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La Salle women's soccer ready for upset in NCAA tourney

WITH THE matchups set, it's time for the 64 teams in the women's soccer NCAA Tournament to put everything on the field for a shot at the championship.

WITH THE matchups set, it's time for the 64 teams in the women's soccer NCAA Tournament to put everything on the field for a shot at the championship.

Philadelphia will be represented by the Atlantic 10 champion La Salle Explorers, who finished the season 17-4-1 and beat VCU, 2-1, in overtime for the conference crown. The Explorers travel to Charlottesville to meet the third-ranked Virginia Cavaliers at 6 p.m. Friday. La Salle coach Paul Royal believes his team can pull off the first-round upset.

"We're going to really frustrate them," Royal said. "I really could see it being a 0-0 game and somebody pops the winning goal in OT or even going as far as a shootout because the mentality our kids have and the talent that they've possessed these last few years is going to cause a lot of problems.

"I said that to the girls, I'd be pretty upset if I was Virginia, having to get matched up with a quality team like ours; they did a lot of work in the ACC Tournament and was as high as third in the country and they get a tough first-round matchup like us."

"We knew that anyone we played, it was going to be a challenge in a sense that it's the NCAA Tournament and the stakes are high," said Explorers goalie Gabby Pakhtigian, who was named to the All-Atlantic 10 first team. "We're prepared for that and there's a lot of excitement right now, just to get an opportunity to go down to Virginia and play them on their field and just try to give them a run for their money."

Pakhtigian is a redshirt junior who went to North Penn High. She allowed 17 goals in 21 games. She was 16-3-1 with 10 shutouts.

This is La Salle's second trip to the tournament in as many years. The Explorers were knocked out in the first round last year by Maryland, but Royal regards that experience as a reminder of what his team can do.

"Playing a quality team like Maryland last year prepared our girls and it gave them the belief that we can play with anybody and can beat anybody in the country," Royal said. "That experience last year is really invaluable, so knowing that we can go out there on any given day and play with the best."

While the Cavaliers have the higher ranking, Royal believes the Explorers have an advantage with their style of play.

"They're probably the best possession team in the country," Royal said. "We look at it as a tough draw, but it's also going to be a great challenge for us. We've wanted these type of games for a couple of years now, so I think the girls are really hungry about playing a quality club to Virginia.

"We were excited because we've always done very well against teams that look to over-possess and knock the ball out too much. Our kids are incredibly in shape, incredibly hard working and we've always caused a lot of problems for teams that do take a lot of touches on the ball, that do look to spring the ball around the field. Our kids pick up the mentality of really pursuing the ball and that pressure is going to cause some problems for Virginia."

Royal believes the Explorers can make a deep run through November and possibly advance to the Dec. 2 championship game.

"I'm predicting a win," he said. "I believe in these kids, I think that they believe they can play with anyone in the country and now that it's time for the tournament, maybe we'll be that Cinderella story."