It Is Survive And Advance Time Once Again. Teams Can’t Afford To Look Past Anyone. By Sarah Sparkman
Colorado (13-4-3) vs Texas A and M (9-7-4) – Friday
This is a difficult opening matchup for both teams. Colorado out of the Pac-12 has impressive wins over the likes of Michigan State and Arizona State and a 1-1 tie with Southern California. The Buffalos are powered by senior forward Shyra James (15g, 2a) who is the key to their attack. James has the ability to get in a groove and can take over a contest. Accordingly, much will hinge on whether she can be contained. Colorado finished the season with three wins including a gutsy 3-2 come from two goals down win over Utah on the road in their final regular season contest.
Texas A and M out of the SEC has impressive wins over Mississippi State 1-0 and Alabama 3-1 during regular season play and South Carolina 1-0 in the SEC Tournament. When they are clicking the Aggies can hold their on with anyone. Look for the play of the Texas A and M defense anchored by senior center back Carolyn Calzada and fifth year senior goalkeeper Kenna Caldwell to be the factor that determines how they fare against Colorado.
Both Colorado and Texas A and M have younger players in key roles on the defensive side of the ball so look for their play to be a critical success factor as well.
The winner of this one will likely face number one seed FSU in the second round but first they must take care of business in round one.
Lamar (15-2-3) vs Texas (15-4-2) – Friday
Ok this one, like many first round contests, falls into the David vs. Goliath category. It is highly likely that it will prove to be the Lexi Missimo (24g, 19a) and Trinity Byars (17g, 13 a) show. However the Longhorns are coming off a highly successful and emotional Big 12 Tournament so a letdown is possible and David did topple Goliath. Most of the ink and attention regarding the Longhorns deservedly goes to the productivity of their attack but a little love should also be directed to the Texas defense anchored by senior backs Lauren Lapomarda and Abby Allen, sophomore Breana Thompson and freshman Carly Montgomery and goalkeeper Mia Justus.
Lamar under the direction of second year head coach Nathan Kogut is the first team to ever win back-to-back Southland Conference Tournament Titles. The Big Red is powered on the offensive side of the ball by midfielder Hollie Massey (8g, 6a) and forward Cariel Ellis (6g, 8a). Senior Alana Clark sets the pace for Lamar in the center of the park. Lamar has allowed only 0.60 goals per game. It goes without saying that a huge factor in this one will be whether the Big Red defense anchored capably in goal by Nicole Panis and backs Arely Alaniz and Kaisa Juvonen can withstand the pressure that Texas will apply. It will take a lot of grit but don’t count Lamar out.
Milwaukee (12-3-3) vs. Wisconsin (13-4-4) – Friday
Milwaukee won both the Horizon League regular season and tournament titles. The Panthers are unbeaten in their last twelve contests. Milwaukee is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament field having earned a berth for six straight seasons including two under head coach Kevin Boyd. The Panthers have a balanced attack led by junior forward Kayla Rollins (12g, 2a) that includes six different players who have scored four or more goals. Redshirt sophomore Kendall Edwards, the Horizon League Goalkeeper of the Year, anchors a stout Panther defense that has posted eight shutouts. Milwaukee is the underdog in this one but they are very capable of pulling off the upset.
Wisconsin advanced to the Big Ten Tournament title match where they were upset by Iowa 1-0. Redshirt senior forward Emma Jaskaniec (11g, 4a) is a dangerous goal scorer with the ability to impose havoc on opposing defenders. Senior midfielder Aryssa Mahrt is among others who add balance and punch to Wisconsin’s the offense. Junior midfielders Ashley Martinez, Maia Richters, and Maddie Ishaug are among a core of Badgers who add stability and consistency and make Wisconsin a hard team to top. Graduate student Erin McKinney anchors a Wisconsin defense that has only allowed 13 goals on the season. There is a lot to like about the Badgers but the bottom line is that this is a team with a slim margin for error.
All things considered, this one is up for grabs. Composure and fitness will factor into which team is able to put in a full 90 minutes of play. It is going to come down to which side does a better job of settling into a rhythm that will enable them to apply pressure on the offensive side of the ball while continuing to play solid team defense. The outcome could be determined by a single goal.
Indiana (12-3-4) vs. Saint Louis (17-2-2) – Friday
This is another very competitive first round matchup. Indiana has had a banner season but they are travelling in uncharted waters making their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2013. It is a plus that the Hoosiers have been in every game they have played except for 2-0 regular season and 3-0 Big Ten Tourney losses to Penn State.
