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Jeff Kolpack, Published November 12 2010

Kolpack: Soccer just trying to keep pace at NDSU

The NCAA tournament pairings parties have become an annual gathering in the North Dakota State athletic department. They’re basically the same from afar, but a pretty cool deal for the players and coaches involved.

They watch an NCAA show in anticipation of seeing their name on the big screen. And when it does, it’s New Year’s Eve all over again. Softball has done it twice and men’s basketball and volleyball once.

“You’re proud of them, happy for them,” said Bison soccer coach Pete Cuadrado. “But at the end of the day, and nobody will tell you otherwise, you want to be in their shoes.”

Two years ago, Cuadrado’s team was about as far from a pairings party as a team can get. It was NDSU’s first year eligible for the NCAA tournament and it was quite the feat for three programs to reach an NCAA tournament.

Men’s basketball captured the Big Dance madness as a nationwide story. Softball, a team that practices indoors in an old gym, reached the Super Regional, unheard of territory for a mid-major from the Upper Midwest.

Volleyball crushed the Summit League with an unbeaten streak and a tournament championship. Soccer?

It went 5-12-2.

It wasn’t a pleasant feeling, finishing the year with four straight defeats.

“Yes, always, this is about winning,” he said. “It’s about graduating student-athletes. I think a lot of it is internal, probably more so me than the department.”

Cuadrado said he felt the pressure. Earlier this week, when somebody from outside of the region called to congratulate him on the rare opportunity for an NDSU team to make an NCAA tournament, Cuadrado had to explain the history of the school in the last two-plus Division I eligible seasons.

He said football was ranked No. 1 in the Football Championship Subdivision for a couple of years. He said track and field had elite caliber athletes. He talked of softball’s regional titles and the other program successes.

“I said, ‘You don’t understand,’” Cuadrado said. “I don’t feel like we’ve gone above and beyond. I feel like we’re keeping up with the Joneses.”

These Joneses are in Minneapolis today facing Texas A&M in the first round. After the Summit title win over Western Illinois last weekend, Cuadrado and WIU head coach Tony Guinn, who are good friends, shook hands.

“He told me he’s been coaching a lot of years and had never been in my shoes,” Cuadrado said. “ ‘Enjoy it,’ he said. That put it in perspective.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be heard on the Saturday Morning Sports Show, 9-11 a.m. on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia