BIG ROAD TEST
It’s a big weekend in the West Coast Conference. No. 5 BYU looks to take a commanding lead in the league when the Cougars head to the Bay Area to face the league’s two second-place squads San Francisco and No. 20 Santa Clara.
Since its only setback of the season at Stanford Sept. 7, BYU has posted an 8-0-1 record, including a 4-0-0 mark in conference play. The Cougars are 4-1-1 on the road. The BYU defense has allowed just four goals and recorded 10 shutouts on the season, and boasts the nation’s fourth-best goals against average. Goalkeeper Rachel Boaz leads the nation with a .935 save percentage.
BYU visits San Francisco Thursday, and with a 9-3-3 overall mark, the Dons are up for the challenge. With five regular season matches remaining, USF has secured its first winning season since 2004. Goalkeeper MadalynSchiffel tops the conference with eight shutouts and the Dons rank 23rd nationally with a .634 goals against average. USF is looking for its first victory over BYU in series history.
On Saturday, the Cougars face Santa Clara which has won three consecutive WCC games since falling to USF in the the opener. The Broncos have lost to BYU just once in the 10-game series — falling 5-2 last year in Provo.
"BYU is the champ from last year and undefeated in conference this year," said Santa Clara head coach Jerry Smith. "Since joining our conference they've always been one of the teams to beat and they beat us pretty good last year. Our team is up for the challenge this week. We've played a tough schedule so we're a battle-hardened team and we're ready to take on anybody."
SPEAKING OF DEFENSE
West Virginia junior defender Kadeisha Buchanan is among the best players in the NCAA — and the world. This week, it was announced she is one of 10 finalists for the 2015 Ballon d’Or award as the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year.
A native of Brampton, Ontario, Buchanan is a member of the Canadian National Team and was named the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Best Young Player in July. She is the only defender and the only athlete under the age of 20 on the list. The winner will be announced Jan. 11, 2016.
“There are no words to describe how proud I am of Kadeisha and this nomination,” said WVU coach Nikki Izzo-Brown. “There is no higher award in soccer than the Ballon d’Or Award, and for Kadeisha to be on the shortlist speaks to her talent and hard work.”
Also a two-time All-America selection, Buchanan has led the third-ranked Mountaineers to a 14-1-1 record this season. WVU has allowed just four goals on the year, while posting an NCAA-leading 13 shutouts — one shy of the school record.
The Mountaineers are 5-0-1 in Big 12 Conference action and finish out the regular season on the road against Oklahoma State Friday night.
NO WIGGLE ROOM
Three Southeastern Conference teams are in a three-way tie for first place heading into the weekend as No. 8 Florida, No. 17 South Carolina and Missouri are in a bottleneck at the top of the league standings with 5-2-1 records.
The tight race should work itself out a bit as Florida hosts South Carolina at 7 p.m. Thursday. The match will air live on the SEC Network.
Both teams rank in the top 15 nationally in scoring offense and both have a player named Savannah as their leading scorer. Florida’s Savannah Jordan leads her team and the SEC with 14 goals and 33 points, while South Carolina’s Savannah McCaskill tops her team with nine goals and 24 points. South Carolina is looking to rebound from last week’s back-to-back losses against Mississippi and Vanderbilt.
Mississippi knocked off back-to-back top 10 teams for the first time in school history last weekend with shutouts against South Carolina and Auburn, and jumped up to number 13 in the latestes NSCAA Top 25 for its efforts. Senior defender Jessica Hiskey is a key reason for the Rebels' success. Since the former midfielder was moved to center back five games ago, Ole Miss has allowed just two goals while posting a 4-1-0 record in SEC play. The Rebels travel to Tennessee Friday and Texas A and M Sunday to try to keep the momentum swinging their way.
Rutgers sophomore goalkeeper Casey Murphy garnered NSCAA National Women’s Division I Player of the Week for notching a pair of shutouts against Big Ten foes Ohio State and then-No. 9 Penn State last week. Murphy leads the Big Ten in shutouts (13), save percentage (.926), and goals-against average (0.24) this season. Her GAA is the second-best mark in the country, while her save percentage is fourth nationally. The Scarlet Knights host Minnesota Friday as they look to register their fifth consecutive shutout and make a move in the Big Ten standings.
It will be tough for Rutgers to catch Wisconsin, which sits in first place in the Big Ten and needs just one win to clinch a share of its first conference regular season title since 1996. The Badgers have won seven straight and are unbeaten in their past eight matches. They will try to keep the streak alive at Maryland, which is seeking its first Big Ten win of the season.
Cal State Fullerton has won four consecutive matches to push its record to 12-2-1 — the most wins for the program since 2007. The Titans lead the Big West Conference with a 4-1-0 mark in league action. Fullerton is back in action against Cal State Northridge on Sunday.
The University of South Alabama clinched at least a share of the Sun Belt Conference with a victory over Georgia Southern last Sunday. The Jaguars have won eight straight and are 7-0-0 in league action this season. The program has won 16 consecutive games against Sun Belt foes.
Amy Farnum Patronis covers Women's Division I college soccer for College Soccer News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org