It’s one thing to be talented. It’s a bonus to be experienced.
Rockhurst University is both, and that’s why the Hawks have advanced to the NCAA Division II soccer championship in Evans, Ga.
The semifinal game against Southern New Hampshire begins at 4 p.m. Thursday. The winner advances to Saturday’s national title game.
This is the Hawks’ first trip to soccer’s Final Four, but coach Tony Tocco’s program has been knocking on the door for the past few seasons with appearances in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. The nucleus of the team has been together in that span.
“We’ve been playing together for so long we know each other tendencies on the field,” said senior defender George Skevington, who played at St. Thomas Aquinas.
It’s also helped the team overcome adversity. In its NCAA opener against Tiffin (Ohio), Rockhurst trailed 1-0 in the second half before Jon Schreiber’s goal tied it and the Hawks won 8-7 in a shootout.
“No matter what happens to them we don’t get down or upset,” said Tocco, in his 43rd year as the program’s head coach. “That only comes with experience.”
Rockhurst, 17-3-3, enters the semifinals on an eight-game unbeaten streak. The Hawks won the Great Lakes Valley Conference championship for the second straight year, and advanced to this weekend by defeating top-ranked Lindenwood 1-0 on Paolo Scoppola’s first-half goal.
Scoppola and Mark Magee, who leads the Hawks with 15 goals, were chosen all-conference.
This marks Rockhurst’s seventh NCAA Tournament appearance. The program reached five NAIA championship games, the last in 1997.
A first national title for a tradition-rich program would “cap it all off,” Tocco said. “Not for me, but for the players who started the tradition.”