The NCAA unveiled a series of championship sites in December 2013, an announcement that caught the attention of the Rockhurst men’s soccer team. The plans called for the NCAA Division II soccer Final Four to migrate to Swope Soccer Village in 2016, and almost immediately, the Hawks coaches sensed an opportunity.
“The first thing we tried to do was get a tournament over there this year so we could play on that field,” Rockhurst coach Tony Tocco said. “We wanted to play out there so we could know what it was like. Just to get ready.
“Just in case.”
The tournament ultimately fell through.
The Final Four appearance still materialized.
For the third time in four seasons, Rockhurst is in the NCAA Division II national semifinals. On Thursday, the Hawks will play Charleston (W.Va.) at 2 p.m. at Swope Soccer Village.
The trial run of Swope Park may have never transpired, but the Hawks will make due with a five-mile drive from their home campus.
“We weren’t banking on anything, but we’ve known for a long time that if we got to the Final Four this year, it was in Kansas City, and that could be a tremendous advantage,” junior midfielder Connor Mullen said. “So it’s time to use that advantage.”
A year ago, the Hawks departed the Final Four in Pensacola, Fla., after only one match. They did the same in 2013.
An ongoing storyline.
For a program that rarely takes a year off, the national semifinals have been rather unkind. In his 46th season at Rockhurst, Tocco has made 13 Final Fours, with the initial 10 coming as a member of the NAIA. His 680 career victories rank second in men’s college soccer history, three fewer than Ohio Wesleyan head coach Jay Martin.
But the national championship has proven elusive — as least a coach. Tocco won a national title as a player at Saint Louis University.
“It would mean everything for the program, the players and the alumni,” Tocco said. “That’s who deserves it.”
His latest team has sidestepped a series of injuries — most notably a season-ending knee injury to All-American defender Paul Dean — to return to the Final Four.
The Hawks, 18-2-3, have spent some time atop the polls this season but enter the week ranked No. 6 in the country. Charleston, which has reached three straight Final Fours, is No. 4.
“The depth of our bench has been great all year along,” Rockhurst senior Matt Collier said. “We could name six or seven key guys who have been out this season, but we’ve had someone ready to take that role.”
The postseason run has been especially meaningful for Collier, a Summit Christian Academy graduate who will have plenty of family members skipping work Thursday in order to attend the match. Rockhurst estimates it will have at least a few hundred students in attendance, as well.
“I’ve been sending out texts, putting stuff on Facebook and everything like that,” Collier said. “We want it to feel like a home crowd.”
NCAA Division II soccer championships
At Swope Soccer Village
Thursday’s men’s semifinals
▪ UC San Diego vs. Wingate (N.C.), 11 a.m.
▪ Charleston (W.Va.) vs. Rockhurst, 2 p.m.
Thursday’s women’s semifinals
▪ Columbus State (Ga.) vs. Grand Valley State (Mich.), 5 p.m.
▪ Western Washington vs. Kutztown (Pa.), 8 p.m.
▪ Men’s semifinal winners, noon
▪ Women’s semifinal winners, 3 p.m.
Ticket prices (All seats general admission)
▪ One-day pass (men’s and women’s games on Thursday or Saturday): $15 adult, $10 student
▪ All-tournament pass (men’s and women’s games on both days): $20 adult, $15 student