It Is Survive And Advance Time As Play Gets Underway On Friday Coast To Coast. The Road To The College Cup Is Treacherous With No Sure Wins Along The Way. It Takes Talent, Grit, Focus And A Total Team Effort To Thrive In The One And Done Environment Of The NCAA Tournment.
Florida State Bracket
Florida State (13-2-3)
When the Seminoles were 1-0-2 after three games (a 0-0 tie with South Carolina and a 1-1 tie with Auburn) there were concerns about a drop off due to the transition to a new head coach. There are no longer any concerns about a drop off. However, the fact remains that the bar is set high at FSU. In other words anything less than a national championship will be a disappointment of sorts.
A lot of things have to go right for any team to win the national championship. There is a lot to like about FSU’s chances of a repeat.
One: The overall number one seed and defending national champion Seminoles are playing their best soccer of the year at the right time.
Two: This is a veteran and deep FSU team that has more big game experience than any team in the country.
Three: FSU can advance to the College Cup without having to play on the road.
Four: FSU has a multi-dimensional attack led by the likes of forwards Jenna Nighswonger and Jody Brown and midfielder Onyi Echegini among others that will be difficult to contain. Senior holding midfielder Leilanni Nesbeth and Graduate Student midfielder Clara Robbins add experience and grit in the midfield. Junior Cristina Roque is among the best goalkeepers in the country with a ton of big game experience under her belt.
If there is a concern it is on the defensive side of the ball. FSU has only allowed a total of 16 goals with seven of them coming in two games with Notre Dame. Not bad but the Seminoles can’t afford to have lapses in play on the defensive side of the ball in order to win it all in 2022.
The number five seeded Hoyas were 8-0-2 in Big East Conference play. They won both the Big East regular season and tournament titles. Georgetown’s lone loss was an early season 1-0 setback to Virginia. Yet the Hoyas don’t get a lot of love on the national scene for a team with 14 wins. Strength of schedule is a factor.
Five ties and six 1-0 wins indicates that Georgetown has a slim margin for error. The good news is that the Hoyas have only allowed a total of only eight goals. This is a team that does not want to have to chase a game from a goal down. The issue is whether or not Georgetown can continue to contain competitive opponents and also produce the big play on the offensive side of the ball that they will need to make a deep run in the tournament.
Saint Louis (20-1-0)
The number two seeded Billikens won the Atlantic 10 regular season and tournament titles. Caroline Kelly (13g, 6a), Emily Gaebe (9g, 6a), Emily Groark (8g, 6a) and Abbie Miller (6g, 4a) among others power a potent Saint Louis attack that has netted a total of 65 goals. Fifth Year senior Hannah Friedrich adds stability and grit to the midfield.
A stout Saint Louis defense anchored by graduate student back Brionna Halverson and junior goalkeeper Emily Purcelli has held opponents to a total of only 9 goals. The Billikens only loss was an early season 2-0 defeat at home to Notre Dame. Saint Louis has signature wins over Arkansas 1-0 out of the SEC and Xavier out of the Big East 2-1.
A team does not win as many games as Saint Louis has without being very good. This is a balanced and experienced Saint Louis team that has it sights set on a trip to the College Cup.
It is a given that Saint Louis is a very competitive team. They are ranked as the number five team in the country by College Soccer News. The unanswered question is just how competitive they will be when facing teams outside of the A-10. How will they perform against the top-level teams they will face on the road to the College Cup? The Billikens control their on destiny in that regard. Time will tell.
The number four seeded Panthers have had a banner season earning their first ever berth in the NCAA Tournament. Pitt has a signature regular season 3-1 win over Notre Dame and they held their own in a 1-0 loss to Florida State.
Head coach Randy Waldrum has reason to fill good about what his team has accomplished. The Panthers could surprise and play their way into a rematch with FSU in the third round but they will have to get past a good Buffalo team and the winner of the Georgetown and Hofstra contest to do so. Since the Panthers are traveling in uncharted waters a deep run is unlikely.
Ava Tankersley (7g, 11a), Anna Podojil (7g, 4a) and Jessica De Filippo (6g, 6a) are the keys on the offensive side of the ball for the third seeded Razorbacks. Grace Barbara anchors an Arkansas defense that has recorded 11 shutouts.
The Razorbacks have had trouble at times getting their attack in gear. They have managed to find a way to close out 1-0 contests against the likes of Auburn, South Carolina and Texas A and M and Michigan State which is a big plus but this is a team with a small margin for error which makes them vulnerable.
The Razorbacks are capable of making a deep run but will have to do a good job of taking advantage of the opportunities to score that come their way in order to do so. A Saint Louis and Arkansas rematch in the third round would be an interesting contest.
This looks to be the toughest bracket with Alabama, Duke, South Carolina, Southern California, Rutgers, Texas and Brown all extremely competitive teams.
