It’s that time of the year again. Our Game Magazine‘s college editors Rachael Caldwell, JJ Duke, Ruth Moore, and Brandi Ortega have been neck-deep in covering the 2016 NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament. They review the teams that survived the second weekend and how they did it, and pick the four teams that will make the journey to San Jose for the College Cup.

Bracket Quadrant #1

Quarterfinal Match

#2 North Carolina vs. #1 South Carolina on Friday, November 25 at 6pm ET in Columbia, South Carolina.

Thoughts On the Second and Third Rounds

As we all know I have the horrible take that I love kicks from the spot to decide a match. That being said, I am NOT a fan of a lone penalty kick being the deciding factor. So seeing South Carolina advance thanks to a penalty kick in two straight matches was a bit of a bummer. However, I’m pretty happy I correctly called them taking down BYU. The Cougars’ offense never seemed to find that flame it had in the regular season.

On the other side of the region, I’ll admit I was perhaps sleeping on North Carolina so props to them on bucking the first South Carolina team in their way. As we all know, Clemson defeated the Hogs in kicks from the mark. That senior class has set the standard for where Arkansas soccer goes from here, and they deserve every single record they have set along the way. Onward and upward.

What Gives North Carolina an Advantage?

The Tar Heels don’t blow you away with offensive firepower. They don’t have the most terrifying defense in the land. So what exactly gives them an advantage? The biggest key to North Carolina’s success this season has been improvement. Game by game and week by week the Tar Heels slowly but surely started showing up in games and looking much better. After starting off conference play with just two wins in five matches, North Carolina closed out the regular season with just one loss in their last six games.

This team has learned a lot and learned how to adjust to get results. They’ve also had a few injury problems but players have returned to the fold as the season has gone on. The Tar Heels could be a team peaking at the right time, which is always an advantage in the chaos of tournament time.

What Gives South Carolina an Advantage?

We’ve touched on it quite a lot before. South Carolina’s bread and butter is defense, which has somehow found a way to get more and more terrifying as the season has continued. After their shutout victory against BYU, South Carolina’s defense moved up from seventh to third in the national goals against average (GAA). The Gamecocks have now amassed 14 clean sheets this season, one short of the school record.

Let’s take into consideration that the Cougars’ offense ends their season ranked in the top five for scoring offense, points per game, assists per game, oh, AND, total points. Despite these gaudy statistical rankings, the Gamecock defense managed to not only shut them out but hold them to just three shots on goal. I would say that the Tar Heel’s 79th-ranked scoring offense could have some difficulty facing what essentially chalks up to a brick wall in front of the Gamecocks’ goal.

It may also be worth mentioning that South Carolina will get to play this match at the fortress that is Stone Stadium. The Gamecocks have not trailed for a single second at home this season and have allowed only three total goals.

Who Heads to the College Cup?

I’ve got South Carolina making their first trip to the College Cup. After all, defense wins championships.

— by Rachael Caldwell

Bracket Quadrant #2

 

Quarterfinal Match

Santa Clara vs. #2 Georgetown on Saturday, November 26 at 2pm ET in Washington, D.C.

Thoughts On the Second and Third Rounds

So, Santa Clara did the thing. Holding fast through double overtime, the Broncos beat Stanford, the team to beat, which is still pretty stunning a whole match and nearly a week later. It might be even more of a shock than SIUE’s win over Notre Dame given Stanford’s rank, strength, and recent history against Santa Clara. Given that, it seems fitting that SCU finished off the weekend by defeating NC State with a sound 3-0 scoreline to move on to the quarterfinals. I am one happy Bronco fan — and trying not to flash back to 2005 here.

Georgetown’s section of this quadrant, despite being tougher to guess, panned out according to prediction. Virginia put Penn State down handily, 3-0, and Georgetown blanked Rutgers, 2-0. The hosts then prevailed, 2-0, over Virginia and as the last seed standing, get to stay home for another weekend.

What Gives Santa Clara an Advantage?

