2013 NCAA Women’s Soccer Primer –
College Soccer News is adding Division I women’s soccer to its coverage in 2013, and to get the season kicked off on the right foot, here are some storylines coaches, players and fans will be following when NCAA action officially begins on Aug. 23.
1. New Conference Alignment. This is definitely a story of the rich getting richer. With the Atlantic Coast Conference adding Notre Dame, Syracuse and Pittsburgh to expand to 14 members this year, the toughest women’s soccer league in the nation just got tougher. The ACC boasts five of the top 10 teams in the Preseason NSCAA Division I Top 25 – No. 1 North Carolina, No. 3 Florida State, No. 7 Duke, No. 8 Virginia and No. 10 Notre Dame. The Irish, who won 15 Big East regular season championships since 1995, know competing in their new league will not be easy.
“From top to bottom, the ACC is without a doubt the strongest conference in women’s soccer,” Notre Dame head coach Randy Waldrum said. “There were eight conference teams that went to the NCAA tournament last year, including the eventual national champion (North Carolina) and another that reached the College Cup (Florida State).
“This year, there’s so much talent in the ACC that just about any one of eight or nine teams has the potential to get to the Cup and win it. We’re going to be tested every single night, which should keep us sharp as get into the postseason, and I believe our team is ready to accept and embrace the challenges that come with moving to the ACC.”
Some of the most talented – and decorated – players in the ACC return to action in 2013. UNC, the defending NCAA Champion, boasts a roster that includes MAC Hermann Trophy winner and ACC Defensive Player of the Year Crystal Dunn, and 2012 NCAA Women’s College Cup’s Most Outstanding Offensive and Defensive Players Kealia Ohai and Satara Murray. The Seminoles welcome back First Team All-ACC goalkeeper Kelsey Wys and defender Kassey Kallman, while ACC Tournament MVP Morgan Brian is back for Virginia and Duke returns ACC Freshman of the Year Cassie Pecht.
In addition to the already superstar cast in the ACC, Notre Dame returns Cari Roccaro, the Big East Rookie of the Year, and Syracuse’s Brittany Anghel comes back for her senior season after earning Big East Goalkeeper of the Year in 2012.
The ACC is not the only league shaking things up. Look for more changes in the newly-aligned Big East and the rebranded American Athletic Conference, as well as new faces in the Mountain West, Conference USA and Sun Belt.
2.Stanford’s New Addition. Minnesota’s loss was the Cardinal’s gain in the off-season as the nation’s leading scorer in 2012 –junior Taylor Uhl– transferred to Stanford. Uhl, who tied for the NCAA lead with 21 goals along with nine assists for a national-leading 51 points, will play immediately for the Cardinal and boost a front line that returns all three starters from last year, including their top two scorers in senior Courtney Verloo (10 goals, 11 assists) and junior ChiomaUbogagu (5 goals, 11 assists).
Uhl scored or assisted on 68 percent of Minnesota’s goals last season while helping the Gophers to an 11-7-2 record, and Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe expects she will have an immediate impact for his squad, which is ranked No. 2 in the Preseason NSCAA Division I Top 25 and has advanced to the Women’s College Cup for five consecutive seasons.
"She’s fast, skillful, and, most importantly, she scores goals, which is like gold," Ratcliffe said.
Ratcliffe will certainly be hoping Uhl is the next star in a long line of former Stanford forwards – Christen Press, Kelley O’Hara and Lindsay Taylor – who regularly scored 20 goals or more in a season.
3. 15 Years … and Counting? No. 4 Penn State, last year’s national runner-up, has dominated the Big Ten Conference since the late 1990s, winning 15 consecutive regular season titles. When the streak began in 1998, the program had been in existence for just four years. And, the Nittany Lions, who recorded a 10-0-1 mark in league action in 2012, have been tabbed as preseason favorite by conference coaches to win a 16th straight title as they return eight starters from last year’s squad.
So, who can possibly challenge PSU to dismantle the dynasty? The most logical guess would be No. 19 Michigan. Not only do the Wolverines return 10 players that started at least 10 matches last year, their roster includes seven seniors, including forward Nkem Ezurike, who is just ten goals short of becoming the program’s all-time leading goal scorer. Plus, Michigan is hungry to avenge last year’s regular season tie versus PSU and a 1-1 tie in the third round of the NCAA Tournament, which ended the Wolverines’ season as the Lions advanced on penalty kicks. The last time Michigan beat PSU was in 2002. The two squads will meet in University Park on Oct. 13.
4. Something New A Bruin. With former UCLA head coach B.J. Snow accepting the position as the U.S. Under-17 Women’s National Team Head Coach last December, the Bruins searched far and wide for a replacement, and landed Amanda Cromwell, who had led the University of Central Florida’s program for the past 14 years. Cromwell guided the Golden Knights to 12 NCAA Tournament appearances in 14 seasons.
The coaching change has not lowered the expectations for UCLA to be a postseason contender one iota. In fact, the Bruins are ranked No. 5 in the Preseason NSCAA Division I Top 25 and were picked to win the Pac-12 Conference in a vote by the head coaches by a narrow margin of two points over Stanford. Cromwell brought in a stellar recruiting class which includes U.S. Youth National Team members Gabbi Miranda, Lauren Kaskie, Zoey Goralski and Darian Jenkins. The Bruins were already pretty stacked with nine starters returning from last year’s squad that compiled an 18-3-2 mark and advanced to the NCAA Quarterfinals.
Cromwell will not have an easy slate in her first year as UCLA’s schedule is jam-packed with ranked opponents, including No. 1 UNC, No. 2 Stanford and No. 10 Notre Dame on the road, and a meeting with No. 7 Duke at home.
5. Broncos Look to Bolster Offense. No. 16 Santa Clara already has two scoring stars in its lineup with senior midfielder Julie Johnston and junior forward Sophia Huerta. Johnston, a First Team All-American in 2013, tallied eight goals and five assists despite missing the first seven contests of the season as the captain of the U.S. U-20 National Team. Huerta, who missed five games while playing with the Mexican U-20 National Team, recorded six goals and six assists in the remainder of the season and garnered All-West Coast Conference honors.
However, this season, the Broncos will add another scoring threat as Morgan Marlborough joins the team. Marlborough, a 2010 All-American at Nebraska, transferred to Santa Clara after the 2011 season and sat out last year due to NCAA transfer rules. In each of her three seasons with the Huskers, she netted at least 19 goals and should certainly give the Broncos a boost offensively in 2013.
"This is a highly unusual circumstance, where someone has played three years of college soccer and transfers with only one year remaining," said Santa Clara head coach Jerry Smith. "It's even rarer when the player is an All-American or conference player of the year. There's tremendous anticipation for what Morgan will be able to do.”
Santa Clara will need the added offensive threat from the get-go as the Broncos travel to the Klockner Classic in Virginia to open the season against defending NCAA Champion North Carolina on Aug. 23. Two days later, the Broncos will take on No. 8 Virginia, the host of the tournament.SCU also opened last season against the defending national champion, falling to Stanford.
Amy Farnum Patronis is a contributing writer for College Soccer News covering Division I women's soccer. She can be reached at email@example.com