Final Four in Pittsburgh is a homecoming for Will Marshall
A year ago at this time, after four years at University of Pittsburgh, mostly playing as a back-up goalkeeper, Will Marshall began to explore his options as he still had one year of college playing eligibility while looking for a school to transfer where he could get his teaching certificate.
A year later, Marshall’s been instrumental in leading West Chester University’s men’s soccer team to a place it’s never been before — the NCAA Division II men’s final four. And in reaching this milestone, the North Versailles native returns to the same field where he’s spent time training and coaching with the Riverhounds Goalkeeper Academy.
“Wild,” Marshall said on Monday of his experience as starting goalkeeper for a school that will be returning to his hometown to play in the NCAA DIvision II final four. “Everything happened pretty quickly when I decided to make the move. Nothing was guaranteed. I had to earn my spot here, and I showed up ready to compete and help this program.”
The East Allegheny graduate who attended Pitt from 2014-2017, became West Chester’s starting keeper three games into the season, posting the school record for most wins in a season by a goalkeeper. In the first three rounds of the NCAA tournament, West Chester faced a rigorous road, but with a strong defense in front of him, Marshall posted three clean sheets including two wins against No. 1 seeds to get to Highmark Stadium.
After defeating Notre Dame (OH) in their first NCAA tournament game, the Golden Rams ended Charleston (WV)’s title defense in a 1-0 shutout. Then, the Golden Rams blanked Adelphi 2-0 in the Sweet 16.
With upset wins over Charleston and Notre Dame behind them, West Chester are a confident group and believe they can take the NCAA title at Highmark Stadium next week.
“For us, the fear is gone,” Marshall said. “Beating Notre Dame, beating Charleston, there’s nobody right now left that we can’t beat. “We going to do what got us here. We’ll be highly organized. We’ll battle for 90 minutes for more — and I’m already prepping the guys on what’s it’s going to be like playing at Highmark.”
We will have much more from our interview with Marshall later this this week and in the days leading up to the Final Four match vs Cal Poly Pomona on November 29 (2 p.m. kickoff at Highmark Stadium).
Western Regional winner Cal Poly Pomona advances as five-seed
Next up for the Golden Rams is Cal Poly Pomona. The Broncos played more tournament matches than any other opponent to get to Pittsburgh. Luckily a near-two-week layoff should allow the Broncos to rest up.
Being a No. 5 seed out of the West is nothing new to this program. Last season, the Broncos made it as the sixth-seed and lost to eventual national champion Charleston.
Again, like West Chester and like they had to do a year ago, the Broncos defeated a higher seed in every match to reach the semifinals. And they also did so without allowing a goal.
What’s more remarkable is that each of the four shutouts was against a top 15 scoring offense in DII men’s soccer.
First, they blanked Fresno Pacific — the No. 2 scoring offense — 3-0 before shutting out the No. 3 scoring offense in Simon Fraser. The Broncos next victims were Azusa Pacific (No. 13) and West Texas A&M (No. 5). That’s not a bad resume at all. For the second consecutive year, Cal Poly Pomona will be the lowest seed to reach the national semifinals.
Fort Hays State takes on Barry in the other semifinal
Fort Hays State only needed to play two games to reach the semifinals. The Tigers are the top scoring offense in the land, averaging 3.56 goals per game, tied with West Texas A&M with 64 goals on the season. Neither match was an easy one, despite the Tigers making it look that way. They won both matches by two goals, defeating Northeastern State 3-1 and then Ohio Valley 2-0. The Tigers will also be making their debut in the national semifinals.
Fort Hays State will face Barry, fresh off a 2-1 victory over Lander. It will be the first time the two have faced each other, as Barry looks to return to its first championship game since 2000.
The Bucs exploded for four goals in their tournament opener, downing Seton Hill 4-1. Next up, Barry took its Sunshine State Conference nemesis Lynn to penalty kicks, moving on and ending the run of a Fighting Knights team that has been semifinals regulars of late.
The stage is set.
There are only three games left in the DII men’s soccer season and for the first time in one of their respective program histories, a new team will hoist the championship trophy right here in Pittsburgh at Highmark Stadium.
With no top 10 teams remaining and just one No. 1 seed left, the 2018 championship trophy is anyone’s for the taking.
NCAA Final Four Schedule (all games played at Highmark Stadium)
November 30, 2018
Fort Hays State vs Barry – 11 a..m.
West Chester vs Cal Poly Pumona – 2 p.m.
UC San Diego vs Bridgeport – 5 p.m.
Grand Valley St. vs Lee – 8 p.m.
December 1, 2018
Men’s final – Noon
Women’s final – 3 p.m.
Pittsburgh Soccer Now will have much more on the NCAA Division II Men’s and Women’s Final Four in the coming days and leading up to the games on November 29 and December 1.