This is what we’ve been waiting for all season in Division I women’s soccer. It is the time of year that matters most … when teams battle it out to secure one of only 64 spots in the NCAA Championship bracket. While selections aren’t announced until Monday at 4:30 p.m. ET, the postseason has already geared up with conference tournaments in action, including a full slate of semifinal action on Friday. Also, some conferences, who do not hold tournaments like the Pac-12 and WCC, are wrapping up regular season schedules as teams make one final push for an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. The weekend is chock full of interesting storylines and great match-ups. Here are some highlights of what’s happening around the nation.
GET TO CARY EARLY: If you’d like a sneak peak at a possible Women’s College Cup field, head to Cary, N.C., for a preview this weekend. Four of the nation’s top six teams will be competing in the 2013 Atlantic Coast Conference Championship semifinals on Friday as No. 1 Virginia tangles with instate rival and sixth-ranked Virginia Tech at 5:30 p.m., while No. 3 Florida State and No. 4 North Carolina meet in the second contest at 8 p.m. Both games can be viewed live on ESPN3. The Women’s College Cup will also be held in Cary on Dec. 6-8.
It is the first time since 2009 that the top four seeds advanced to the championship semifinals. With a 20-0-0 mark this season, Virginia earned the ACC regular season title and the No.1 seed in the league tournament for the first time. The Cavaliers are also the defending conference champions and are led by 2012 ACC Tournament MVP Morgan Brian. After contributing two goals and an assist to the Cavaliers’ 6-1 defeat of Maryland last Sunday, Brian now has five goals and four assists in six career ACC Tournament games, including the game-winning assist in each of Virginia's last four games in the tournament.
SOMETHING BRUIN: No. 2 UCLA has already claimed the Pac-12 Conference title, despite two games remaining on the Bruins’ regular season schedule. UCLA has compiled an 8-0-2 mark in league play under first-year head coach Amanda Cromwell, ending Stanford’s five-year run as conference champions. It is the program’s first league title since 2008. The Bruins meet cross-town rival USC on Thursday night to conclude regular season play. UCLA leads the nation with a 0.306 goals against average behind the stellar play of goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland, who has allowed just six goals on the season.
HUSKERS ARE HOT: No. 18 Nebraska enters the Big Ten Conference Championship semifinals on a seven-game winning streak after cruising to a 4-1 defeat of Minnesota on Wednesday. The Huskers, who already claimed their first Big Ten regular season title last week, are now 13-0-1 this season when scoring two or more goals. It was Nebraska’s first Big Ten Tournament victory since joining the conference three years ago. The Huskers will face Indiana in semifinal action on Friday at 1:30 p.m. The game will air live on the Big Ten Network.
GATOR BAIT: Since losing back-to-back games against Missouri and South Carolina five weeks ago, No. 5 Florida was practically flawless en route to a share of the Southeastern Conference regular season title alongside Texas A&M. The Gators have won eight consecutive matches, allowing just one goal during the stretch, and with a 1-0 defeat of Arkansas on Wednesday night they advanced to play Mississippi in the SEC semifinals on Friday at 4 p.m. CT. Freshman forward Savannah Jordan – the league’s Offensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year – netted the game-winner against the Razorbacks. Jordan leads the league with 21 goals on the year.
BUCKING BRONCOS: No. 8 Santa Clara will seek the program’s first West Coast Conference title since 2006 when the Broncos visit No. 12 Portland on Thursday at 8 p.m. PT. The contest will air live on ESPNU. The Broncos boast the third-best scoring offense in the nation, netting 2.94 goals per game, and have scored 20 goals in their last three contests. Santa Clara enters the game with a perfect 7-0-0 conference mark. Last year, the two teams played to a 2-2 tie.
"Our next match against the University of Portland is one that we are really looking forward to," Santa Clara head coach Jerry Smith said. "We have a great respect for Portland, we're looking forward to the tough environment and it's on ESPN. It will be an opportunity for us to handle a sold out crowd and an ESPN game on the road which is as close to an NCAA game environment as you can come to playing in the final four so it will be a great challenge for us and a great opportunity for us."
LOOKING FOR A PERFECT ENDING: Seattle University has dominated the Western Athletic Conference this season and enters the league tournament on a 13-game winning streak after posting a unblemished conference record – only the fourth league team to accomplish the feat in WAC history. The Redhawks allowed just four goals during the streak and are the first WAC team to record 12 league wins. They will face Idaho in the WAC semifinals on Friday at 11:30 a.m. MT. While Seattle is ranked just No. 73 in the latest RPI, the WAC champion will receive an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
NO COUCH POTATO: Furman will vie for its’ fifth consecutive Southern Conference championship beginning Friday at 5 p.m. ET against fourth-seeded Samford in Spartanburg, S.C. Fresh off winning their first SoCon regular season title in a decade, the Paladins will look to advance to the league’s championship match for the 12th time. SoCon Freshman of the Year Carlie Couch has compiled 11 goals and five assists with all but one tally coming in Furman’s 10 regular season league contests.
STREAKING CRIMSON: Harvard captured its fourth Ivy League title in the last six years with a 2-1 defeat of Dartmouth last Saturday earning the program’s 13th trip to the NCAA Championship. The Crimson has posted an 11-0-2 record over the last 13 games, including a 6-0-0 mark in Ivy League action. The 13-game unbeaten streak is the program’s longest since 1999. Harvard will wrap up regular season play with a match at Columbia on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET.
Amy Farnum Patronis is a contributing writer for College Soccer News covering Division I women's soccer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org