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Women’s College Soccer. Only Eight Left Standing On The Road To The College Cup. A Look At The Elite Eight Matchups.

All Four Of The Number One Seeds Remain Along With Two Number TWo Seeds And TWo Number Three Seeds.

Arkansas (13-3-5) vs Florida State (16-2-3) – Saturday 5 p.m. ET – Tallahassee, Florida

Arkansas is on a nice run but faces its toughest test of the tournament. Forwards Jessica De Fliippo (12g, 8a), Ava Tankersley (9g, 12a) and Anna Podojil (8g, 6a) are all extremely capable and dangerous finishers for an Arkansas team that averages 2.33 goals per game.

The Razorbacks effectiveness on the offensive side of the ball hinges on how well they put together the combinations of passes and make the runs that they need to create scoring opportunities. Arkansas is vulnerable when they play the equivalent of one-on-one soccer but when they are clicking as a team, they are hard to contain. The Razorbacks ability to create goal scoring opportunities will be impacted by the mindset they bring into the game.

Arkansas has the athletic ability and physicality to hang with anyone but it will take a total team effort on both sides of the ball for the Razorbacks to advance beyond the Elite Eight. Backs Ella Riley, Bryana Hunter, and Emilee Hauser and goalkeeper Grace Barbara anchor a Razorback defense that will need to put in a full ninety minutes of play.  

Florida State is tough to beat at home but at this point in the tournament there are no easy wins.

The Seminoles have a solid core of players who’ve been winners for a number of years. They have a belief that they will not lose and talented players on both sides of the ball who are capable of winning big games.

FSU has the depth needed to wear down opponents as the game progresses. When the Seminoles control the tempo of a match and get the best of possession, they are able to take advantage of their playmaking ability which results in opportunities to score out of set pieces. Jenna Nighswonger (6g, 16a), Jody Brown (8g, 9a), Onyi Echegini (10g, 5a) and Beata Olsson (6g, 3a) power an offensive that has produced a total of 61 goals while Heather Payne, Lauren Flynn and Heather Gilchrist along with Cristina Roque, the ACC Goalkeeper of the Year, anchor a Seminole defense that has allowed a total of 17 goals. Graduate Student Clara Robbins and senior Leilanni Nesbeth add strength and experience to the midfield.

FSU must contain a multi-dimensional Arkansas attack and find ways to counter in order to prevail. Look for the playmaking ability of Nighswonger and the speed of Jody Brown to be a factor in their ability to find space that they can quickly exploit.

The Seminoles look to be playing their best soccer of the year at this point but they could be in trouble if they allow Arkansas to settle into a rhythm.  

North Carolina (18-4-1) vs. Notre Dame – Saturday 5 p.m ET – South Bend, Indiana

North Carolina – This contest between two of the five teams from the ACC who advanced to the Elite Eight ensures that the ACC will have at least one team in the College Cup. This is a motivated Tar Heel team. North Carolina’s four losses on the season are to UCLA 2-1 and Virginia 3-2 at home, Virginia Tech 2-1 on the road, and Florida State 2-1 in the ACC Tournament Championship match.  In each of those matches the e Tar Heels have uncharacteristically lost after having a lead. Accordingly, UNC must put together a full ninety minutes of play without lapses in order to continue on the road to the College Cup. Whether the problem is a lack of intensity or depth or a combination of both, this is a team that has the ability to win it all if they can put together a full 90-minute shift.

Midfielder Avery Patterson (11g, 8a) and forward Ally Sentnor (9g, 2a) are explosive goal scorers with the ability to take over a game. Freshman forward Maddie Dahlien and junior midfielder Talia Dellaperuta are among others with the potential to give the Tar Heels the little something extra they need to survive and advance.

North Carolina under veteran head coach Anson Dorrance is an attack-oriented team. The Tar Heels will seek to push players forward into space to secure a numerical advantage that they can exploit. However, that has the potential to leave UNC vulnerable to a counter attack. A Tar Heel team that may be without the tenacity that junior midfielder Sam Meza provides on the defensive side of the ball will depend on seniors Tori Hansen and Julia Dorsey to add stability to a talented but young group of UNC defenders who face the challenge of containing an explosive Notre Dame offense.  

Notre Dame is unbeaten in its last 12 games during which time the Irish have outscored their opponents 33-6. In their three NCAA Tournament games to date, they have scored 11 times and not allowed a goal.

Both Notre Dame and North Carolina are coming off big wins and are used to big games. Notre Dame is always tough at home where they are usually able to control the tempo and possession of games. Look for both teams to attack from the get-go on what will likely be a cold afternoon.

Midfielders Korbin Albert (16g, 5a) and Maddie Mercado (10g, 4a) and forwards Olivia Wingate (14g, 5a) and Kiki Van Zanten (7g, 4a) add punch to a multi-dimensional Irish offense. Albert, the ACC Midfielder of the Year, is a particularly explosive goal scorer whose goals often come from outside the box.

A Notre Dame defense anchored by backs Eva Gaetino, the ACC Defender of the Year, Waniya Hudson and freshman Leah Klenke and graduate student goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood has posted 14 shutouts. The Irish backline has done an excellent job of limiting the number of shots on goal. Notre Dame is 18-0-1 on the year when they score first.

On the surface this one should be a high scoring game but often when that is the case it ends up being decided by a single goal.

Virginia (16-3-3) vs. UCLA (19-2-1) – Saturday – Los Angeles – 6 pm PT

Virginia has the momentum and renewed sense of direction that comes from a gutsy 3-2 come from behind win on the road in overtime against number two seed Penn State. However, a veteran Cavalier team faces the daunting challenge of having to travel cross country to face number one seed UCLA in Los Angeles.

