Only one of the 20 other Creighton teams that played in the NCAA soccer tournament carted as many losses into “the second season” as this year's squad.
The 2001 Bluejays dropped eight games before losing in the first round of the tournament. The current Creighton players, who take a 9-8-2 record into Thursday's first-round match against Seattle, don't want to duplicate that finish.
“There wasn't a guarantee that we would be in the tournament,” Creighton midfielder Zach Barnes said. “Everyone starts 0-0 right now, and it's a new part of the season.
“We can't throw this second chance away. No one wants to say goodbye this early.”
The loser of the 7 p.m. match at Morrison Stadium packs it in for the season while the winner will advance to a second-round meeting Sunday at second-seeded Washington. Creighton knocked off the Huskies last season in making it to the College Cup for the second straight year.
The Bluejays had aspirations of making it three final four appearances in a row, and their selection as an at-large team despite of an up-and-down season keeps those hopes alive.
“This is kind of Creighton's time,” sophomore defender Brendan Hines-Ike said. “The NCAA tournament comes around, and this is when we start to shine. It's special for us, but it's business for us at the same time.
“We have to play well and win Thursday if we want to continue this journey.”
It's been a difficult one to this point as Creighton got off to a strong start only to struggle in its first season of Big East play. Some of the Bluejays' problems were no doubt a result of the stiffer competition they faced in their move from the Missouri Valley to the new conference.
Creighton also played a demanding nonconference schedule, which factored into gaining an at-large spot in the tournament as its strength of schedule (sixth) and RPI (29th) helped offset its near .500 record.
But the difficult schedule and increased travel took its toll, as did injuries that hit the team's forwards particularly hard. Senior forward Sean Kim was lost early in the season with a knee injury. Freshman Fabian Herbers, the team's second-leading scorer, won't play against Seattle because of a cartilage tear in his knee. Sophomore Christian Blandon is doubtful with a back injury.
“It's been almost the perfect storm this season with all the adversity that we had to go through,” Bluejay coach Elmar Bolowich said. “It's been a strange year.”
Creighton enters the tournament off a pair of 2-1 losses to Providence, the first coming in the final regular-season game and the second in the Big East tournament. The Bluejays played the latter match without Herbers and junior Jose Ribas, who had to sit out because they accumulated five yellow cards.
In addition, leading scorer Timo Pitter played sparingly because of illness.
This marks Bolowich's 18th appearance in NCAA tournament in a coaching career that spans a quarter of a century. His last four teams — his final two at North Carolina and his first two at Creighton — have ended the season in the final four.
The path to a possible fifth College Cup starts against a Seattle team that will be making its first appearance in the tournament. The Redhawks are 10-8-4 but bring an 11-match unbeaten streak (8-0-3) into the game. They have not lost since a 2-0 setback to Washington on Oct. 8.
Bolowich is hoping the difficult schedule his team faced has prepared it for the rigors of tournament play.
“It's do-or-die time,” he said. “You have no second chances any more. At the same time, this is where you want to be at this point. We're fortunate we are in this position to play a few more days at least, and maybe a little longer.
“We'll take our chances.”