What indeed. The Broncos’ luck has them hitting the road, heading east to take on a team that clearly has them outranked and outgunned. But how intimidating can Georgetown really be after shutting out and pulling the upset on No. 1 Stanford? Sophomore goalkeeper Melissa Lowder and her defense have been solid in the postseason, carrying three clean sheets despite facing more than 50 shots. Although SCU’s offensive stats appear fairly weak, smart play by the Broncos and errors by opponents have proven to make the difference. There’s probably something to be said for mindset, too. Santa Clara has nothing to lose and no outside expectations to fulfill, and there’s the added incentive to play in a rare Final Four close to home. Maybe the Broncos can surprise us yet again.

What Gives Georgetown an Advantage?

Georgetown, the quadrant’s No. 2 seed, is 10-2-2 at home and consistently shut out opponents 2-0 over the past four games. The Hoyas have scored twice as many goals as the Broncos this season, with four players scoring in the double digits compared to Santa Clara’s leading goalscorer, Jordan Jesolva, scoring her 10th this season in the recent win over NC State. Georgetown can be confident in its own performance this year and balance that with the knowledge that SCU earned this matchup by upsetting No. 1 Stanford in the second round. That’s double overtime and a whole ’nother match’s worth of video for the Hoyas to study in search of ways to crack the Broncos’ strategy. Santa Clara doesn’t necessarily have the element of surprise at this point unless Georgetown gets cocky.

Who Heads to the College Cup?

I feel like I’m beating a dead horse here (no pun intended, but by all means, leave it in). It’s still 2016, so I don’t kid myself that Santa Clara will go all the way. After all, the Broncos haven’t been to the Final Four since 2004, and this hasn’t exactly been their best season. Since there are a lot of reasons that Georgetown should advance and SCU shouldn’t, let’s just assume the Hoyas’ offense takes care of things in the run of play and punch their ticket for the College Cup.

— by Ruth Moore

 

Bracket Quadrant #3

Quarterfinal Match

#3 Duke vs. #1 West Virginia on Saturday, November 26 at 4pm ET in Morgantown, West Virginia

Thoughts On the Second and Third Rounds

Not to pat myself on the back, but I did pretty good selecting the winners of the second and third rounds. After the first-round shocker that saw SIUE take out No. 2 Notre Dame, it wasn’t really that hard if I’m being honest. Speaking of SIUE, they saw their run end with a 0-1 defeat at the hands of Northwestern. The Cougars made the most of it but the Wildcats were too much to handle. Northwestern, in turn, fell to Duke off a Ella Stevens’ game-winner in the 33rd minute.

On the other side of the bracket, UCLA handled Nebraska in the second round with a 2-0 win. West Virginia held off Ohio State with a tight 1-0 win courtesy of Michaela Abam’s goal in the second overtime period. The Bruins and Mountaineers met in a bonkers of a game that went to penalty kicks with West Virginia advancing to set up an Elite Eight clash with Duke.

Almost. That’s the word for to describe the first and second rounds. Ohio State and UCLA pushed West Virginia but couldn’t break the No. 1 overall seed down.

What Gives Duke an Advantage?

Defense. EJ Proctor has come up big for a team that has had to deal with injuries the entire season. Proctor will be needed to make the big saves, as she did when the teams met earlier in the year in a match that saw West Virginia overwhelming Duke at home and taking away a 3-1 win. We profiled Christina Gibbons in our College Issue and the senior leader can play just about anywhere on the field — and has — but will most likely should more of a defensive responsibility to counter the attacking prowess of West Virginia.

What Gives West Virginia an Advantage?

Attack. Canadian international Ashley Lawrence leads the team in assists from her midfield position. Michaela Abam is the danger up top for the Moutaineers, collecting four assists to add to her three goals in the tournament thus far. In the first meeting between the team Abam scored two against a tough defense. She’ll need to make the most of any opportunity she gets against a defense that doesn’t give much space or opportunities to score.

Who Heads to the College Cup?

Duke. Oooh, calling an upset? Yep. Duke it is. Even though the Blue Devils have had the easier path thus far and are without Kayla McCoy, Taylor Racioppi, and Rebecca Quinn, I’m going with pure gut feeling on this one. Duke is the underdog in this one, a role that suits them well, and the Blue Devils will be up to the challenge.

