By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA – USF booked a trip to its seventh consecutive NCAA tournament by winning the American Athletic Conference title Sunday in Texas and now the Bulls are headed to Chapel Hill.
Head coach George Kiefer’s squad will start its run towards a national championship 7 p.m. Thursday against North Carolina at Fetzer Field. The winner of the match will move on to face No. 12 seed UC Irvine 5 p.m. Sunday in Irvine, Calif.
“It’s nice to watch the Selection Show having the automatic bid, where you’re at ease and you’re just waiting for your name to come up. That was a nice reward for the guys,” Kiefer said.
USF (8-3-9) punched its ticket to the NCAA tournament by capturing its first league title since 2008. The Bulls took the first-ever American tournament trophy back to Tampa by getting past No. 11 UConn, 6-5, in penalty kicks Sunday afternoon at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
“I think that adds a little something to it that it’s the first-ever (AAC Championship). I’m really proud of the players doing what they did this (past) weekend,” Kiefer said.
North Carolina (8-5-5) received an at-large bid and will be making its 21st NCAA postseason appearance. The Tar Heels are back in the tournament for the 14th time in the past 15 seasons after finishing in a tie for fourth in the ACC.
“North Carolina is a great soccer team with great tradition,” Kiefer said. “We like playing teams that play good soccer. I’m sure both teams are going to try to go after each other and it should be a fun night.”
The third round of the NCAA tournament will take place Dec. 1 at designated sites, along with the quarterfinals Dec. 6 or 7. Teams will head to PPL Park in Philadelphia for the semifinals on Dec. 13 and the national championship is set for Dec. 15 at 3 p.m.
Live coverage of the semifinals and the championship match will be aired live on ESPNU.
“It’s a great feeling to get back into this tournament,” senior defenseman Ben Sweat said.