The South Carolina's women's soccer team knew it was going to receive its third consecutive bid to the NCAA tournament. And the Gamecocks knew they probably would draw one of the 16 host sites for the first time.
But until the big-screen televisions at the Ale House in the Vista flashed the brackets that showed USC playing host to Davidson, Duke and Rutgers this weekend, the coaches and players waited to let out the loud collective cheer that greeted the history-making moment.
"I was nervous the entire time," three-time first-team All-SEC senior defender Blakely Mattern said. "I was still sweating it out."
The feeling of being a No. 2 seed in the UNC bracket - and one of the top eight national seeds - was a feeling too good to describe for the program's signature player, who has played a huge role in the program's progress.
"It's unbelievable," she said. "My dreams have come true to the fullest extent possible."
Mattern can remember her freshman season, when the team gathered quietly and watched on a small TV for a bid that never came. To be at a party this year with fans, media and players and coaches from other USC teams showed how far the program has come.
Before the selection show, the first joyous shouts came when women's basketball coach Dawn Staley showed up and unveiled a black T-shirt that said "Road to Redemption" on the front and the names of Georgia, Florida and LSU on the back with check marks next to them above the words "2009 SEC Champions." Then Staley cracked open a box of the T-shirts to hand out - a gift from the women's basketball program.
The Gamecocks (17-3-2), who claimed their automatic bid by winning the SEC tourney, will play Southern Conference champ Davidson (12-9-1) at 7 p.m. Friday at Stone Stadium, with Duke playing Rutgers in the 4:30 p.m. contest. The winners will meet Sunday afternoon at Stone Stadium. That winner advances to the Sweet 16 of the 64-team field.
USC coach Shelley Smith was both thrilled and relieved. But she was especially satisfied by the glowing words from the ESPNews analysts as they spoke favorably of the program and the team's chances in the tournament.
"It was really nice to have us highlighted in the bracket," Smith said. "I was happy we were rewarded like we should have been."
Smith noted the increasing parity in women's soccer means teams like hers can compete nationally. She isn't going to look ahead, but she's certain the Gamecocks have the ability to make it well past the first round.
"This change in our program is a tremendous feeling," she said.
The Gamecocks have played in the NCAA tournament three times in their 15-year history, losing in the first round to Charlotte in 1998, Duke in 2007 and William & Mary last season. The loss to Duke came in penalty kicks after overtime, and the loss to William & Mary came in overtime.
"That's been a bitter taste in our mouth," Mattern said. "We're not going to be satisfied with being a No. 2 seed and hosting."
Smith said this team showed determination after it ended the regular season with back-to-back losses to LSU and Florida by bouncing back to avenge both defeats in the final two games of the SEC tournament. The championship win over LSU came on penalty kicks after Mattern's goal late in regulation sent the match to overtime.
"We have the potential to beat any team in the country and go deep into the tournament," said Mattern, the SEC tourney MVP.
The crowd at the Ale House agreed. Smiles, hugs and even a team song performed by Kayla Grimsley and Kortney Rhoades had the good feelings flowing.
"I'm so happy for the team right now," Mattern said. "I can't wait until Friday night."