Bradley heads to Indiana as the decided underdog against the No. 4 seed Hoosiers Wednesday in the second round of the NCAA Division I Men's Tournament, but there's no one betting against the Braves after what they've overcome this season.
On the eve of preseason practice, Bradley player Danny Dahlquist, whose father Craig is an assistant athletic director at the university, died of carbon monoxide poisoning in a house fire set after a prank went awry, and three of his roommates, all Bradley players, were charged with arson.
Bradley coach Jim DeRose says no one gave his team a chance to come back from such a tragedy, but the Braves shared the Missouri Valley regular-season title and won the conference tournament at Creighton.
"I don't think there is a better story in sports than the one about what this team has been able to achieve and the manner in how they achieved it," DeRose told the Peoria Journal-Star. "They have not stopped mourning, and it has not been a lot of fun. But they have found two hours respite of refuge in soccer. It's something they can truly be together on."
Danny Dahlquist's family was with the Braves in Omaha when they won the MVC title and they were with the team at the Lariat Club, a Peoria steakhouse, when the players watched the NCAA Tournament draw be announced on television.
Last year Bradley was 4.4 seconds away from wining the MVC Tournament final and going to the NCAA Tournament, but Creighton rallied to send the game to overtime and beat Bradley.
This year, the MVC title game again went down to the wire, but this time Bradley beat Creighton, 1-0, winning on senior Stephen Burst's goal with 86 seconds remaining. After the final, Craig Dahlquist was presented his son's championship medal.
The Braves had tee-shirts made with the inscription "4.4/16." They've already overcome the reminder of missing out on last year's NCAA Tournament by 4.4 seconds.
After beating DePaul, 2-0, in the first round, Bradley is one game away from achieving their goal of reaching the Sweet 16.