The Coastal Carolina and Wake Forest men’s soccer programs crossed paths last spring in an exhibition game, and as they prepare to clash again Sunday evening in the second round of the NCAA tournament – this time with incomparably greater stakes – they do so with some familiarity and plenty of mutual respect.
Talking over the phone Friday afternoon, Wake Forest coach Jay Vidovich heaped praise on a Chanticleers program that has long had his attention.
“They come from a conference that doesn’t have the same tradition as ours or the same history of championships, but I’d say since coach [Shaun] Docking has been at Coastal, they’ve been a bit of a power,” Vidovich said. “There were days that they were one of the best teams in the country, and a bad bounce at Santa Clara [in 2003] cost them. They’re a program that’s been around and been successful. Anybody that can win 19 games, score 60 goals and hold their opponents to  is a pretty good team.”
And the Chants (19-2-2) have certainly had a very good season, for that matter, but the opportunity awaits Sunday as they play the No. 15-seeded Demon Deacons (11-3-5) in Winston-Salem, N.C., to elevate the national profile of the program even further.
In the second round of the NCAA tournament for the second straight season and fourth time overall, the Chants are looking to break through to the next level for only the second time in program history – the last being during that 2003 season when they were ultimately eliminated in the third round by Santa Clara in overtime.
Docking, though, is keeping it all in perspective.
“There’s no pressure,” he said. “I think we’ve proved this year that we’re a very good team and a good program, a top-10 program. I think we’ve proved a lot already this year, so I think we just go into this game with a nothing-to-lose attitude and see what happens.”
No. 13-ranked Coastal rolled past Elon, 3-0, on Thursday in the first round of the tournament and has won 16 of its last 17 games. The Chants are led by senior forward Ashton Bennett (15 goals and nine assists), sophomore forward Ricky Garbanzo (13 goals, five assists) and a defense that has been smothering at times.
Wake Forest, meanwhile, is ranked No. 14 in the latest poll from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America and made a statement at the end of the regular season with a 4-2 win over previously-unbeaten Maryland. But with an early exit from the ACC tournament, the Demon Deacons haven’t played since Nov. 6.
“We’ve had several good games this year,” Vidovich said. “To play Maryland, to [beat] a top team at the end of the season is always a satisfying thing. The only thing is you’re only as good as your last game, and our last game was a tie with UVA and we failed to advance [in the ACC tournament].”
Sophomore Sean Okoli leads the team with 11 goals and three assists while freshman Michael Gamble and junior Luca Gimenez have each scored seven goals.
Docking said he and the Chants took a lot from that spring exhibition game with Wake Forest, but with the addition of impact freshmen on the roster, he spent Friday getting up to speed on the Demon Deacons’ personnel and the challenge that awaits.
It’s a significant one, he said, but again, that goes both ways.
“I think the guys know that they can play with anybody in the country,” Docking said. “Wake Forest is one of the best teams in the country right now, [but] I don’t think [we’re] going to be intimidated going into that game. I think they’re excited, looking forward to it and we’ve got nothing to lose going up there.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.