Graduate student forward Page Webber (12g, 4a) with five game-winners adds firepower to IU’s attack along with playmaking midfielder Anna Bennett (4g, 9a). Junior Jamie Gerstenberg, the Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year, leads a solid Indiana defense that has recorded 11 shutouts. . The potential exists for the Hoosiers to leave Saint Louis with a win but only if they are able to put in a full 90 minutes of play. Indiana will be in trouble if they have to chase the game from behind. It is noteworthy that Indiana is 8-0-3 at home but 4-3-1 when playing on the road.
Saint Louis won both the A-10 regular season and tournament titles. This is a veteran Billiken team that is unbeaten in their last sixteen games (14-0-2) with a ten-game win streak during which they have scored a total of 36 goals and allowed none. Junior Emily Gaebe (15g, 7 and senior Caroline Kelly (12g, 5a) lead a Billiken attack that has scored a total of 67 goals. Senior goalkeeper Emily Puricelli and defender Lyndsey Heckel are among key ingredients in a team-oriented Saint Louis defense that has only allowed ten goals.
Saint Louis should prevail but it is by no means a given. There are no easy wins in NCAA Tournament play. Last year Saint Louis entered the NCAA Tournament with a school record 20 wins but were upset in the first round in the friendly confines of Hermann Stadium 1-0 by Memphis.
LSU (8-7-4) vs. Memphis (18-1-0) – Friday
LSU beat Texas 3-1, lost to Wisconsin 3-0, beat Georgia 3-2, lost to Florida 4-0, tied Arkansas 1-1, lost to Auburn 3-0. You get the picture. It is hard to get a handle on on the Tigers. One clue is that they are 2-5-0 on the road. Another is that they have allowed a total of 26 goals. Regardless they are unpredictable which makes them a dangerous team to face.
Memphis punched their ticket to the NCAA Tourney for the sixth straight year after winning both the American Athletic Conference regular season with an 8-0-0 mark and tournament titles. Myra Jones (10g, 11a). the AAC Offensive Player of the Year, Saorla Miller(11g, 2a) and Anna Hauer (8g, 3a) give the Tigers a very effective multi-dimensional offense. Junior Momo Nakao is a stalwart in the center of the park for Memphis. Her play will have an impact on the outcome. Goalkeeper Kaylie Biermann and back Haylee Spray anchor a rock-solid defense that has only allowed a total of seven goals.
If Memphis brings their A game, they should prevail but it would be precarious and foolish to look past this LSU team.
Grand Canyon (14-4-4) vs Southern California (10-4-3) – Friday
Grand Canyon has momentum. They are unbeaten in their last ten games and are coming off wins over Utah Tech, Utah Valley, and Seattle to win the WAC Tournament title as the number four seed.
Senior forward Gianna Gourley (21g, 5a) who has five game-winners is the go-to person in a Grand Canyon attack that is also powered by senior forward Bekah Valdez (7g, 9a), sophomore playmaker Leah Pirro (2g, 13a), sophomore midfielder AJ Loera (0g, 7a) and senior forward Lindsey Prokop (7g, 2a) among others. Junior DeAira Jackson anchors a Lopes defense that faces the difficult challenge of containing a very balanced Southern California attack.
Southern California finished regular season Pac-12 play in the number three spot behind UCLA and Stanford. This is the Trojans tenth straight berth. USC has a multi-dimensional attack lead by forward Kayla Colbert (6g, 6a), forward Maribel Flores (6g, 5a), midfielder Helena Sampaio (5g, 3a) and forward Simone Jackson (5g, 0a). Junior midfielder Simi Awjuo, graduate student center back Kayla Duran, senior back Zoe Burns and goalkeeper Hannah Dickinson are part of a USC defense that has posted nine shutouts.
Southern California will likely get the best of the run of play so much will depend on their ability to finish the opportunities that come their way. This is another game that will hinge on who is able to settle in and control the tempo of the match. The Trojans have struggled at times in terms of getting their attack in gear. They can’t afford to come out flat in this one. It is noteworthy that one of USC’s early season losses was to WAC foe Utah Valley 3-2 in a match in which they fell behind by 3 goals before getting on the board.
Grand Canyon is a motivated and hungry team which is a plus but USC has the advantage in experience, particularly big game experience, which should give them the edge.
Picture from Saint Louis Athletics
Sarah Sparkman is a contributing writer for College Soccer News covering women’s college soccer.