By BRUCE JACOBS
The BYU men’s soccer team left for Statesboro, Ga., Tuesday, on its way to attempt a three-peat as club national champions.
The word three-peat has been on the players’ minds since they won the National Intramural Recreational Sports Association Tournament last year for the second-straight time, said head coach Chris Watkins.
Senior midfielder Jeremy Bailey said the Cougars are confident they can successfully defend the national title.
“By far, we’re the favorite to win (the tournament),” Bailey said. “If we don’t, I think it’ll be very disappointing. We feel like we can handle anybody in the (non-NCAA) division.”
Sophomore defender Nate Smith agreed that not winning the title again would be disappointing, considering the strength of this year’s team.
“We’re stronger than we were last year,” Smith said.
Each year, the NIRSA championship tournament invites 16 of the best club soccer teams from across the nation to compete for the club national title.
Mary Callender, director of national sports programs for NIRSA, said although other club soccer tournaments exist, NIRSA is the strongest and most nationally represented tournament. Callender said teams that have played in other tournaments frequently say how much stronger the competition is in the NIRSA tournament.
The tournament divides the 16 teams into four pools of four teams. Each team plays the other three teams in its pool, and the top two teams then advance to a single-elimination, eight-team tournament.
The top two teams in each pool are selected on a point system. A team gets six points for a win, three for a tie, one point for each goal scored (for a maximum of three points per game), and one point for a shutout. The two teams with the most points after three games advance to the eight-team tournament.
Winning the tournament will mean the Cougars must compete in six games over a three-day period, a grueling schedule by almost any standard. Watkins said the Cougars are up to the task, however.
“We’ve got the depth to make it through a long tournament like this,” Watkins said. We just need to play to our potential, and we’ll be fine.”
BYU kicks off its quest for a three-peat Thursday at 10 a.m. against Baylor University. The Cougars then play Purdue University at 4 p.m. and Georgia Southern University at 10 a.m. Friday.
Callender said although the teams are not seeded coming into the tournament, BYU will be a prime target for other teams because of its recent success.
“(BYU) is noted as defending national champion, and everyone knows (the Cougars) have a strong history,” Callender said. Other teams often gauge their success by how they perform against BYU, she said.