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 are my predictions for which teams will advance to the quarterfinal round.
This is a strong field with four teams that have been ranked amongst the Top 10 at one time or another during the season, but the hometown favorite – top-seeded Virginia – will survive tests by Georgetown and Penn State or Wake Forest. The Cavaliers were perfect until losing to Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference semifinals, but the wake-up call looks to have rejuvenated the squad as Virginia took down Saint Francis (Pa.), 5-0, in first round action last week. Virginia tallied a season-high 37 shots in the contest. The Cavaliers lead the nation in scoring with 3.27 goals per game led by sophomore forward Makenzy Doniak’s 18 goals. Virginia defeated both Penn State (5-1) and Wake Forest (2-0) earlier this season.
Ann Arbor, Mich.
This will be an interesting site and tough to pick a winner, but I’m going with Michigan, mostly because of home field advantage. The Wolverines are hosting second- and third-round contests for only the second time in program history and first time since 2002. That year, Michigan advanced to the quarterfinals – the program’s best NCAA finish. The Wolverines have been extremely successful at home this season (10-1-1) and enter the weekend riding an 18-game home unbeaten streak (17-0-1) against non-conference opponents. Michigan will face Illinois State, which advanced to the second round for the first time in history on penalty kicks against Louisville. Notre Dame will face Western Illinois, which pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament last week, upending No. 2 seed Marquette for the Broncos’ second NCAA Tournament victory. But the Irish are battle-tested after enduring a strong slate of ACC foes and will be sure to make some noise in Ann Arbor.
Los Angeles, Calif.
Sorry Southeastern Conference foes, but I’m thinking your visit to the Golden State will be short-lived because Stanford and UCLA are destined to clash in the third round at the Bruins’ Drake Stadium. Kentucky will be overmatched by a UCLA defense that has allowed just .324 goals per game. UCLA is riding a 16-game unbeaten streak (15-0-1) with 11 shutouts during the stretch. The Bruins are 9-0-1 at home and have given up just one goal at Drake Stadium this season. Stanford may be unseeded but No. 3 seed South Carolina will be making a cross-country trip and while the Gamecocks are a formidable opponent (and boast a .573 goals against average), the Cardinal is simply not accustomed to losing in November. Stanford has reached the Women’s College Cup for five consecutive years, including 2011 when the Cardinal won the NCAA title … and beat South Carolina in the second round.
Chapel Hill, N.C.
Pick: North Carolina
The defending national champions are not ready to let their reign end just yet. While Indiana, Texas Tech and Texas A&M are all strong opponents, this is the time of year when the Tar Heels are at their best. UNC has won 21 of the previous 31 NCAA Championships and won at least two games in the tournament each year. North Carolina is led by ACC Offensive Player of the Year Crystal Dunn (13 goals) and KealiaOhai (10 goals), but also has the nation’s 11th-best goals against average (.543). Former Big 12-mates Texas A&M and Texas Tech should entertain in the second round. The Aggies are scoring 2.35 goals per game, but the Red Raiders have posted 17 shutouts on the year.
Pick: Santa Clara
Virginia Tech is hosting second= and third-round NCAA Tournament matches for the first time in program history after the Hokies made some noise by putting a blemish on No. 1 Virginia’s perfect season with a 4-2 victory in the ACC semifinals. The Hokies are scoring 2.13 goals per game and giving up only 0.87 per game, but after surviving a tough test from West Virginia they will be upset by the visiting Broncos. Santa Clara owns the second-most potent offense in the nation with 2.95 goals per game. Sofia Huerta and Morgan Marlborough are tied for the team lead in goals. The Broncos have lost just four times this season to some tough competition – North Carolina, Virginia, Stanford and Portland. The first two setbacks came in the opening weekend of the season. First up for Santa Clara is Boston University, which leads the nation with a .305 goals against average, but the Broncos will be up to the challenge.
The No. 2 Gators are the high seed at this site, but will not be hosting. I’m not sure it will make a difference in the outcome. The Gators have won 11 of their last 12 matches and shared the SEC regular season title with Texas A&M, although they lost to the Aggies in the league tournament final. Florida is 7-3 against the NCAA Tournament field. The Gator offense is sparked by freshman Savannah Jordan, who is one of the nation’s top goal scorers with 22 tallies. The Blue Devils, who began the season ranked in the Top 10, have suffered some lumps this season, but in the ultra-competitive ACC that is bound to happen. On the other side of the bracket, Arkansas and St. John’s both registered wins over first-round hosts Oklahoma State and UCF, respectively. St. John’s has the nation’s top goal scorer on its roster in sophomore Rachel Daly (23 goals).
Husker fans always come out in droves, so expect a sea of red when Nebraska hosts Boston College, Illinois and Portland this weekend. The supportive crowd and freshman phenomJaycie Johnson, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, will be sure to push the Huskers to the NCAA quarterfinals. Johnson became the first freshman to net four goals in an NCAA Tournament game in the Huskers 4-0 defeat of Southeastern Louisiana. Nebraska is riding the nation’s longest active winning streak into the weekend. The Huskers have won 10 consecutive games and 17 of their last 18 matches.
Pick: Florida State
After scrapping and clawing its way to the ACC Tournament title two weeks ago, Florida State gets the definitive nod as the survivor of this site. With the nation’s ninth-best goals against average (.501), the Seminoles have lost just one match this season (at Virginia) and they are not showing any signs of backing down after a 5-0 defeat of South Alabama. The Seminoles are 28-1-0 at home in the NCAA Tournament and have outscoredfoes, 85-15, in those contests. Florida State is 13-0-1 at home in 2013 and carries a 32-game (31-0-1) home unbeaten streak into Thursday’s second round match against Mississippi. Colorado and BYU meet in the site’s other contest. The Buffs are fresh off an upset of instate rival Denver and the Cougars are rolling into Tallahassee on an eight-game winning streak.
Check out the official bracket for dates and times: http://www.ncaa.com/interactive-bracket/soccer-women/d1
Amy Farnum Patronis is a contributing editor for College Soccer News covering Division I womens's soccer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org