Fasten Your Seatbelts. It Is Survive And Advance Time Once Again With A Ton Of Top Notch Compeititve Women’s Soccer GAmes Slated For the Weekend At Venues Across The Country.
Bowling Green (11-6-3) at Michigan (15-3-3) – Michigan is coming off the emotional high of winning the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 1999. The Wolverines will be facing a Bowling Green team out of the MAC that they beat 2-1 when the two teams met in Ann Arbor back on August 22. Bowling Green led briefly in that contest when sophomore forward Lacee Bethea scored during the first minute of the match.
Bowling Green has not fared well against Big Ten foes with losses to Ohio State 3-1 and Illinois 5-1 in addition to the Wolverines but they are a stronger team now than earlier in the season.
A veteran Michigan team led by the likes of senior forward Raleigh Loughman (9g, 7a), senior midfielders Nicki Hernandez (8g, 5a) and Sarah Stratigakis (1g, 5a) and senior back Alia Martin are a prohibitive favorite and are not likely to look past anyone. Regardless, Bowling Green could make this one interesting.
South Carolina (11–6-1) at North Carolina (12-2-3) – The battle of the Carolinas. This is not a contest that one would have expected to see in the first round of the NCAA Tournament earlier in the season. Neither of these teams have had the season that they hoped to have having lost several contests that they were expected to win.
The Tar Heels have remained a top ten team but did not qualify for one of the spots in the six team ACC Tournament. North Carolina began the season with nine straight wins before an unexpected 1-0 loss at home to Duke and a 2-2 tie to Virginia Tech and a subsequent 1-0 loss to NC State established that they were vulnerable. This is a very talented North Carolina team that is capable of making a deep run in the tournament but they may be lacking the big play ability of the vintage Tar Heel teams.
South Carolina has played a very difficult schedule. The Gamecocks began the season with five straight wins but subsequent back-to-back losses to Clemson 2-1 and Virginia Tech 1-0 followed by four wins and back-to-back losses to Ole Miss 2-1 and Tennessee 1-0 and a loss to LSU took some of the glimmer off their season. It all comes down to which team is able to create and capitalize on the opportunities that come their way.
Loyola Chicago (13-2-2) at Purdue (14-4-2) – This is a very competitive Loyola Chicago team that features a balanced offense led by junior midfielder Megan Nemec (8g, 6a) who was named the MVC Player of the Year and solid play on the defensive side of the ball led by senior midfielder Abby Swanson who is the MVC Defensive Player of the Year. The Ramblers won both the MVC regular season and tournament titles.
Purdue topped Ohio State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament before sustaining a disappointing and somewhat surprising 4-1 loss to Michigan in the semifinals. Michigan had topped Purdue 2-1 during regular season play. Despite the lopsided loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament, Purdue is having a banner season returning to the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since 2009.
Loyola Chicago is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament but the Ramblers have never won a game in the NCAA Tournament.
One of the key factors in this one is going to be Purdue’s ability to contain Nemec and Loyola Chicago’s ability to contain high scoring Purdue forward Sarah Griffith (15g, 2a). Both are capable of taking over the game and leading their team to victory.
Northwestern State (12-5-2) at Arkansas (16-4-0) – Northwestern State has the daunting challenge of containing a very productive and multi-dimensional Arkansas attack that is averaging 2.9 goals per game against a very competitive slate of opponents. Anna Pologil (13g, 6a), Parker Goins (9g, 9a), Taylor Malham (8g, 5a), Kayla McKeon (7g, 7a) and Ava Tankersley (4g, 6a) are all capable playmakers. Tennessee contained the Razorbacks to secure a 3-0 win over Arkansas in the championship match of the SEC Tournament. It was the first time that Arkansas had been shutout since they lost to North Carolina in Chapel Hill 1-0 in overtime during their second game of the 2021 season. The chances of the Razorbacks being shutout in back-to-back games is slim to none.
It will take a suburb effort by a Northwestern State defense that is very capably anchored by back Nicole Henry, the three-time Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year, and goalkeeper Acelya Aydogmus, the two-time Southland Goalkeeper of the Year. The Northwestern State offense powered by junior forward Olivia Draguicevich (12g, 2a) will also have to apply enough pressure on Arkansas to keep them from settling into a grove on the offensive side of the ball. The Lady Demons face an uphill battle but it is contests like this against an opponent from the SEC that provide the opportunity for programs out of mid-major conferences to make a statement on the national scene.
Providence (10-6-2) at Hofstra (16-3-1) – Providence out of the Big East earned an at-large berth to return to the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since 1993 while Hofstra punched their ticket to go dancing by winning the Colonial Athletic Conference Tournament and the berth in the NCAA Tournament that goes with it.
