The NJCAA Division III women's soccer national championship tournament will begin as scheduled at Tompkins Cortland Community College in Dryden, N.Y., starting today.
And the Harper College team isn't planning to let the aftermath of Sandy dampen its participation.
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The Hawks made a 2-0 goal lead hold up in a 2-1 win over rival College of DuPage in the Region IV championship game in Glen Ellyn to earn its spot in the tournament field.
"I'm happy with the way we look," said Harper coach Dwayne Cruz. "We are playing better soccer."
This is the third trip to nationals for Harper under Cruz, now in his 13th season at the helm. The last time the Hawks advanced to the tournament was 2010, when they finished ninth.
Cruz has a lot of faith in what he's calling a special group of players capable of taking Harper to the title game. Those five -- Bree Nishibun, Stephanie Chaires, Weslie Iza, Devan Swank and Caila Bender -- were named to either the NJCAA Region IV first or second all-region team, in addition to earning all-league honors in the North Central Community College Conference. One player who is critical to the Hawk cause that was not honored was freshman goalie Monica Hinderer.
The Hawks will have to travel a very difficult road in their trophy quest. They play the opening game of the double-elimination tournament against Gloucester County College (14-2-1, of Sewell, NJ) at 9 a.m. Thursday. Gloucester County defeated fifth-ranked Ocan County College in penalty kicks in the Region XIX championship game.
According to the NJCAA website, the No. 2-ranked Roadrunners have scored 42 goals in 17 contests this season (2.7 per game). That's the highest total nationally for NJCAA Division III schools.
But Cruz in confident his players are up to the challenge.
"I think they will play the game of their lives on Thursday," he said.
If the Hawks are able to pull off the upset, they would meet the winner of No. 8-ranked (11-5) Anne Arundel Community College (10-4, Arnold, MD) and No. 6-ranked Richland (Dallas, TX) at 3 p.m. Friday.
If Harper loses in the first round, it would play at 10 a.m. Friday against the loser of the Arundel-Richland game.
Richland is one of two teams in the field that has won a national championship before.
At 8-5, Anoka-Ramsey (Minn.) is the only team in the field that Harper has any experience with. The teams met in Palatine on Sept. 6, and the Golden Rams defeated a 10-player Harper squad 1-0. Harper and Anoka-Ramsey are on opposite sides of the bracket and would not play until the championship game.
Harper is the only team in the field of eight that is not ranked in the NJCAA Division III poll.
"I hope every team we play comes in cocky," Cruz said. "They're going to think it's an easy win against us."
Harper's 6-10 record is the poorest of any team to make the tournament, but that doesn't bother Cruz.
"I love to be the underdog," he said.
Cruz says that if his team hadn't been hurt by injuries, its record might have been more like 12-4 at this point.
Every tournament game can be seen online at www.ihigh.com/njcaatv/.