By ROD GIPSON
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 30, 2001
TAMPA -- Keith Fulk is as much psychologist as soccer coach.
As his Tampa men's soccer team prepares for the NCAA Division II final four this weekend, Fulk has balanced building it up and knocking it down.
He hopes the psychological approach results in extra motivation as the Spartans face Southern Illinois-Edwardsville at 8 tonight in the second semifinal at Pepin/Rood Stadium. Cal State Dominguez Hills and Dowling (N.Y.) play at 5 p.m.
The championship match is 1 p.m. Sunday.
"This is the final four," Fulk said. "There shouldn't be too much motivation needed. We're blessed to be hosting, but every team here is talented and it all depends on who can turn it up a notch."
The Spartans will try to win their first national title since 1994.
Since Tampa's quarterfinal win Nov. 18 over Lander, Fulk and his assistants have told the squad how good it is. With a 17-0-2 record and lofty rankings all season, that was the easy part. Tampa has won nine straight.
But Fulk also reminded his team it hasn't completed its goal. "It's hard to get that through sometimes when you're undefeated," said Fulk, who twice has guided Tampa to the postseason. This is his first final four. "Sometimes these young players think they are invincible. So we have had to remind them that they are a good team but we're not here at the finals to play one game."
SIU-Edwardsville is in its second NCAA Tournament since 1983. The Cougars are led by senior forwards David Mwendapole and Justin McMillian, who combined for 27 goals and 19 assists.
The Cougars face Tampa keeper Roy Swarts, who has allowed .72 goals per game and has five shutouts this season. Offensively, first-team All-America forward Roy Fink has scored 17 goals. In the other semifinal, Dowling faces the defending Division II national champion. Dowling is in its fourth NCAA Tournament in five years and features New York Collegiate Athletic Conference player of the year Mervin Shade, a senior keeper who has allowed .35 goals per game.