Now that they’re there for the third time, there’s only one thing left to do: Win the whole darn thing.
That’s the attitude Skye Harter (Copley), Ezana Kahsay and Morgan Hackworth are taking as the University of Akron men’s soccer team prepares to play in the College Cup for the third time in the past four seasons.
Standing in the way is unseeded Michigan State (14-4-4) on Friday with either second-seeded Indiana (20-2-1) or 11th-seeded Maryland (11-6-4) waiting on the other side of the bracket.
“We have a lot of experience,” Harter said. “We have three guys that have played in three final fours in me, Morgan and Ezana. We all know how big the scene is there, how the situation is, how the pressure is and how you can relax and enjoy it. The difference this year is we’re not excited with just going. We’re not happy to be there. We want to win it.”
That’s the one thing that has stopped the three from looking at the trip to Santa Barbara, Calif., as anything but a business trip.
Kahsay played in the national semifinal that ended with Stanford and UA playing to a 0-0 tie, but the Cardinal advancing 8-7 on penalty kicks. Harter was there as a bench player.
Hackworth was a bench player for Syracuse at the time, but lost to Clemson in penalty kicks in the other semifinal.
All three were on the field last season when Stanford beat the Zips 2-0 in a prelude to its third consecutive national title.
“I feel like the guys have been there a couple of times, so we’re more seasoned,” Kahsay said. “We’re not settling on just being a part of the College Cup. We’re prepared for the next step.
“We want to take care of the first 90 minutes and then win the whole thing. We give Michigan State every respect they deserve because they made it as far as us also. We’re just prepared to take it 90 minutes at a time.”
That’s been the rallying cry for everyone on the Zips, but this time UA has embraced the “win one for the Gipper” attitude in regards to Harter, Kahsay and Hackworth.
Reaching the round of four is nothing new for the Zips, who have been to the College Cup six times overall and five times in the past 10 seasons.
Winning it is another thing as the Zips were runners-up in 1986 and 2009 and national champions in 2010.
“I want it more for them than I think they want it for themselves,” UA midfielder Colin Biros said. “They’ve been to two. They got knocked out by the same team twice and now we have a different road. We beat the team that knocked them out. We’re playing a team that we beat. We’re confident, but we still have to be wary.
“They’ve been here. They know what it’s like to get there, but they still haven’t experienced what it means to be in the finals. They deserve it. They work hard just like the rest of us.”
There are a few factors working in favor ofthem as well.
The one championship UA holds came in Santa Barbara when the Zips beat Louisville 1-0. They opened the semifinal with a win over Michigan. This time it’s Michigan State.
Although UA makes it a habit to reach the round of four, Michigan State hasn’t been there since 1968.
That should be more than enough karma for the Zips.
“The experience of managing the moment. The experience of knowing what goes on this week and the intensity level of how you have to prepare are what I think is different,” UA coach Jared Embick said. “We’re hoping those guys continue to communicate those things to our younger players. We’re going to need that experience, but mostly we’re going to need those guys to play well and lead by example in the biggest games.”