We knew the Tide would be good this year but who would have thought they would be 19 wins good and go 10-0-0 during SEC regular season play. The Alabama team that was supposed to dominate the SEC was the one coached by Nick Saben not the one coached by Wes Hart.
A very balanced Alabama women’s soccer team has scored a total of 59 goals and only allowed 13. Yes, the Tide’s 17 game unbeaten streak came to an end when they were edged 1-0 by South Carolina in the SEC Tournament Championship match but that takes nothing away from what this team has accomplished and might actually be a motivator heading into the NCAA Tournament.
Riley Mattingly Parker (14g, 6a) and playmaker Felicia Knox (5g, 16a) power a potent Alabama offense while defenders Reyna Reyes, Gessica Skorka and Sasha Pickard and graduate student goalkeeper McKinley Crone anchor a stout Tide defense. Whether the Tide can roll their way into the College Cup remains to be seen. This is a team with a target on their chests. Clearly no one is going to look past them.
The Scarlet Knights have not had the season to date that they hoped they would have after making a run to the College Cup last year. Nonetheless this is an experienced and dangerous team that is very capable of getting back on track and making a deep run.
Sam Kroeger, Allison Lowery, and Riley Tiernan combine to give Rutgers an attack that when in gear is tough to contain. Graduate Student Meagan McLelland is a five-year battle tested starter in goal.
Rutgers will have to bring their “A” game if they hope to get past a Brown (12-2-2) team led on the offensive side of the ball by Brittany Raphino (9g, 4a) and Ava Seelenfreund (9g, 1a) that has won the Ivy League title for three consecutive seasons.
Southern California (12-2-3)
The Trojans finished in the number three spot in the Pac-12 behind Stanford and UCLA with an 8-1-2 mark in conference play. A talented USC squad has impressive wins over TCU 3-0, Stanford 2-1 and UCLA 2-0.
Croix Bethune (8g, 9a), the Pac-12 Midfielder of the Year, and forward Simone Jackson (6g, 3a) both have big play ability and will be difficult for any team to contain. The USC backline of Brooklyn Courtnall, Zoe Burns, Nicole Payne and Brandi Peterson is among the most talented in the country.
USC has an interesting first round matchup with a motivated UC Irvine team that they defeated 3-2 when the two teams played back on September 15. In that contest USC jumped out to a 3-0 lead at halftime but UC Irvine (10-5-6) scored twice in the second stanza to make it close. The Anteaters punched their ticket by becoming the first six seed to ever win the Big West Conference Tournament.
The number two seeded Blue Devils are very capable of winning the bracket. However, they have been somewhat unpredictable. When Duke is on their game, they can more than hold their own with anyone so it all depends on which Duke team shows up. Will it be the Blue Devil team that defeated Virginia 2-1 in the first round of the ACC Tournament or the one that was thumped 6-1 by FSU during regular season play.
Forwards Michelle Cooper (13g, 10a) and Kat Rader (11g, 3a) give Duke a solid one-two punch on the offensive side of the ball. Both are capable of taking over a match. Back Delaney Graham (0g, 5a) and goalkeeper Ruthie Jones anchor a Blue Devil defense that has 1.00 goals against average.
Duke should get past Radford in the first round but things get much tougher then with Texas and South Carolina potential hurdles to getting to the bracket final.
South Carolina (13-3-5)
The Gamecocks belong on the short list of teams that could win the bracket. They have momentum after advancing past Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama to win the SEC Tournament title for the first time in program history.
Junior forward Cat Barry, defender Jyllissa Harris and goalkeeper Heather Hinz are among a host of South Carolina players who have big play ability. This team is talented. The Gamecocks have a lot of grit with a work ethic that could give them an edge in the one and done environment of the NCAA Tournament.
The Longhorns 17 game unbeaten streak came to an unexpected halt when they were upset by West Virginia in the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament.
Midfielders Trinity Byars (16g, 9a), Lexi Missimo (6g, 14a), and Jilly Shimkin and defender EJ Cox (7g, 3a) power a potent and multi-dimensional Texas attack. When in gear they the Longhorns are hard to contain.
Senior midfielder Emma Regan sets the pace. If the Longhorns get in a grove, they are capable of making a deep run. Much will depend on their ability to set the tempo of the match and play solid team defense without any costly lapses in play.
Notre Dame Bracket
Notre Dame (14-2-3)
The number one seeded Irish have the advantage, as do the other three number one seeds, of punching their ticket to the College Cup without playing on the road. That is always a big plus.
Any review of Notre Dame has to begin with the big play ability that Korbin Albert (13g, 4a), the ACC Midfielder of the Year, brings to the pitch. A red hot Albert has scored a blistering 11 times in the last eight games against a pretty competitive slate of opponents. Olivia Wingate (11g, 5a) and Maddie Mercado (8g, 3a) add yet another dimension to the attack.
