Thirty-two teams will be vying for eight spots as the NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Championship continues this weekend with second- and third-round action at eight different campus sites. Who will get two steps closer to the Women’s College Cup? Here’s the first half of my predictions for which teams will advance to the quarterfinal round. By Amy Farnum Patronis
Pick: Florida State
No. 1 seed Florida State hosts South Alabama, Texas Tech and Auburn this weekend as the Seminoles remain on their quest to defend their first NCAA title. FSU is 35-1-0 in the NCAA Tournament at the Seminole Soccer Complex with its only loss coming to Notre Dame in the 2009 quarterfinals.
That being said, the Seminoles are likely to get through the weekend unscathed. FSU will face South Alabama for the third consecutive NCAA Tournament. The Seminoles defeated the Jaguars 5-0 in the first round in each of the past two years.
Texas Tech upset West Virginia to win the program’s first Big 12 Championship and Auburn did knock off a Florida team that defeated FSU earlier this year, the Seminoles are battle-tested after going through the ACC schedule.
Pick: North Carolina
Picking the winner for this site is a really tough call. The two second round games feature ACC-SEC matchups as North Carolina meets Texas A&M and Clemson hosts Ole Miss. All four teams have a chance, but I picked the Tar Heels because it’s usually not smart to count them out.
Texas A&M advanced to the College Cup for the first time ever last year, and are looking to return. The Aggies head coach G Guerrieri and UNC head coach Anson Dorrance are the only two coaches to appear in every NCAA Championship since 1995, so there’s no doubt these teams will be prepared. They are each scoring a little more than two goals per game, so the difference will likely be in the defense — UNC ranks 13th in the nation, which the Aggies are 90th.
In the other matchup, Clemson will likely prevail with the backing of the hometown crowd. The Tigers’ only loss at home this year was to No. 1 seed Virginia. Look for an all-ACC meeting in the third round game. While North Carolina has lost four midfielders to ACL injuries for the remainder of the season, the Tar Heels are talented enough to advance to the quarterfinals.
I think the Blue Devils will cause some problems in Gainesville this weekend. First, Duke will take care of FGCU and put a halt to the Eagles’ nine-game winning streak. Then, the Duke defense will put up a fight against a Florida offense that rankings eighth in the nation in scoring with 2.5 goals per game.
The Blue Devils have allowed only two goals over the last seven matches and have posted back-to-back shutouts. Duke ranks 17th in the nation with a 0.616 GAA and has posted 12 shutouts on the season, including Florida State and North Carolina. Yes, the Gators have Savannah Jordan — who ranks second in the NCAA with 22 goals this season — but if Duke minimize Jordan’s damage, the Blue Devils have a chance to pull the upset.
Stanford hosts to a trio of familiar opponents this weekend as the Cardinal faces BYU in second round action Thursday night, while Arizona and Santa Clara tangle in the other matchup. The Cardinal shutout BYU, 1-0, in September, and edged Arizona, 3-2, in overtime at the beginning of October. Stanford fell to Santa Clara, 1-0, at the end of September and has been unbeaten since then, going 11-0-1.
The Cardinal boasts a 0.534 goals against average, good for 9th in the NCAA rankings, and have posted 11 shutouts on the season. Stanford missed out on the College Cup last year. That’s not likely to happen again.
University Park, Pa.
Pick: Penn State
The Nittany Lions have held their opponents to one or goal less in the last 18 matches and have allowed two goals in a match only twice this season. Meanwhile, Penn State is productive on the offensive side, scoring 2.24 goals per game. While Boston U. is certainly on a roll after upending St. John’s in the first round and extending their winning streak to eight games, the Terriers will have a tough time pulling another upset.
Virginia Tech is an ACC-tested squad that should not have any trouble with Ohio State. The Hokies rank 13th in the nation in scoring offense with 2.35 goals per game, led by junior forward Murielle Tiernan’s 14 goals.
When Penn State and Virginia Tech meet in the third round, it sets up as an offensive battle and both squads’ defenses will need to step up. With home field advantage on their side, the Nittany Lions (who are 33-6-1 in NCAA Tournament games at home) will advance to the quarterfinals.
Pick: West Virginia
After suffering an upset to Texas Tech in the Big 12 Championship, the Mountaineers are on a mission to survive and advance to the third round. WVU is 3-0 against Big Ten Conference opponents this season and should have continued success against Northwestern Friday.
Loyola Marymount already pulled a big upset at California for the program’s first NCAA Tournament win and the Lions’ nine seniors are looking to extend their season for as long as possible. I’ll think the veteran-laden squad will get one more victory against Minnesota, and then run into a West Virginia team that is trying to advance to the third round for the first time since 2010.
West Virginia’s defense, anchored by star defender Kadeisha Buchanan, ranks second in the nation with a 0.344 goals against average. The Mountaineers and their stellar defense will move on.
New Brunswick, N.J.
Pick: Notre Dame
Rutgers and Notre Dame are two of the best defensive teams in the nation and they will both advance in their respective second round games against a pair of solid squads — Hofstra and UConn.
The Scarlet Knights have posted a nation-best 16 shutouts and rank third nationally with a .36 goals against average. Notre Dame has allowed just nine goals in 19 games and boasts the sixth-best GAA at .456. The Irish have recorded three consecutive shutouts and have not allowed a goal in six of its last seven games.
While both Rutgers and the Irish are tough defensively, Notre Dame is more productive on the offensive side. The Irish have netted eight goals in their last two games, including four from senior forward Anna Maria Gilbertson. I’ve got to give this one to the Irish.
Princeton is on a hot streak entering its second round match-up with USC Friday, and the Tigers are poised to stretch their unbeaten streak to 14 games. The Tigers downed ACC foe Boston College, 4-2, in first round action and are pretty solid offensively. Princeton ranks sixth nationally with 2.56 goals per game.
Virginia is scoring 3.45 goals per game which ranks second nationally. Fifteen different players have scored a goal for the Cavaliers and 16 different players have notched an assist. UVa’s defense is also among the best in the nation with a .583 goals against average. With that said, the Cavaliers should breeze by UNC Wilmington in second round action.
In a third round match-up between Princeton and Virginia, the No. 1 seeded Cavaliers shouldn’t have much trouble advancing to the quarterfinals.
Amy Farnum Patronis covers Women's Divison I College Soccer for College Soccer News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org