FLORENCE---Despite winning its first Peach Belt Athletic Conference championship last weekend and posting a school-best record in the process, the Francis Marion University’s men’s soccer team was overlooked for the NCAA Division II national tournament field late Monday afternoon.
In fact, none of the Peach Belt Athletic Conference schools were chosen to the 16-team field by the NCAA selection committee.
FMU head coach Murray Hartzler expressed his disappointment after learning of the news Monday.
“This was a decision of the selection committee, and it’s not a perfect scenario,” said Hartzler. “Our players are very disappointed, but this takes nothing away from their outstanding season. They did all they had to do on the field by winning the conference tournament championship.”
Hartzler said he believed his team deserved a bid based upon its record against a tough schedule and the way it finished its season. The Patriots, ranked 22nd nationally, are 17-3-1 on the season after beating USC-Spartanburg Sunday afternoon in the PBAC title match. The 17 wins are the most in school history, and FMU won 12 of its last 13 matches.
FMU entered the conference tournament as the third-seeded team and beat sixth-seeded Clayton College and State University 2-0, second-ranked North Florida 1-0 and top-seeded USC-Spartanburg 2-1 to claim its first ever league championship. The shutout of North Florida was the Patriots’ 10th of the season.
Four FMU players were named to the PBAC all-conference team. They are Dzevat Nikocaj, a junior from Johnson City, Tenn., Michael Ritch, a freshman from Montgomery, Ala., Mike Cruikshank , a senior from Bradenton, Fla., and Brad Crysler, a senior from Mentor, Ohio. Ritch was also named conference freshman of the year.
Cruikshank, who holds the school record for shutouts as goalie, was named the PBAC tournament’s most valuable player.
Nikocaj, Cruikshank and Crysler were named to the all-tournament team, along with Dennis Saloman, a freshman from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Todd Gable, a junior from Uniontown, Ohio.
Hartzler has a 150-109-27 record in 16 years of coaching men’s college soccer, including a 65-47-6 record in six years at FMU.