The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) has officially released the opening round pairings and tournament bracket for the 2012 NAIA Women's Soccer National Championship.
There will be 30 teams playing at 15 campus sites on Nov. 17.
The 15 winners of the National Championship Opening Round matches, as well as host Mobile (Ala.), will advance to the 29th annual national championship final site from Nov. 26 - Dec. 1 in Orange Beach, Ala.
Top seed and four-time defending national champion Lee University will host first-time qualifier Montreat College (N.C.). The Lady Flames, who enter the tournament riding a 20-match championship win streak dating back to 2008, own the third-most all-time tournament wins (26) and are 4-0-0 in Opening Round matches.
"My initial thought after looking at the bracket is that this might be the best overall tournament we have seen in the nine years we have been going to the tournament," said coach Matt Yelton. "There were not many upsets in the conference tournaments so the pool of at-large teams was very good and allowed for an overall higher level of teams that got in the competition. On top of that, our side looks really tough with 11 of the top 17 ranked teams in the NAIA all on our side."
Montreat, who qualified by winning the Appalachian Athletic Conference Tournament, is one-of-eight programs appearing in their first-ever national championship. Lee and Montreat have six prior meetings - all regular season - on the books with the Lady Flames holding a 5-1-0 advantage in the series.
"We don't know a whole lot about Montreat, but by all appearances they have had a very good season by capturing the regular season and conference tournament championship of the AAC"added Yelton. "A few weeks ago they tied the 11th- ranked team in NCAA Division II, so they obviously have a team that can go and get good results. We will have to make sure that we train and perform at a high level this week if we want the opportunity to move to Orange Beach."
Twenty-four teams earned an automatic berth into the field of 31 by winning their respective conference/independent/unaffiliated group tournament or regular season. Championship newcomer Faulkner (Ala.) also received an automatic spot as the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament runner-up. The Eagles will travel to seventh-seeded Embry-Riddle (Fla.). The SSAC has four teams in the championship field.
"I don't know that the target to beat Lee can get any bigger," Yelton admitted, "but with the No. 1 seed and the No.1 national ranking to go along with our past success, we will have be prepared for every game. With the recognition that we have received we just need to focus on showing up, doing our job, and playing to the best of our ability. As long as we put the focus on our performance I will be happy with our team."
The six at-large teams were selected based on the final official NAIA Women's Soccer Modified Ratings Percentage Index (MRPI). The MRPI consists of the team's modified winning percentage, their opponents' winning percentage and the cumulative ratings points from the NAIA Women's Soccer Coaches' Top 25 Poll. Each of the three values has a weighted percentage calculated in the MRPI. The MRPI modifies the value of home/away/neutral results and adds more value for games against opponents ranked in their respective national poll.
Three of the six at-large berths - No. 2 Lindsey Wilson (Ky.), No. 13 William Carey (Miss.) and No. 14 Baker (Kan.) - will host an Opening Round. The Blue Raiders welcome Park (Mo.) to Columbia, Ky., while William Carey and Baker host Texas at Brownsville and Bellevue (Neb.), respectively.
Baker and Bellevue are the only two teams paired in the Opening Round that have played previously in the national championship. The two sides' lone meeting came in the Opening Round of the 2011 national championship. The Wildcats claimed a 2-1 victory in that contest.
Westmont (Calif.), Concordia (Ore.) and Lindsey Wilson boast 10-or-more national championship appearances. The Warriors lead the trio with 15, while Lindsey Wilson is second with 14 trips and Concordia third with12.
NeuLion, the NAIA's official video-streaming company of 12 select NAIA national championship events, will be broadcasting all final site games of the 2012 Women's Soccer National Championship. Single day packages can be purchased for $9.95, while an all-tournament pass is available for $29.95.