The Loyola men’s soccer team (11-4-4) is riding a wave of momentum after defeating previously perfect Missouri State University in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Championship. But the Ramblers have a difficult matchup in the first round of the NCAA Tournament when they travel to Lexington, Kentucky to face the University of Kentucky (12-4-3) Nov. 21.
The Ramblers earned the MVC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament after upseting Missouri State University in penalty kicks. The Bears were 17-0-0 entering the matchup with Loyola.
“It means a lot to me [to make it to the NCAA Tournament],” senior defender Marius Kullman said. “I didn’t want my career to end on our home field. … I’m happy that I get to play another game, and possibly more games, with the guys that [I’m] closest to.”
This is the Ramblers’ first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2016.
“I think we have a good chance to beat them.“Marius Kullman, senior defender
Kentucky received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament after the Wildcats lost to Marshall University in the Conference-USA Championship game.
Kentucky is ranked 21st in the nation while Loyola falls at 34th, according to the NCAA’s rating percentage index (RPI) — a system that ranks all 353 Division I teams based on wins, losses and strength of schedule.
The Wildcats are 9-1-1 at home this year, while the Ramblers are 4-3-1 on the road this season.
“I’m really excited about this draw,” Kullman said. “I watched Kentucky play Xavier [University] earlier this year. They’re a strong team, but I’m really excited about the game on Thursday. I think we have a good chance to beat them.”
Kentucky faced five opponents ranked in the top-25 United Soccer Coaches’ Poll — including then No. 11 Xavier. The Wildcats’ record against those teams was 0-2-3.
Meanwhile, Loyola’s only ranked opponent this season was Missouri State. The Ramblers went 0-2-1 against the Bears — the MVC Championship is counted as a tie since the game went to penalty kicks.
Senior midfielder Aidan Megally said Loyola is prepared due to its difficult non-conference schedule in recent years. He specifically mentioned last season’s trip to play the University of Washington in Seattle, when the Ramblers lost to the then No. 23 Huskies 2-0.
“We’ve had games in the past where we played big teams and big schools, like Washington last year,” Megally said. “I think drawing back to those games will really help us.”
Loyola and Kentucky are scheduled to face off Nov. 21. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. CT.