The Hidden World of NCAA D3 Soccer
NCAA Division 3 (D3) Soccer is often overlooked when it comes to College Sports in America. And it comes as no surprise, since even Division 1 (D1) Soccer is not vey popular in comparison to other NCAA Sports. However, I happen to play D3 soccer, which has led me to watch a fair amount of D3 soccer games, and I have a different story to tell.
Webster University's Tavis Cameron (middle) taking on the University of Minnesota Morris' Gabe Arreguin (left) during their non-conference matchup on September 2nd 2019.
D3 soccer is very unique. It is unlike any other form of soccer that I have come across so far. There are close to 350 teams which bring with them varying playing styles. You have your ‘traditional’ D3 teams, that specialize in long throws, crowding the box during set pieces and spamming crosses into the area. Then, you have teams, like those in the UAA (United Athletic Association), that play a style of soccer which is very pleasing to the eye. They dominate possession and try to break the opposition through their intricate passing. These teams have players who could have potentially gone D1 but chose D3 for its more academic institutions. Finally, you see teams that employ the classic ‘kick and run’ style of soccer. This might have a negative connotation to it, but you will be surprised to find out how remarkably well it works for some of these teams.
As I mentioned earlier, there are nearly 350 D3 soccer programs across 45 conferences. However, there are only 64 spots in the national tournament, which results in a cut-throat battle for a national tournament bid. There are two ways for teams to qualify for the National tournament - by winning their respective conference and earning an ‘automatic bid’ or by earning an ‘at large bid’ for being one of the country’s top teams that did not win their conference. The key to getting an at large bid is to be ranked top 30 or so nationally and teams get ranked by beating other ranked teams. Therefore, the conference tournaments are crucial for unranked teams as winning their respective conference is their only path to the national tournament. The conference tournament games begin during the first week of November, followed by the conference championship games, on that first weekend. The teams that qualified for the national tournament are officially announced on the Monday after the championship weekend, and its only more tournament soccer from there. So, the month of November is an exciting, yet nervous time in the D3 Soccer World as dreams can be made, but hearts can also be broken.
Last year was my freshman year at Webster University and my team won the SLIAC (St. Louis Inter-collegiate Athletic Conference) and earnt an automatic bid to the big dance. To be able to go to the national tournament as a freshman and see your team in a bracket with 63 top teams from across the country was a privilege. That experience really opened my eyes to what d3 soccer was all about and I began to follow it more closely this year. I kept a tab on the happenings around D3 soccer throughout this season, but when November hit, I knew the stakes were high, and I began to watch as many games as I could. In the coming blog posts, I will talk about some of the most amazing and thrilling games of D3 soccer I watched, as we progress towards the crowning of a new national champion.