The NCAA Tournament opens with a bang in Columbus on Thursday, as Akron travels down I-71 to meet Ohio State at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium at 5:00 p.m. ET Thursday afternoon.
It's the first match of the tournament for both sides, and the stakes are high: the winner advances to meet the top-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish on November 23.
Both sides feature six Crew Soccer Academy alumni spread among them. Five are on the Ohio State side of the ball: defender/midfielder Kyle Culbertson, defender Tyler Kidwell (pictured), midfielder Zach Mason, midfielder Alex Ranalli and defender Hunter Robertson. Meanwhile, defender Andrew Souders is the lone Zips representative.
Per Executive Director of Crew Juniors Andrew Arthurs' scouting report on who to watch for, Hunter Robertson was named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team, with Culbertson, Kidwell and Mason featuring as regular starters for the Buckeyes in 2014. Culbertson contributed three goals and three assists in 19 appearances. Ranalli made four appearances as a substitute throughout the campaign.
With five Buckeyes coming from Crew SC's youth setup, the Scarlet and Gray have featured a whole lot of Black & Gold this season.
"[The number of alumni on Ohio State] is as high as it's been, and they're good players as well," said Arthurs. "That's part of the idea with OSU. One of our CSA assistants is Frank Speth, but he's John [Bluem's] assistant at OSU. That's part of the idea: he coaches on our staff and gets familiar with some of the boys for recruiting, obviously. The relationship is very good."
Of course, Crew SC goalkeeper Matt Lampson is a former Buckeye. Meanwhile, three Crew SC Homegrown Players have past ties to Akron: Wil Trapp, Ben Speas and Chad Barson. This season, CSA alum Souders featured as a regular starter for the Zips, making 19 appearances with one goal and one assist.
Soccer is blooming in Ohio, and the representation of CSA in a high-profile match between two programs such as Ohio State and Akron is further evidence of that fact.
"To have five of the 22 kids in the starting lineups for this match, that's neat," said Arthurs.