Providence has played everyone close with the exception of an early season 5-1 thumping from Rutgers. Three of the Friars six losses have been 1-0 games. Providence has often had the advantage in shots in their games so one of the keys for them moving forward is their ability to apply the pressure that they need to in order to create high percentage scoring opportunities. Sophomore Meg Hughes (9g, 4a) is the key ingredient and go-to goal scorer in Providence’s attack while junior Alexis Roghmann sets the pace and adds toughness in the center of the park.
Hofstra has impressive stats on both sides of the ball with 45 goals scored while allowing a total of only ten on the season. There is a lot to like about this Hofstra team that is making its fifth appearance in the NCAA Tourney in the past six seasons and is ranked by College Soccer News as the number 22 team in the country but cautious optimism is warranted because this is a group that has stumbled at times in games that they were expected to win.
Look for senior forwards Miri Taylor, the CAA Attacking Player of the Year, and Lucy Shepherd, senior midfielders Lucy Porter, the CAA Midfielder of the Year, and Jordan Littleboy and senior defender Krista Agostinello to set the pace. If they play to their potential Hofstra should survive and advance.
South Alabama (12-4-3) at Florida State (16-1-2) – South Alabama returns to the scene of the crime so to speak when they travel to Tallahassee to face an FSU team that rolled past them 4-0 when they played back on August 22. The Jags have faced FSU 13 times and in 12 of those contests the Seminoles have prevailed.
This is a good South Alabama team that punched their ticket to the NCAA Tourney by winning the Sun Belt Conference Tournament for the third consecutive year. South Alabama has a high-powered attack that is averaging 3.16 goals per game. Junior Gracie Wilson (11g, 10a), senior Morgan Cross (6g, 6a) and sophomore Sydney Ham (7g, 3a) are productive playmakers but they have the challenge of going up against a very good FSU defense anchored by backs Emily Madril, Gabby Carle, Kirsten Pavlisko and holding midfielder Jaelin Howell along with super sophomore netminder Cristina Roque that has only allowed a total of 12 goals against a slate of very competitive teams.
The number one seeded Seminoles are coming off a more difficult than expected 2-1 win in overtime against Wake Forest in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament and an emotional 1-0 win over Virginia in the championship match so the potential for a letdown exists but is highly unlikely.
Ohio State (9-8-2) at Virginia Tech (11-5-2) – Ohio State is a somewhat unexpected but not unfamiliar selection to the tournament field. The Buckeyes have been in the field 11 out of the last 13 seasons. Ohio State has signature wins over Bowling Green 3-1 and Big Ten foes Penn State 1-0 and Michigan 2-1. They have played a very competitive slate of opponents but have come out on the short end of contests with the likes of BYU 3-0, TCU 4-1, Rutgers 2-1 and Purdue 1-0. Kayla Fischer (6g, 6a), Kailyn Dudukovich (7g, 3a) and Emma Sears (5g, 2a) lead a Buckeye attack that has scored a total of 27 goals. Ohio State has also allowed a total of 27 goals.
Virginia Tech has also played a very challenging schedule with solid wins over South Carolina on the road and Pitt 2-1. They also have impressive ties with North Carolina 2-2 and Duke 1-1. The Hokies have been particularly productive at home with a 7-1-1 record when playing in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech is making their 8th appearance in the tournament field in the past 11 seasons including 3 out of the past 4 seasons. Midfielder Emily Gray (11g, 7a) is the catalyst on the offensive side of the ball for the Hokies. Forwards sophomore Tori Powell (7g, 6a) and redshirt junior Nicole Kozlova (7g, 3a) add an additional dimension to a balanced Virginia Tech attack that has produced a total of 38 goals. Sophomore Alia Skinner gives the Hokies a very capable presence in goal. Virginia Tech has been tough to beat this year when they get on the board first so look for that to be a key factor in the outcome of this one.
Milwaukee (18-1-0) at Xavier (16-2-1) – Milwaukee won the Horizon League regular season and tournament titles. Xavier won the Big East regular season title but lost to St. John’s 1-0 in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament. Both of these teams have had impressive seasons. You don’t win 18 games as Milwaukee has and 16 as Xavier has without being very competitive.
