HAYWARD -- All season long the CSU Stanislaus men's soccer team had trouble finding the net, scoring only 21 goals in 16 regular-season games.
So if there's a single factor in the Warriors' run to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time as a Division II program, it's been their sudden knack at scoring. They've tallied 10 goals in their last three games seven to win their conference tournament and three in Thursday's opening-round victory over Notre Dame de Namur.
They'll have to continue that marksmanship tonight when they take their 12-4-3 record against Simon Fraser University of British Columbia (16-1-1) in a 7 o'clock kickoff at Pioneer Stadium on the campus of CSU East Bay.
"Simon Fraser is going to be a tough game," said Daniel Kuczynski, who scored Thursday's game-winner and is one of two Canadians on the Stanislaus side. "If we beat them it will be a big accomplishment. Personally, it doesn't mean anything extra just because I'm Canadian."
But there is another cross-border relationship for which the Simon Fraser-Stanislaus battle is particularly meaningful.
At Thursday's game, SFU athletic director Milt Richards, who held the same post at Stanislaus for 13 years, was wearing the blue colors of the Clan while his wife, former Warrior athlete and current Turlock city councilwoman Amy Bublak, was sporting Warriors' red.
They'll be pulling for opposing corners in tonight's game, yet Stanislaus coach Dana Taylor gives a lot of credit to Richards for the rise in the Warriors' soccer fortunes.
"It's been a special year and I'm happy for the upperclassmen," Taylor said. "This just didn't happen this year. This started four years ago with the support of our president (Hamid Shirvani) and our athletic director at the time. Now we get to play Milt's team.
"Our new athletic director, Mike Matoso, is doing a great job supporting all our teams and building camaraderie within all the teams."
Taylor also gave credit to women's coach Gabe Bolton, who he said broke the ice for all Stanislaus teams by winning the California Collegiate Athletic Association title last season.
"Winning in Stanislaus athletics is becoming contagious," Taylor said. "Gabe's team led the way last year by winning the CCAA, showing everybody it was possible to win the conference. Everybody is a part of this, not just one person."
Simon Fraser, located in Burnaby, immediately east of Vancouver, is the lone Canadian university that is a full member of the NCAA a status it gained this year at the end of a multi-year process.
As the West Region's top seed, SFU not only received a first-round bye but also earned the right to host. As much as the Clan would have loved to entertain two other teams for the event, it was not feasible to garner the passports necessary for the traveling athletes and school support staffs between Sunday's bracket announcement and Thursday's kickoff.
So Richards had to look across the border for a host site, and his coach wanted a venue most like their home field, which features FieldTurf and generally damp and cold playing conditions.
After weighing several options in the Pacific Northwest, they contacted CSU East Bay. On Thursday, SFU coach Alan Koch was obviously pleased with the facilities and playing conditions in Hayward, as the turf was damp and the temperatures dipped into the low 50s by the end of the game. Similar conditions are expected for tonight's game.
In the other half of the West bracket, Cal State Los Angeles defeated Seattle Pacific 2-1 in penalty kicks and will face host Grand Canyon tonight in Phoenix. Should Stanislaus and its conference rival in Los Angeles both win, the Warriors would host the West final next weekend with a spot in the Elite Eight at stake.
But that's looking ahead, which Stanislaus can't afford to do. After all, the Warriors weren't expected by many people to reach this level. Even in the balloting for the all-conference team, a poll taken between the end of the regular season and the conference tournament, the Warriors were not granted a single first-team selection.
"We have a wonderful blend of youth and experience that we blend together, and we use a lot of players to get where we're going," said Taylor, whose team is 8-2-1 this year away from Warrior Stadium.
"Four years ago, it was about learning our style, and it's all about workmanship. The level of play keeps rising and every player on this team has each other's back."