Howard University's soccer team, which struggled much of this season before recovering with a strong finish, yesterday received an NCAA tournament bid for the South Atlantic Region.

The 12th-ranked Bison, who finished the regular season at 9-2-2, will play William and Mary (13-6-1), the other team receiving a bid from the region. The teams will play Monday at 1 p.m. at Howard.

The postseason bid is the sixth for Howard Coach Lincoln Phillips in 10 years at Howard. The team had been ineligible for tournament play for the past two years because of a probation imposed in 1977 by the NCAA for using an ineligible player.

"I thought at the beginning of the year that we could have a stronger team than last year's (10-2-2)," said a happy Phillips. "Every year I set my goals, and I thought we could win the national championship this year."

An opening loss to Navy, plus some mediocre showings, appeared to indicate that Phillips was overly optimistic about his young team's chances. But Howard rebounded with victories in its last five games, including impressive wins over Old Dominion (3-1) and William and Mary (4-2).

The winner of Monday's game will host the winner of the South Region, which has one of the strongest fields of the eight regions (Duke, Alabama A&M and Appalachian State). The winner of that game, which must be played by Dec. 7, will advance to the NCAA finals Dec. 13-14 in Tampa.

Nationally, the biggest surprise was the exclusion of perennial power Clemson from the South Region. The Tigers lost to Southern Illinois-Edwardsville in the NCAA final year, but lost the Atlantic Coast Conference title to a resurgent Duke team. Although it finished with a 10-7-2 record, SIU-Edwardsville won a berth in the Midwest Region, due mainly to its rugged schedule.