The Irish have scored a total of 45 goals and allowed 14. Mackenzie Wood gives Notre Dame a composed and talented presence in goal while midfielder Eva Gaetino, the ACC Defender of the Year, anchors the backline. The X-Factor for Notre Dame is their play on the defensive side of the ball.
North Carolina (15-4-1)
The number two seeded Tar Heels would have been a number one seed had they not lost to FSU 2-1 in the ACC Tournament Final.
UNC has signature wins over Tennessee, Texas, Duke, Pitt and Florida State during regular season play but also losses to UCLA, Virginia, and Virginia Tech during regular season play as well as FSU in the conference tournament. The Tar Heels are talented enough to win it all but vulnerable when they are unable to put in a full 90 minutes of play.
Forward Avery Patterson (10g, 3a) has been the go-to person in the Tar Heel attack. Forward Ally Sentnor (5g, 2a), who has three game-winners, is also a key ingredient in North Carolina’s effectiveness on the offensive side of the ball.
Look for the play of junior midfielder Sam Meza (2g, 4a), defender Tori Hansen and redshirt freshman goalkeeper Emmie Allen to be a factor in how far the Tar Heels advance.
When UNC settles into a rhythm they are as good as any team in the country but lapses in play have hurt them on occasion. North Carolina will likely face Georgia in the second round and then have to top BYU and Stanford to make it to the Elite Eight.
The Horned Frogs come into the NCAA Tournament off a 1-0 loss to West Virginia in the Big 12 Championship match.
Forward Messiah Bright, a five-time all-conference selection and midfielder Gracie Brian, a two-time first team all-conference selection give TCU big play ability.
The talent level of this team is reflected in the fact that five TCU players, Bright, Brian, forward Chaylyn Hubbard, goalkeeper Lauren Kellett and defender Camryn Lancaster were All-Big 12 First Team selections.
This is a very competitive TCU team but a potential second round matchup between Michigan State and TCU will be a challenge.
Michigan State (16-2-3)
The Spartans won the Big Ten Regular Season title with a program best 14-1-3 record in regular season play. They then advanced past Minnesota and Nebraska before falling to Penn State 3-2 in the Big Ten Conference Tournament final. The loss to the Nittany Lions halted a 14 game Michigan State unbeaten streak.
Lauren DeBeau (11g, 3a), the Big Ten Forward of the Year, and forward Camryn Evans (7g, 2a) provide punch to the Wolverines attack while back Ruby Diodati, the Big Ten Defender of the Year, and back Raegan Cox and Lauren Kozal, the Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year, anchor a Spartan defense that has only allowed a total of 12 goals.
Junior midfielder Justina Gaynor is the pace setter in the middle of the park for the Spartans. The Spartans should get past Milwaukee in the first round but the grit of this team will be tested from that point forward.
Santa Clara (10-6-3)
It would be foolish to look past Jerry Smith’s Broncos when it comes to NCAA Tournament play.
Izzy D’Aquila (18g, 5a), the West Coast Conference Player of the Year, is an explosive goal scorer who is capable of taking over a contest. Midfielder Colby Barnett (2g, 8a) adds playmaking ability in the center of the park while back Marisa Bubnis and goalkeeper Marlee Nicolos are among the key elements in a Santa Clara defense that has gotten tougher as the season has progressed.
A deep run this year is unlikely but not out of the question. Santa Clara has a tough first round match against Pac-12 foe California who they lost to 1-0 back on September 11. If they get past the Golden Bears, they will likely face number one seed Notre Dame. Don’t count the Broncos out of it.
UCLA enters the tournament off a season ending 2-0 loss to Pac-12 foe USC. Their other loss was to Pac-12 foe Stanford 1-0. The number one seeded Bruins have scored a total of 53 goals and allowed only nine under first year head coach Margueritte Aozasa.
The Bruins have done a good job all year of putting pressure on their opponents while also playing rock solid defense.
Midfielder Sunshine Fontes (9g, 7a) and forward Reilyn Turner (9g, 3a) give UCLA a solid duo on the offensive side of the ball. Backs Lilly Reale and Quincy McMahon and goalkeeper Lauren Brzykcy anchor a tenacious UCLA defense.
The Bruins 26 game unbeaten streak came to a shocking end last year when they were upset 1-0 by UC Irvine in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The memory of that totally unexpected loss should keep the Bruins on their toes. To advance to the College Cup, UCLA must take it one game at a time and not look past anyone.
UCLA is tough to beat when they score first and control the tempo but like most teams, they are vulnerable if they have to chase a game from behind.
