Trojans earn No. 8 seed, first round bye in NCAA Tournament

USC will head to North Carolina to compete in its seventh straight tournament.

After posting a 7-3-3 overall record and finishing second in the Pac-12 standings, USC women’s soccer captured the eighth seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament, as revealed on Monday’s Selection Show.

The Trojans earned a first round bye and will begin their campaign April 30 against the winner of a first round matchup between Ole Miss and Bowling Green.

After a rocky start to the season, the Trojans were unbeaten in their last seven games and posted five shutouts during that stretch. The only team that cracked USC’s defense in that span was No. 3 seed UCLA, and both meetings between the teams ended in 2-2 finishes.

“A month ago, we weren’t sure that we were going to be in this situation,” senior forward Tara McKeown said in an interview on USC Women’s Soccer’s Twitter. “To be an eight seed is great going into this tournament, so I think our momentum from this last month is going to keep us going.”

McKeown headlines a talented group of veterans that has the postseason experience to guide the Trojans this year. Redshirt senior goalkeeper Kaylie Collins and USC’s leading scorer, junior forward Penelope Hocking, are not only the Trojans’ top talent but will provide valuable leadership to their teammates as they head on the road.

USC head coach Keidane McAlpine stressed consistency and commitment to defense as important focal points for the Trojans this postseason.

“We have to continue to do what we’ve been doing, being solid defensively and really being dangerous on the attack and in transition, so those are going to be our keys,” he said. “We’ve got to defend well. All of the teams there are winners and champions so it’s going to require a lot of discipline, detail, urgency, commitment, all of the special traits to come out on top.”

This will be the Trojans’ seventh straight postseason appearance — they’ve made the tournament field every year since McAlpine took the reins. However, the playoff format looks a little different this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The field has decreased from 64 teams to 48, and the teams will compete in a bubble in North Carolina.

“I think we need to think of North Carolina now as our home because we were undefeated at home,” McKeown said. “That’s going to be our home for the next month, and we’re going to have to play with all the heart and the grit that we would play [with] at home to get through this tournament.”