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Sunday, November 13, 2011

KU soccer opens NCAAs today

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The majority of Kansas University women’s soccer players are about to embark on some uncharted territory: the NCAA Tournament.

At noon today at Jayhawk Soccer Complex, an underclassman-heavy KU team will play host to Georgia in the first round. For everyone on the team but the seniors, it will be a new experience. The Jayhawks haven’t played in the postseason tourney since 2008, when this year’s seniors were just freshmen.

However, KU only played two seniors — forward Kortney Clifton and midfielder Jordyn Perdue — in their last game. And they came off the bench.

So the Jayhawks aren’t exactly loaded with tournament know-how. Bad news? Not according to coach Mark Francis.

“I don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” the coach said. “You’re not really gonna do anything different than you did during the year, to be honest.”

Kansas is 11-8-1 entering its tournament home game with Georgia (12-6-2), and the Jayhawks are ready to begin the postseason in front of the home fans.

Sophomore defender Madi Hillis said she and her teammates are excited.

“This is one of the goals we made at the beginning of the year,” she said of playing in the tournament.

The funny thing about KU playing at home, though, is that the Jayhawks are just 4-5 this season on campus. In road and neutral games, they are 7-3-1.

Said junior midfielder Whitney Berry: “For whatever reason, we were better on the road.”

Francis had a pretty solid theory as to why that happened.

“A big part of that is we’ve had some really, really tough games at home,” the coach said, giving examples of Florida, Tennessee, Texas A&M; and Texas, games in which Kansas went 1-3.

Berry, who leads the team with 13 assists, said the Jayhawks need to bring their road-game mentality at home against the Bulldogs.

“As long as we come out hard, right away in the first half, we should be just as well off as we are in away games,” she said.

Francis didn’t think the team’s home record would have any bearing on the outcome of its first-round game.

“I think the kids are pumped about being in the tournament,” Francis said, “but especially about being at home.”

According to the coach, in his 13th season leading KU, Georgia is athletic up front and dangerous in the midfield. He compared the Bulldogs to Big 12 foes Texas A&M; and Oklahoma State, which finished the regular season first and second in the conference standings.

Berry said the Bulldogs won’t show KU anything it hasn’t seen this year.

“As long as we’re keeping up and defending,” she said, “we should be pretty good.”

Freshman forward Ingrid Vidal leads Kansas this year with 11 goals.

Sophomore midfielder Alexa Newfield leads Georgia with 15 goals and eight assists.

This is the fifth trip to the NCAA Tournament for the Jayhawks, who are 4-4 in the postseason under Francis. In 2008, KU lost in the second round to Stanford.

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