IT’S GETTING GOOD: We are entering just the third week of the NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer season and the competition is already heating up with a handful of Top 20 matchups on the schedule. And, the Duke Nike Classic is where you can find most of those tough early-season contests this weekend.
Duke (3-0-1), which enters the tournament with a No. 16 ranking from Top Drawer Soccer, welcomes No. 3 North Carolina (4-0), No. 15 Southern California (2-1) and No. 25 California (2-1) to Durham, N.C., Friday Sept. 4, and Sunday, Sept. 6.
The Blue Devils, who will take on the two West Coast foes, are looking to capitalize on their home field advantage this weekend.
Duke has started the season with four straight shutouts — a streak of 380 scoreless minutes — for the first time since 1997, marking the second-longest shutout streak since 2011 (558:16).
Sophomore goalkeeper EJ Proctor is the reigning ACC Defensive Player of the week after picking up a pair of shutouts against two ranked opponents last weekend — Penn State and William & Mary. In four matches this year, Proctor has a 0.00 goals-against average in 298.44 minutes.
In addition to a stingy defense, the Blue Devils are benefitting from the return of redshirt sophomore Cassie Pecht — the 2012 National Rookie of the Year — who has missed the last two seasons due to a knee injury. She is picking up where she left off three years ago when she contributed a nation-best 15 assists and six goals, and has notched a goal and an assist already this season.
The Blue Devils will share the Tobacco Road spotlight with North Carolina, which has registered four consecutive shutouts and outscored its opponents 17-0 this season.
Here’s the full schedule of games — all of which will be broadcast live on ESPN3.
HOOS FLY WEST: Virginia heads West this weekend to face a pair of nationally ranked foes as the Cavaliers test their new No. 1 ranking. UVa hits the road for the first time this season as it visits No. 14 UCLA Friday followed by No. 19 Pepperdine Sunday.
The Cavaliers (3-0-0) have been an offensive juggernaut in the first three contests. They have outscored opponents 16-1 with 10 different players hitting the back of the net, led by junior Meghan Cox with three tallies.
UCLA (2-1-0) edged then-No. 13 Wisconsin in its last match as the Bruins look to avenge last year’s NCAA quarterfinal loss to Virginia. The Bruins have been doing it with defense, allowing just two goals, scoring only three.
Pepperdine opened the season with three consecutive shutouts, including a victory over then-No. 13 Wisconsin, before falling to Iowa State, 1-0, last Sunday. The Waves host Toledo before the Cavaliers come to town Sunday.
TOP FIVE MATCHUP: No. 3 Texas A&M travels to Tallahassee to tangle with No. 5 Florida State in a match featuring two of last year’s College Cup participants. While FSU dropped a close one to instate rival Florida last Sunday, the Aggies are off to a 4-0-0 start for the second straight year.
Seven players have already scored for the Aggies, including sophomore Mikaela Harvey who has netted a goal in each of the last three games. With 13 goals in four contests, Texas A&M has almost doubled its combined scoring total of its returning players from last season (7 goals).
FLAWS-LESS: Illinois redshirt senior Jannelle Flaws broke the Big Ten career goals record by scoring a hat trick in the span of nine minutes in her team’s 3-1 victory over Saint Louis. She was named the conference’s Offensive Player of the Week for her efforts. Flaws, the nation’s goals and points leader, has now compiled 50 career goals. She has netted seven tallies this season while leading Illinois to its first 4-0-0 start since 2011.
The Illini are off to the Pacific Northwest for the Husky Invitational hosted by Washington. Illinois faces Washington Friday followed by a matchup with Portland Sunday as Flaws looks to do more damage to the Illinois record books.
Auburn jumped to No. 11 in the latest poll on the merit of a 4-0-0 start in which the Tigers have held opponents scoreless. With redshirt freshman Sarah La Beau at goalkeeper, it is the best defensive start to a season for the program since 2006. Auburn hosts Samford Sept. 4, and Old Dominion Sept. 6.
Elise Wyatt, a senior forward from DePaul, tallied 11 points in wins over Eastern Michigan and Saint Francis (Pa.) last weekend as she garnered NSCAA Player of the Week honors. Wyatt earned her first career hat trick Friday and followed it up with two goals and an assist Sunday. She ranked third in the nation with six goals this season.
Clemson boasts its highest national ranking since 2004 after upending then-No. 8 South Carolina, 2-1, last weekend. Junior midfielder Catrina Atanda earned ACC Offensive Player of the Week honors for scoring the game-winning goal against the Gamecocks.
Amy Farnum Patronis covers Divison I Women's College Soccer for College Soccer News. She can be reached at email@example.com