Penn State (13-4-3)
The Nittany Lions topped third seed Wisconsin 1-0, number two seed Northwestern 2-0 and number one seed Michigan State 3-2 to win the Big Ten Conference Tournament and the automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament that accompanies it. Number two seeded Penn State has momentum which they will seek to carry into the NCAA Tourney.
The Nittany Lions who were awarded a number two seed in the NCAA Tournament will face a Quinnipiac team that won the MAAC Tournament to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000.
Penn State has an attack powered by Ally Schlegel (11g, 2a), Penelope Hocking (5g, 8a), Payton Linnehan (3g, 5a) and Kate Wiesner (1g, 8a) that when in gear is very difficult to contain. If Penn State maintains their momentum they will be tough to beat.
West Virginia (10-4-7)
The Mountaineers finished regular season play with a 7-4-7 overall record and 4-1-4 mark in Big 12 play. They combined strong play on the defensive side of the ball with an opportunistic attack to advance past Oklahoma State 2-1, Texas 1-0 and TCU 1-0 to claim the Big 12 Tournament title and the conference’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
Sophomore forward Dilary Heredia-Beltran (2g, 7a) is the catalyst on the offensive side of the ball for West Virginia. Lauren Segalla (5g, 1a) and midfielder AJ Rodriguez are among those who head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown will look to for offensive firepower.
Backs Jordan Brewster, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and Gabrielle Robinson and goalkeeper Kayza Massey will play a key role on the defensive side of the ball for a Mountaineer team that could make a run if they continue to play with the grit that they displayed in the Big 12 Tournament.
The West Virginia and Virginia Tech (10-6-2) matchup is one of the most intriguing first round matchups in the NCAA Tourney. The Hokies who are led on the offensive side of the ball by freshman forward Taylor Price (8g, 3a) and junior forward Tori Powell (6g, 3a) have had a good but somewhat inconsistent season. Virginia Tech has a signature 2-1 win over North Carolina and a 3-3 tie with Virginia but also 4-1 losses to Pitt and FSU.
If you are looking for a team that is not a number one or two seed that has a good chance of advancing to the College Cup then you need look no further than Virginia.
This is a balanced and veteran Virginia team with an attack powered by forwards graduate student Haley Hopkins (11g, 4a), fifth year senior Alexa Spaanstra (7g, 5a) and freshman Maggie Cagle (3g, 9a) along with junior midfielder Lia Godfrey (6g, 4a).
A solid Cavalier defense anchored in goal by senior Cayla White and backs fifth year senior Claire Constant, senior Talia Staude and juniors Laney Rouse and Samar Guidry has only allowed 12 goals against a very competitive slate of opponents.
If Virginia settles into a rhythm and plays to their potential, they will be a tough team to face. However, the Cavaliers will have to get past the likes of Tennessee, West Virginia and Penn State to advance to the Elite Eight where they could face a UCLA team that topped fellow ACC members North Carolina and Duke early in the season.
Northwestern has stumbled down the home stretch losing three times in their last five matches including a 2-0 loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. Regardless the number four seeded Wildcats who had a 13-game unbeaten streak at one time and were ranked in the top ten in the national polls at one time warrant attention. The Wildcats have regular season wins over Xavier, Wisconsin and Ohio State and a win over Rutgers in the Big Ten Tournament.
Midfielders Josie Aulicino (7g, 8a), Aurea del Carmen (6g, 5a), Rowan Lapi (6g, 3a) and forward Meg Boade (6g, 2a) lead a balanced Northwestern attack.
Vanderbilt out of the SEC is among the teams that haven’t gotten the attention on the national scene that they likely deserve. The Commodores have 2-1 regular season wins over South Carolina and Mississippi State and they advanced past Arkansas in the first round of the SEC Tournament when they prevailed in a penalty kick shootout after the two teams were tied 1-1 at the end of 110 minutes of play.
Midfielder Raegan Kelly (8g, 10a) adds a ton of punch to the Commodore attack. Look for her play and the ability of a good Vanderbilt backline led by Ella Shamburger, Maya Antoine, Abena Aidoo, Ella Zimmerman and Alex Wagner to have a big impact on how far Vanderbilt advances.
Vanderbilt and Clemson out of the ACC face each other in what is one of the most competitive first round matchups.
The Tigers benefited from very tenacious play on the defensive side of the ball down the home stretch of the season. The key for Clemson will be whether they can settle into a balance that will enable them to apply pressure on the offensive side of the ball without becoming vulnerable on defense.
Junior back Megan Bornkamp and junior goalkeeper Halle Mackiewicz are key ingredients on the defensive side of the ball for the Tigers. Look for senior midfielder Hal Hershfelt to set the pace for Clemson in the center of the park. Senior forward Maliah Morris is among the Tigers with the potential to come up with the big play on the offensive side of the ball that Clemson must have in order to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.