It’s what we’ve been waiting for all season long. The Women’s College Cup is finally here. Will Florida State repeat or will Duke, Penn State or Rutgers claim their first title? We’ll find out this weekend at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C.
Penn State and Rutgers will play in Friday's first NCAA semifinal at 5 p.m. ET, followed by FSU-Duke at 7:30 p.m. ET. The two winners will advance to play in Sunday's championship game at noon ET.
Both semifinal contests and the national championship match will be broadcast live on ESPNU. Tickets for the 2015 Women's College Cup are available at NCAA.com.
#1 Both semifinal games will be regular season rematches.
Each side of the bracket features a match-up between conference foes who have met at least once already this season. Florida State and Duke played to a scoreless tie in double overtime Sept. 20, in a regular season ACC contest in Durham, N.C.
Rutgers and Penn State have met twice this year. The first time around Rutgers posted a 1-0 victory in a regular season home match Oct. 18. On Nov. 8, the two squads met again in the Big Ten Championship game and Penn State came out on top, 2-0, to claim its first league crown.
#2 The Seminoles are College Cup regulars.
Since 2003, Florida State has made nine College Cup appearances — more than any other program in the nation — and advanced to the NCAA semifinals for five consecutive years. The Seminoles’ nine semifinal appearances tie UCLA for the fourth-most in NCAA history behind North Carolina (26), Notre Dame (12) and Santa Clara (10). FSU’s five straight trips tie for third on the all-time NCAA list.
#3 Defense wins championships.
Three of the four College Cup participants — Florida State, Penn State and Rutgers — haven’t allowed a goal through their first four NCAA Tournament games. The fourth, Duke, has given up just two scores — one to Florida and one to Stanford. The Blue Devils held the Florida — the nation’s No. 7 ranked offense — to nine shots to pull the 2-1 upset in Gainesville in second round action. Then, they headed across the country to California and outlasted Stanford in penalty kicks after playing to a 1-1 tie in the quarterfinals.
All four squads rank in the top 15 nationally in goals against average: 1. Rutgers (.311), No 8. Florida State (.522), No. 12 Penn State (.550) and No. 15 Duke (.616).
The proof is in the pudding and not just an old coaching cliche. FSU, the defending national champions, has posted 10 consecutive shutouts in NCAA Tournament action. The Seminoles rolled through the 2014 championship without giving up a goal.
#4 The Big Ten is looking for a big title.
The NCAA began sponsoring the women’s soccer championship in 1982, and a Big Ten Conference team has yet to win a national title. Only two teams have ever advanced to the championship game — Penn State in 2012 and Wisconsin in 1991 — and both lost to perennial power North Carolina. Penn State is making its fifth College Cup appearance this year, while Rutgers is making its first trip to the NCAA semifinals in program history. It is the Scarlet Knights’ second season as a Big Ten member.
#5 Rutgers is hoping for a little beginner’s luck.
In the previous 33 years of the NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship only three teams have won a title after advancing to the semifinals for the first time. North Carolina claimed the trophy in the championship’s first year of existence in 1982. Since then, Florida (1998) and Southern California (2007) are the only teams to have won titles after advancing to the College Cup for the first time.
FSU leads the four-team field with nine College Cup appearances. The Seminoles won their first title on their eighth trip. Penn State has advanced five times and Duke earned trips in 1992 and 2011. Both Penn State and Duke have played in championship matches, but they have not won it all.
#6 Penn State’s Emily Ogle is saving the best for last.
After scoring two goals in the Nittany Lions’ first 20 matches, the sophomore has registered five goals in Penn State’s past five games. Her offensive outburst started with a goal in the Big Ten Championship game against Rutgers. In the NCAA quarterfinals against West Virginia, Ogle netted the game-winner. She’s also contributed six assists on the season.
#7 Rutgers GK Casey Murphy is practically impenetrable.
Murphy has played every minute of the Scarlet Knights’ season and allowed just eight goals in 25 games this year. Rutgers leads the nation with 19 shutouts and a .311 goals against average. Interestingly, two of those eight goals came against the Nittany Lions in a 2-0 loss Nov. 8.
#8 Soccer is a family affair for Duke’s Lizzy Raben.
Raben, a junior defender from Greenwood Village, Colo., is not the only person in her family still in the hunt for an NCAA title this year. Raben’s brother, Sam, is a freshman defender at Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons will host Stanford in the NCAA quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Saturday in Winston-Salem. The Wake Forest men’s team will also be looking to get past the Cardinal in their path to the Men’s College Cup.
#9 Is FSU the next UNC?
We know the Seminoles have made the most trips (9) to the College Cup in the past 12 years, but can FSU also start stringing together consecutive championships? The Seminoles are looking to become only the second program in NCAA history to repeat as champions. North Carolina has accomplished the feat multiple times including a stretch of nine straight titles from 1986 to 1994. The last time the Tar Heels won back-to-back titles was 2008-2009.
Amy Farnum Patronis covers Women's Division I College Soccer for College Soccer News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org