It Is Time To Take Care Of Business For Teams Coast To Coast AS Teams Seek To Strengthen Their Resumes Heading Down The Home Stretch Of Regular Season Play. By Sarah Sparkman
Florida State – FSU legendary football head coach Bobby Bowden would likely have described the Seminoles under the guidance of Mark Krikorian as a really dad-gum-good team. Florida State has hands down been the dominate team in women’s college soccer going 14-0-0 with a perfect 8-0-0 mark in ACC play.
Right now, it looks like the only team that can beat Florida State is Florida State. In other words, if FSU plays to their potential there is a pretty good chance that they will run the table during the remainder of the regular season but it is not going to be easy. The Seminoles will have to play their best soccer of the year to prevail in their final three regular season contests. FSU closes out regular season play with a gauntlet of ACC opponents that will test their talent, stamina, and grit.
The gauntlet begins on Thursday in Chapel Hill with a contest against a very talented but maybe not yet vintage North Carolina (#7 CSN) team. FSU follows that match with a contest on Sunday in Durham against a Duke (#5 CSN) team that has played them very tough at times in the past. They then close out regular season play the following Thursday with a match at home against a very explosive Virginia (#3 CSN) side.
Arkansas – After opening the season with losses on the road to Duke and North Carolina the Razorbacks have reeled off 12 straight wins. Arkansas (#5 CSN) has impressive wins over the likes of SEC foes Tennessee (#8 CSN) and Ole Miss (#19 CSN) and non-conference foe BYU (#17 CSN).
The Razorbacks belong on the short list of teams with multi-dimensional attacks that when in gear can quickly take over a contest. The Razorbacks powered by the task force of forwards Anna Podojil (9g, 6a), Parker Goins (8g, 8a) and Taylor Malham (7g, 4a) and midfielders Ava Tankersley (4g, 6a) and Kayla McKeon (4g, 4a) among others is averaging 3.21 goals per game and has scored 4 or more goals in 7 games so far this season. Their defense is also holding opponents to an average of 0.71 goals per game.
Arkansas has a tough contest coming up on Thursday on the road against an Auburn (#16 CSN) team with a backline that matches up well with them.
Texas – The Longhorns have momentum. Texas has an interesting mix of seniors and freshmen in key roles and has jelled as a team as the season has progressed. The Longhorns appear to be playing their best soccer of the season but it didn’t begin that way.
Texas looked to be a team on the ropes after beginning the season with a 1-3-2 record but that changed when things began to fall in place for the Longhorns who are undefeated in their last nine contests to stand at 8-3-4 with a 4-0-2 mark in Big 12 play.
The Longhorn starting lineup includes six seniors, one sophomore and four freshmen. Freshmen forward Trinity Byars (8g, 8a) and midfielder Lexi Missimo (8g, 9a) add punch to the offense while senior backs Emma Regan, Carlee Allen (1g, 0a) and Cameron Brooks and senior netminder Savannah Madden anchor a composed and experienced defense that has only allowed a total of five goals in the last nine contests. Talented sophomore Lauren Lapomarda (0g, 1a) and freshman Emily Jane Cox (2g, 0) round out a solid contingent of Longhorn defenders. Senior midfielder Julia Grosso (6g, 4a) who has been an impact player since arriving on campus as a freshman adds additional firepower to the attack while setting the pace in the middle of the park. Freshmen forward Holly Ward (1g, 0a) and midfielder Tatiana Fung have been steady contributors.
Wisconsin-Milwaukee – It would be foolish to overlook the Panthers who are off and running with a 14-1-0 overall record and a 9-0-0 mark in Horizon League play. They have the second-best goals-against average (.390) in the country behind Pepperdine (.356). They also rank second in the country in average-goals-scored per game (3.67) behind BYU (4.08). However, with an RPI of 86 the Panthers don’t get the attention on the national scene that they are due.
UWM has contests remaining against Oakland on the road and Green Bay at home before beginning the Horizon League Tournament. Despite such a dominating record to date this is a team like many others in mid-major conferences that will most likely need to win their conference tournament and secure the Horizon Leagues automatic berth in order to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
Atlantic Coast Conference – Some might disagree but from top to bottom the ACC followed by the Pac-12 is the strongest conference in women’s soccer in the country. It is hard to make a case that another conference is stronger from top to bottom than the ACC.
The challenge for ACC teams is that they knock each other off in conference play which can have an impact on their standing in the national polls. It is nice to be ranked but the polls have no impact on berths in the NCAA Tournament or in determining the seeding of teams although in general a team with a national ranking is going to fare well in terms of an RPI.
The RPI takes into consideration strength of schedule and was created in large part to have a more objective and less subjective criteria for awarding berths in the NCAA Tournament. It can and does result at times in some deserving teams being overlooked but that is the case anytime you try to tie something to a numeric formula.
Just as a rising tide raises all boats all teams in a conference benefit in terms of their RPI when other members of the conference are having good seasons and securing wins against other teams with high RPIs. Five of the top ten teams in the recent RPI were out of the ACC (Florida State, Duke, Virginia, North Carolina and Notre Dame), three are from the SEC (Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Tennessee), one from the Big Ten (Rutgers) and one from the Big 12 (TCU).
BYU – Hold that Cougar! When BYU (#17 CSN) gets into a zone on the offensive side of the ball, they are a relentless scoring machine. The Cougars led by playmakers Mikayl Colohan (11g, 12a), Cameron Tucker (11g, 4a), Brecken Mozingo (5g, 6a) and Bella Folino (5g, 1a) are hard to contain.
