BENNINGTON >> For the first time under coach Dan Engelstad and the first time for the Southern Vermont College men's basketball team in more than a decade, the Mountaineers are back in the NCAA tournament.
They found out on Monday they will travel to Medford, Mass., to face Tufts University out of the NESCAC, on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.
And to a man, the Mountaineers are not just happy to be there — they want to make a deep run in the tournament.
"I had no idea where we'd be, maybe Plattsburgh, but playing in [the Boston area] is exciting," said Engelstad, who is in his third season leading the Mountaineers. "We make trips to Boston all the time [in our conference], but this time, we're staying overnight at a nice hotel and practicing the day before, doing all that stuff that Division I schools do [in the NCAA tournament.]"
SVC and Tufts will play in the second game of the evening with tip-off slated for 7:30 p.m. The winner of Friday's game will take on the winner of the first game — Franklin & Marshall against Skidmore, scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m.
Friday's winners will then face off at 7 p.m. Saturday evening at Tufts' Cousens Gymnasium for a quarterfinal berth.
"It's a wide open draw and every team is good, but I believe we can compete with anyone in it," Engelstad said.
During a viewing party on Monday afternoon, many of the Mountaineer players took out their phones to take pictures of the bracket as it was released on ncaa.com and analyzed by Dave McHugh of D3hoops.com.
"They were all excited and even though they didn't know exactly where Tufts was right away, the most they learned about [the bracket], the more and more excited they were about the challenge," Engelstad said. "We're a team that's playing loose and free and that bodes well for us. We're proud of what we've done to get here. Opportunities like this are rare, so we have to take advantage of that opportunity."
SVC reaches the national tournament for just the second time in team history, earning an automatic bid after winning its first-ever NECC tournament on Saturday. The Mountaineers are 1-1 all-time in NCAA games as SVC went to the tournament in 2003, defeating Lasell College 63-60 in the opening round before getting bounced by Amherst College with an 84-60 loss.
SVC brings a 24-3 overall record and 16-game winning streak into the tourney, having now won 23 of its last 24 contests. Friday will mark the first-ever matchup between the Mountaineers and the Jumbos in any sport. Tufts enters the tournament with an overall record of 20-6, receiving an at-large bid after falling to Amherst in the NESCAC semifinals on Saturday. The Jumbos were ranked 18th in last week's D3hoops.com national Top 25 poll.
"Going into the year, we had goals to win the conference, win the NECC and make a run in the national tournament," Engelstad said. "It's great to see where our program has come from Day 1 to now. The guys are proud of that and we're not going to settle for just getting there, we want to take the next step and beat some of these teams."
Tickets for Friday night's game can be purchased at the door. Admission will be $10 for adults and $5 for students and seniors.