Milwaukee has not gotten the love on the national scene that their record warrants likely due to the perception that they play a weak schedule. This contest and others in the NCAA Tournament provide an opportunity for the Panthers who are the NCAA leader in total goals scored (62) and goals-against average (0.31) to prove that they are for real. Forwards Mackenzie Schill (12g 5a), the Horizon League Player of the Year, and Lesley Kiesling (10g, 4a), and defender Gabby Schwartz (2g, 19a) power the Milwaukee offense. Junior goalkeeper Elaina La Macchia who has been the starting netminder since arriving on campus in 2018 anchors a Panther defense that has only allowed a total of six goals and posted 15 shutouts.
Xavier’s 16 wins established a new program record for regular-season wins. Xavier is ranked as the number 15 team in the country in the College Soccer News poll and as the number 14 team in the United Soccer Coaches association poll. With an RPI of 11 it is hard to understand why the Musketeers were not awarded one of the seeds. Olivia Jenkins, the Big East Goalkeeper of the Year, and senior back Hayley Jakovich, a four-year starter, anchor a Xavier defense that has only allowed a total of 10 goals and has posted ten shutouts on the season. Freshman forward Chloe Netzel (6g, 2a) is Xavier’s top goal scorer. Senior holding midfielder Molly McLaughin (3g, 0a), an All-Big East First Team selection, and Ella Rogers (4g, 0a), the Big East Freshman of the Year, set the pace in the midfield.
This looks to be one of the more intriguing first round matchups with both teams motivated to keep alive a very productive season.
Lipscomb (15-4-1) at Tennessee (18-2-0) – Lipscomb earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament and a trip to Knoxville to face Tennessee by winning the ASUN Tournament. Tennessee upset Arkansas 3-0 to win the SEC Tournament for the first time since 2008.
Lipscomb has had a very productive season despite having to deal with season ending injuries to three key players. Defense has been Lipscomb’s strength this year. A stout Bisons defense that has recorded ten shutouts and held opponents to an average of 0.50 goals per game is led by redshirt freshman goalkeeper CJ Graham, the ASUN Goalkeeper of the Year, redshirt sophomore holding mid Shelby Graft, the ASUN Defensive Player of the Year, and stalwart redshirt sophomore center back Katia Hanger. Redshirt sophomore center forward Molly Grant (8g, 5a) and redshirt sophomore midfielder Cami Rogers (7g, 3a) are key ingredients in a productive and balanced Lipscomb offense that has seven different players that have scored three or more goals on the season.
Tennessee looks to be playing their best soccer of the year with a run to the SEC title that included wins over Florida 5-2, Ole Miss 3-2 and 3-0 over an Arkansas team in the final that they had lost to 3-1 during regular season play. Mackenzie George (6g, 9a), Taylor Huff (8g, 4a), Jaida Thomas (13g, 5a) and Claudia Dipasupil (7g, 6a) add firepower to a Tennessee offense that averages 2.75 goals per game. This is a very deep and team-oriented Tennessee team that is capable of making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Stanford (13-5-1) at Santa Clara (11-5-2) – This one is among the marquee matchups of the first round and belongs at the top of the list of teams that you would not expect to see facing each other in the first round.
Stanford entered the 2021 season off a disappointing 2020 campaign in which they were absent from the NCAA Tourney field for the first time since 1997. The Cardinal have had a good but not stellar 2021 season in which they were awarded an at-large berth after securing a 7-3-1 mark in conference play which was good for a 4th place finish in Pac-12 play behind UCLA, USC and Washington State. To their credit, Stanford has played everyone close but they have had trouble at times closing out contests which has hampered their win-loss record. The Cardinal had a 2-0 advantage at halftime over Colorado but ended up in a 2-2 tie. They also lost to USC 3-2 after leading 2-0 at halftime. They also lost to UCLA 1-0 when the Bruins converted the game-winning goal in the 86th minute of play. It is also noteworthy that Stanford is 10-1-0 when playing at home but only 3-4-1 when playing on the road. Junior midfielder Maya Doms (11g, 3a) has been Stanford’s go-to goal scorer.
Santa Clara, the defending national champions, struggled during the first half of the 2021 season ending the month of September with a 3-4-2 record that included four losses in their last five games. They then rebounded to go 8-1-0 in West Coast Conference play, including a crucial 1-0 win over BYU, to secure the WCC title and improve to 11-5-2 on the season. Redshirt senior forward Kelsey Turnbow (9g, 9a) and junior midfielder Izzy D’Aquilla (6g, 3a) add punch to the Broncos attack while redshirt senior midfielder Alex Loera (2g, 7a) and sophomore goalkeeper Kylie Foutch anchor a Santa Clara defense that has a goals-against-average of 0.86.
Both of these teams have a small margin for error and the success of both are dependent upon their putting in two solid halves of play.
Both teams have the ability to make a deep run but only one is going to get the opportunity to do so.
Picture from Michigan Athletics