The road to Orlando: First stop, Rocky Top

Bryan Edwards/The News

Story by Gage Johnson, staff writer

The Racers are saddling up and riding on to Knoxville, Tennessee to take on the University of Tennessee in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

The 21st-ranked team in the nation held a watch party at Mister B’s on Monday, and along with the devoted fans that have filled the hill this season, anxiously awaited the announcement of who the Racers would take on in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The Racers wrapped up conference tournament play on Sunday when they won the OVC championship by defeating Eastern Kentucky with a goal in a sudden-death overtime.  The 1-0 win put the new conference champs at 15-1-2 overall.  They will also head into the tournament on a six-game win streak.

The draw of the Volunteers marks the second time in three years the Racers have been matched up against an SEC team in the NCAA tournament.  

The Volunteers ended their season as the 20th-ranked team in the nation.  They lost in the SEC tournament in the first round to Vanderbilt University 1-0, giving them a 14-4-1 record.  The team also held a conference record of 6-3-1, in a conference that had five other teams make it into the NCAA tournament.  Offensively, Tennessee is lead by junior forward Khadjia Shaw, who has scored 14 goals so far this season.  The team averages 2.26 goals per game and stifles their opponents, allowing .89 goals during the season.

Head Coach Jeremy Groves and his team will have five days to prepare for the first round matchup.

“It’s going to be a tough matchup,” Groves said.  “They’ve got some really good players.  They have some good attacking players.  They had a girl that came in from a JUCO (junior college) school this year and is really, really good.  They scored a lot of goals this season, and they didn’t give very many up at the beginning of the season.”

Murray State last appeared in the NCAA tournament in 2015 and lost 1-0 at the hands of the University of Mississippi.  Groves thinks that the team’s ability to grow and obtain more experience will help them in the tournament.

“It’ll probably be a little like the Ole Miss game we played two years ago,” Groves said.  “When we played them, they were ranked and played very well.  I think we’ve grown as a team.  We’ve got kids that have been in the NCAA tournament before, and we’ve played Tennessee in the regular season before in 2015.  So, hopefully we’ll have a little experience and confidence going in since we’ve also been to a place we’ve played them before.”

Murray State will look to change its fortune in the NCAA tournament and advance past the first round when they play at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov 11. in Knoxville, Tennessee.