The Cavaliers have shown the ability to adapt to different styles of play as reflected in notable wins over the likes of Memphis 5-0, Georgetown 1-0, North Carolina 3-2 and Duke 1-0. Their three losses are to Florida State 1-0 and Notre Dame 1-0 in regular season play and to Duke 2-1 in the ACC Tournament.

Junior midfielder Lia Godfrey (8g, 4a) is the catalyst on the offensive side of the ball for Virginia. Graduate Student Haley Hopkins (13g, 5a) and fifth year senior Alexia Spaanstra (8g, 5a) add punch to the attack up-top along with playmaking freshman forward Maggie Cagle(4g, 12a).  An experienced backline that includes fifth year senior Clare Constant, senior Talia Staude and juniors Samar Guidry and Laney Rouse has limited a very competitive slate of opponents to an average of six shots per game while an active Cavalier attack averages 17 shots per contest.

Chances are pretty good that the margin of victory in this one will be a single goal. Look for Virginia’s play in the first and last ten minutes of the match to have an impact on the outcome. The Cavaliers have to be prepared to be put under pressure from the get-go and to put in a full ninety minutes of play in order to have a chance to top the Bruins.

UCLA under the direction of first year head coach Margueritte Aozasa is the lone representative of the west coast in the Elite Eight.

The Bruins were ranked as the number one team in the country in the College Soccer News poll for a large part of the 2022 season moving into the number one spot after impressive early season 2-1 on the road wins over Duke and North Carolina. However, UCLA dropped to number three in the CSN regular season ending poll behind Florida State and Alabama after a 2-0 loss to Pac-12 foe USC.

Sometimes losses like that serve as a wakeup call and create renewed focus heading into the NCAA Tournament. UCLA comes into this game off of an impressive 2-0 win over Northwestern in the Sweet Sixteen during which they limited Northwestern to only two shots on goal.

Both Virginia and UCLA have big game experience which should result in a close contest. The experience and attacking threat of forwards Reilyn Turner (9g, 3a) and Sunshine Fontes (10g, 7a), the playmaking ability and energy of freshman midfielder Ally Lemos (1g, 8a), a stout defense anchored very capably in goal by Lauren Brzykcy and backs senior Brianne Riley and sophomores Lilly Reale, the Pac-12 Defender of the Year, Quincy McMahon (1g, 5a) and Jayden Perry, and the home field advantage make UCLA a slight favorite in this one.  

A win over Virginia would enable the Bruins to secure a trifecta in wins of over top tier ACC teams and be a step toward the opportunity to run the table against the ACC with a potential matchup in the national championship down the road against ACC Tournament winner Florida State.

Duke (15-4-3) vs. Alabama (22-2-1) – Friday 6 p.m. CT – Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Duke matches up well with Alabama which makes this one an intriguing contest.

A veteran Blue Devil team has nine upperclassmen including three graduate students in the starting lineup. Duke is no stranger to big games with a schedule that has included eight games against teams ranked in the top ten this year.

The number two seeded Blue Devils come into this one off a 2-1 win over a number three seeded South Carolina team that topped Alabama 1-0 in the SEC Tournament championship game.

Duke has solid wins over TCU 3-1, Pittsburgh 1-0, Virginia 2-1 and Texas 1-0 and South Carolina 2-1 in the NCAA Tournament. On the other side of the ledger the Blue Devils have a 1-0 loss to UCLA, a 3-0 loss to North Carolina, a 1-0 loss to Virginia and a 5-1 loss to Florida State in Tallahassee after the contest was tied 1-1 at halftime.

Sophomore forward Michelle Cooper (17g, 11a), the ACC Offensive Player of the Year, and freshman forward Kat Rader, the ACC Freshman of the Year, power a Duke attack that has produced a total of 44 goals. Senior Sophie Jones (2g, 3a) and graduate student Mackenzie Pluck (3g, 8a) will set the pace for Duke in the midfield.

Much will hinge on whether a Duke defense anchored in goal by senior Ruthie Jones and backs graduate student Delaney Graham, graduate student Jenna Royson and juniors Emily Royston and Katie Groff (2g, 5a) can keep in check a potent Alabama attack that averages 2.92 goals per game.

This one will likely remain close in the first half of play with someone, likely the Tide, pulling away in the second stanza. The effort will be there for a talented and experienced Duke team but they will have to bring their A game on both sides of the ball to have a chance to leave Tuscaloosa with a win.

Alabama is a perfect 12-0-0 when playing at home this year. The Tide advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history this year. So far the fact that that Alabama is traveling in uncharted waters has not seemed to impact the level of their play or their composure.

A multi-dimensional Alabama offense is powered by forwards Riley Mattingly Parker (17g, 7a), the SEC Forward of the Year, Ashlynn Serpeca (9g, 2a), Gianna Paul (7g, 5a) and Riley Tanner (5g, 7a). Felicia Knox (7g, 20a), the SEC Midfielder of the Year, is the lynchpin and catalyst in the center of the park.

Graduate Student goalkeeper McKinley Crone anchors the defense along with defenders Reyna Reyes, the SEC Defender of the Year, Gessica Skorka and Sasha Pickard. The Tide has held opponents to an average of 0.60 goals per game. They will face the challenge of containing Duke forward Michelle Cooper who when in gear can score in multiples.

Look for Alabama to attack and to attack some more if they get on the board first but they will have to do so while remaining organized on the defensive side of the ball. The Tide will likely want to push the tempo and maintain possession in the attacking third in order to take advantage of their talent up front. It will take a total team effort to prevail but the play of Mattingly Parker up-top, Knox in the center of the park, and Reyes in the back will factor into the outcome.

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