The NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer season kicks off on Friday, Aug. 22. Here are some tidbits to get fans prepped and ready for 2014:
READY TO DEFEND: A season after winning the program’s first NCAA Championship, UCLA is primed to start its quest for a second trophy. The Bruins return 10 starters from last year’s squad, including a national-best four MAC Hermann Watch List honorees – senior defender Abby Dahlkemper, sophomore forward Darian Jenkins, senior midfielder Sarah Killion and senior goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland. The preseason No. 1 Bruins, who are the favorites to win the Pac-12 Conference crown, welcome back their entire backline that led the nation with a 0.30 goals against average. UCLA hosts Maryland on Friday.
ACC-STRONG: The Atlantic Coast Conference is arguably the nation’s top league on an annual basis and this season is no different as it boasts eight programs ranked among the NSCAA Division I Preseason Top 25, including four teams appearing in the top five. NCAA runner-up and defending ACC champion Florida State ranks No. 2, followed by No. 3 Virginia, No. 4 North Carolina and No. 5 Virginia Tech.
The Seminoles, who joined fellow league members Virginia and Virginia Tech at last year’s Women’s College Cup, were picked to repeat as ACC champions by a narrow six-point margin over the Cavaliers. Florida State returns nine starters, including senior midfielder Dagny Brynjarsdottir, who led the Seminoles with 14 goals and seven game-winning goals last season. FSU hosts No. 11 Portland to open the season Friday. The teams will meet for the third time in the last four years.
REPEAT OFFENDER: Virginia senior midfielder Morgan Brian, the reigning MAC Herman Trophy winner, will have a busy week leading up to the Cavaliers’ season opener against Marshall on Friday. Brian, who tied for the ACC lead with 46 points on 16 goals and a league-best 14 assists, is the lone collegiate player on the 19-person roster for the U.S. Women’s National Team’s Aug. 20 friendly match against Switzerland in Cary, N.C. But Brian earning her 12th cap for the U.S. WNT won’t delay her return to Charlottesville for the start of her senior campaign. With one MAC Hermann Trophy to her name, Brian will look to become the first woman to earn the award in consecutive years since Portland’s Christine Sinclair accomplished the feat in 2004 and 2005.
MOUNTAINEER CLIMBING: No. 12 West Virginia, the two-time defending Big 12 Conference regular-season champion and reigning conference tournament champion, is coming off a stellar 2013 season, but that doesn’t make the 2014 schedule any easier for the Mountaineers. They open the season at No. 24 Penn State on Friday and have five more 2013 NCAA Tournament foes on the slate: Duke, Georgetown, La Salle, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.
“The goal is always to improve every game in preparation for conference play and to be competing for as long as we can at the end of the season,” said head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown. “To be the best, you must play the best – that’s always been my philosophy.”
WVU returns nine starters, including senior forward Kate Schwindel, who missed the Mountaineers’ final five matches due to injury. Schwindel, a 2013 All-Big 12 First Team selection, tallied 11 goals in 18 games played and is the team’s top returning point scorer.
`CATS LOOKING TO POUNCE: With a group of nine returning starters highlighted by two-time All-America selection Arin Gilliland, Kentucky will look to break into the upper echelon of the Southeastern Conference. After advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season last year, the Wildcats topped No. 11 Portland in an impressive preseason exhibition victory and will open the regular season at Washington State, which finished second in the Pac-12 in 2013. The Wildcats were voted to finish fourth in the SEC preseason coaches’ poll, but will be challenged by No. 8 Florida, No. 9 Texas A&M and No. 14 South Carolina in the league title race.
BIG TEN BEGINNERS: After decades as a member of the ACC, Maryland will now be one of the many Big Ten teams challenging perennial title contender Penn State on annual basis. While the Nittany Lions – winners of 15 of the last 16 Big Ten crowns – are the favorite to claim a another trophy, the Terps are picked to finish third in their inaugural campaign in the conference. Maryland opens the regular season on Friday against defending NCAA champion UCLA in Los Angeles.
COUGAR `KEEPER QUESTIONS: While No. 22 BYU are the narrow favorite to win the West Coast Conference title (BYU, No. 10 Santa Clara and No. 11 Portland– the 2013 tri-champions — were separated by a total of just four votes in the coaches’ preseason poll), the Cougars will be breaking in a new goalkeeper, which has not been easy. Last year, Erica Owens played every minute in goal, but she finished with her collegiate career and, then, projected starter Hilary Kaufusi suffered a season-ending knee injury during off-season workouts in July. Both redshirt freshman Hannah Clark and senior Katherine Snyder have competed during the Cougars’ exhibitions and the coaching staff said both keepers will play in early games before a starter is named. The Cougars start the year Friday on the road at Cal State Fullerton.
SIDEKICKS: No. 15 Marquette is the unanimous pick to win the BIG EAST by the league’s coaches after posting a 20-1-1 record in conference play over the last three seasons. The Golden Eagles enter 2014 on a 28-game unbeaten streak … No. 18 Duke will field a youthful team when it opens the season against Ohio State in the UNC Nike Classic on Friday. The Blue Devils return just three players who scored a goal last season for a team that advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals … St. John’s junior forward Rachel Daly — last year’s national leader in goals scored with 23 – is the BIG EAST’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year … No. 4 North Carolina and No. 6 Stanford will clash in a top 10 match-up to open the season Friday at the UNC Nike Classic. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3 at 7 p.m. ET.
Amy Farnum Patronis covers Division I Women's College Soccer for College Soccer News. She can be reached at email@example.com