BYU is on a roll with a 9-3-1 overall record and perfect 4-0-0 mark in conference play. They can be stopped as reflected in a 2-1 loss to Auburn and a 2-0 loss to Arkansas on the road and a 2-1 loss to Utah State at home but it requires a stellar team effort on the defensive side of the ball to do that along with enough pressure on the offensive side of the ball to hamper BYU’s ability to settle into a rhythm.
Big West Conference – The top four spots and seeding in the upcoming Big West Conference tournament are very much still in play.
Cal Poly is currently in the number one spot with a 6-1-0 mark in conference play slightly ahead of Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara who are both 5-1-1. UC Irvine is currently in the number four spot with a 4-0-0 record in Big West play but all of that could change.
Cal Poly is powered on the offensive side of the ball by the duo of forward Nikki Trucco (9g, 1a) and midfielder Camille Lafaix (7g, 3a) and sophomore forward playmaker Olivia Ortiz (3g, 6a). The Mustangs close out regular season play with a match on the road this Thursday with UC Santa Barbara followed by contests the following Thursday with Long Beach State and Sunday with UC Irvine.
The top four teams will likely not be determined until after the last day of regular season play.
Ohio University – The Bobcats were 3-7-0 during a shortened 2021 spring season. They are looking good during the fall season with a 10-3-2 overall record and 6-0-2 mark in MAC play to date. Ohio began the season with three wins then lost three out of their next four. During that four-game span they allowed a total of eight goals. However, the Bobcats rallied and are unbeaten in their last eight games during which time they have posted six shutouts and only allowed a total of two goals.
Ohio University has a small margin for error as reflected in 0-0 ties on the road with Bowling Green and Ball State but this is a team with momentum in large part due to their play on the defensive side of the ball. A rock-solid Ohio University defense anchored by senior backs Olivia Sensky, Paige Knorr and Morgan Collica and junior Ella Bianco along with senior goalkeeper Sam Wexell have been difference makers.
Southern California – A team on a mission that is peaking at the right time may be the best way to describe this USC (#11 CSN) team. The Trojans have won a program best eleven in a row including a 6-0-0 mark in Pac-12 play after beginning the season with unexpected non-conference losses at home against Pepperdine and on the road with Brigham Young.
USC looks to be playing their best soccer of the year with an offense powered by senior forwards Penelope Hocking (9g, 4a) and Jada Talley (3g, 1a) and midfielders junior Croix Bethune (8g, 6a) and redshirt senior Savannah DeMelo (4g, 3a) that is averaging 3.08 goals per game and a defense anchored by senior goalkeeper Anna Smith and senior back Kaylin Martin that is holding opponents to an average of 0.85 goals per contest.
A key factor in the success of this team has been the steady play of freshmen holding midfielder Aaliyah Farmer and center back Brooklyn Courtnall and how well all the newcomers have merged in with the older players.
Whether or not the Trojans can maintain their current level of play remains to be seen. They will be tested with tough Pac-12 contests on the road against Washington State on Thursday and Washington on Sunday before closing out the season with very difficult Pac-12 games at home against California, Stanford and UCLA.
Can They Get Back On Track –
LSU began the season with eight wins including impressive on the road wins against South Florida, UCF and Arizona State and rocketed upward in the national polls but have since lost five of their last six contests. The difference between a win and a loss can often be very slight. All of LSU’s losses have been by a single goal. On a positive note, LSU halted a five-game losing streak by topping Kentucky 1-0 in their last game to improve to 9-5-0. The Tigers will seek to build on that win when they host a very good South Carolina team on Thursday followed by a match on the road against Florida on Sunday.
Arizona State started the 2021 season with an 8-1-1 record but since beginning Pac-12 play they have gone 0-4-1 to drop to 8-5-2. The effort has been there and the Sun Devils have played everyone close but they have been unable to come up with the big play needed to win. Forward Nicole Douglas (15g, 5a) continues to be a force on the offensive side of the ball for Arizona State.
To their credit, the Sun Devils displayed a lot of grit and fight by coming from two goals down to tie Pac-12 foe Washington State 2-2 in their last contest. The Sun Devils have a tough contest coming up Thursday on the road against Stanford (#13 CSN) followed by a game against California in Berkeley on Sunday.
Ole Miss – The Rebels (#19 CSN) are 11-2-2 overall with a 6-1-0 mark in SEC play. Ole Miss belongs on the short list of teams who have momentum and are playing their best soccer of the year.
This is a productive team with the talent, the toughness and the hunger to prevail that enables them to find a way to close out the close contests. The exceptions to that being a 3-0 loss to UCF at home that was scoreless at halftime and a 4-1 thumping on the road to Arkansas in a match in which they were up 1-0 at halftime.
Ole Miss is among the best in the country at coming out on the front foot and placing their opponent under the type of pressure that often takes a toll. Midfielders Haleigh Stackpole (4g, 13a) and Molly Martin (7g, 1a) and forwards Channing Foster (7g, 5a) and Mo O’Connor (5g, 3a) all have big play ability.
Keep an eye on Ole Miss. They travel to face SEC foe Missouri on Thursday evening and then host Auburn (#16 CSN) on Sunday at 2 p.m. in a crucial SEC showdown between ranked teams.
Sarah Sparkman is a contributing writer for College Soccer News covering women’s college soccer.
Picture from Texas Athletics