— by Brandi Ortega

 

Bracket Quadrant #4

Quarterfinal Match

#4 Auburn vs. #2 USC on Friday, November 25 at 4pm ET in Los Angeles, California

Thoughts On the Second and Third Rounds

In the Florida half of this quarter, I got two things completely wrong. I thought UConn was going to continue riding their dynamic goal scoring duo of Rachel Hill and Stephanie Ribeiro deep into the tournament, and I also thought that this was finally the year the Gators were going to break out of their second-weekend funk. And boy was I wrong. Fair play to Auburn. They are being efficient with their goal-scoring chances and in these single-elimination tournaments, you have to finish your chances. Brooke Ramsier, Bri Folds, and Kristen Dodson each tallied a pair of goals on the weekend and Auburn as a team scored seven times over the two matches on just 19 total shots. Albeit, they did fall behind inside of a minute to UConn in the second round but scored five minutes after to level things and never looked back. Florida have clearly proven that they are just snake bitten when it comes to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. They have produced quality sides year in and year out but when they have managed to reach the Elite Eight only once since 2003, something has to change in their approach.

USC lived and died by the edge of the sword on the other half of the bracket this weekend. Finishing was an issue for the Trojans as they outshot Texas A&M 26-10 in the second round and held an 18-8 advantage over Utah in their next match, but scored just one goal in 200 minutes of action. The one thing that does help them is that the have won a match in penalties already, advancing over A&M 4-3 in spot kicks during the second round, and that could help in the later rounds if they have to do it again. On the other side, giving up one goal through three matches at home is a good indicator that the defense is clicking on all cylinders heading into the quarters. Credit to Utah as they were able to get past Florida State in the second round and made it to the third round of the tournament for the first time in program history. The Pac-12 is getting deeper and deeper every year and now we can add Utah’s name into the mix of teams that can challenge for top honors

What Gives Auburn an Advantage?

Having the ability to score goals away from home. Combining their road and neutral venue record, they are 9-2-0 and have scored 28 goals, along with never being shut out and have been held to just one goal three times. That bodes well for a team that has to play such an important match away from home because if it gets late in a match they end up looking for a goal, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll score before full time. I believe the Tigers’ approach throughout the postseason of getting an early goal will be crucial at USC, as they have had issues scoring in this tournament. If they bag one early and force the Trojans to throw numbers forward late, Karen Hoppa’s team will hit back on a swift counter and put it away, sending Auburn to the College Cup for the first time.

What Gives USC an Advantage?

Sure, USC had goal-scoring issues last weekend. But now, you have an opportunity to stay at home for the Elite Eight and try to secure your place in San Jose. And the Trojans are as solid as it gets at home. With a 9-1-1 record and all nine wins coming by way of a shutout, it would be hard to bet against USC at this stage. Two other factors will benefit USC here: one is that they have only allowed two first-half goals all season long and one thing I factored for Auburn is trying to get a goal early. Sammy Jo Prudhomme and the back four in front of her have almost been unbeatable in the first 45 minutes of every match this season. Also, USC has already won a head-to-head match against Auburn this year, and that was at Auburn. It was a 2-0 win for USC back on September 4 with goals from Nicole Molen and Alex Anthony, and while Prudhomme was forced to make eight saves, having confidence in winning a matchup once means USC has the ability to do it again this weekend.

Who Heads to the College Cup?

I often enough find myself predicting with my gut instinct and looking at trends as opposed to breaking down the X’s and O’s. My gut is saying to not count out Auburn in this one but trends say that USC should win this match. Also, I think we all want to see Morgan Andrews get a shot at a College Cup. The kid is a special player and I know that the United States’ national teams have really overlooked her, whether it’s on the youth stage post U-17’s or right now with the senior team. So Morgan Andrews sets up an Alex Anthony first-half goal and then buries a goal right before full time, giving Sammy Jo Prudhomme yet another home clean sheet and the Trojans a trip up the Californian coast to the College Cup.

— by JJ Duke

 

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