Saturday against No. 9 seed Duke, Siena will have to get through an Arizona State (8-5-2 overall) team that comes out of a power conference in the Pac-12.
The Sun Devils started the season 8-2-2, but head into the NCAA tournament with three straight shutout losses, having not found the back of the net since the team’s last win on April 4 against Stanford.
That bodes well for a Siena team that ranks in the top-10 nationally with a .355 goals against average. Siena has allowed just three goals in eight games this season, led by Adams in goal and a defense marshaled by Lomino and 2020-21 MAAC Co-Defensive Player of the Year Brianna Montinard.
It will fall on that defense to absorb what figures to be heavy pressure from Arizona State.
“They’re a possession team,” Siena coach Steve Karbowski said. “They try to build it up out of the back and work it up the field, and we want to make them earn it. That leads to it probably being a tight, low-scoring game — and maybe decided by one goal.”
“I think it’s going to take all of us, even on the bench,” Adams said. “It’s going to take all 27 of us to win this game on Wednesday.”