It’s that time of the year again. Our Game Magazine‘s college editors Rachael Caldwell, JJ Duke, and Ruth Moore preview the Elite Eight round action of the 2014 NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament. Joining in on the fun is Glenn Crooks, former women’s soccer head coach at Rutgers. They review the previous rounds, break down the upcoming matchups, highlight the players to watch, and offer their predictions on the national champion to be crowned on Sunday.
College Cup Preview
Virginia vs. Texas A&M
5pm ET, ESPNU
Breaking Down the Cavaliers’ Journey to Boca Raton
Virginia’s win against Top-Seeded UCLA. What happened?
Here’s what happened — the two best teams in women’s college soccer faced off in a tight quarterfinal match, and Virginia ended a number of UCLA’s ongoing streaks. The Bruins’ unbeaten streak? Ended at 44 games. Their home unbeaten streak? Ended at 27 games. Their shutout streak? Ended at 969 minutes by junior Emily Sonnett‘s cleanup run in the 33rd minute of the match. The game-winning goal was scored by Morgan Brian in the 70th minute, and although the Bruins were able to pull one back a few minutes later, they were unable to find the equalizer. UCLA had not given up multiple goals in a match since November 23, 2012, in a 2-1 quarterfinal loss to Stanford.
Given the substitution rules in the college game and the way in which Virginia usually utilizes its bench, it’s noteworthy that the Cavaliers fielded only two substitutes. Eight of the starting XI played the full 90 in the winning effort.
What got the Cavaliers to their second consecutive College Cup?
I don’t focus on individual performances for successful teams, but for Virginia, I’ll make an exception. The growth and maturity of 2013 MAC Hermann Trophy winner Morgan Brian over the past couple seasons has been a major factor in the Cavaliers’ appearances in the College Cup. The way the 2012 season ended proved this, as the following year showed a clear change in attitude and play by the talented midfielder. Now a senior, Brian has earned a place on the U.S. Women’s National Team and is again a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann.
Two other Cavaliers — senior midfielder Danielle Colaprico and junior forward Makenzy Doniak — join her on the recently announced shortlist. This trio accounts for the bulk of Virginia’s offense, as Doniak leads the team with 19 goals and Colaprico leads with 18 assists. Brian takes second in both categories with 10 goals and 13 assists despite playing only 16 games this season. Brittany Ratcliffe matches Brian with 10 goals, and supersub Morgan Reuther isn’t far behind with 8. Overall, 16 Cavaliers have recorded points this season and Virginia has outscored opponents 85-14. The foundation under the stats is a style of possession play that few teams in the college game have been able to match in 2013 or 2014.
What gives Virginia an edge in their College Cup Semifinal Match against Texas A&M?
If the above isn’t enough to give Virginia the edge, let’s take a broader look. Virginia is the only two seed in the Final Four, and it took defeating the defending national champion and a one-seed to get here. To keep beating a dead horse, Virginia is a battle-tested ACC team. The only team to defeat the Cavaliers this season is Florida State, which sits on the opposite side of the bracket in the other semifinal — clearly one of the top teams of 2014. As much as it took, in Coach Steve Swanson’s words, a “monumental effort” by Virginia to defeat UCLA, that’s what it’s going to take for Texas A&M to beat a team that has outscored opponents 20-1 in the NCAA tournament. This Virginia squad is both experienced and deep, and if the team stays focused, no one this side of the final stands a chance.
– by Ruth Moore
How the Aggies’ Made It to Boca Raton
Texas A&M’s win against Penn State. Go.
What an excellent game of soccer. Coming into this game I think there was an expectation for A&M to run up and down the flanks continuously, with Penn State’s organized defense holding out and using its clinical strikers to grab an upset. Instead we got a back and forth match, with both sides creating excellent chances on the break. While it’s hard to beat Jane Campbell’s performance in Stanford’s quarterfinal, Jordan Day had a huge game in the net for the Aggies. Day shut down two 1-v-1 breakaways for Penn State, and the one goal she did allow was an absolute rocket she really couldn’t have done anything about.
Even with the win, Texas A&M should be wary, as its passing was lacking and the Aggies never really created anything through the run of play in the middle of the field. That being said, Allie Bailey harassed Penn State’s back line all game long, using sheer willpower and hustle to create two goals for her team. Although she assisted on Bailey’s second goal, Bianca Brinson was surprisingly quiet during the match, playing only 63 minutes and notching one shot. The offense has been a staple for the Aggies all season, but a big-time performance by Day and a defensive back four that didn’t make many mistakes put them into the College Cup for the first time in program history.
What got the Aggies to their first College Cup in program history?
As I’ve mentioned several times, Jordan Day was immense for Texas A&M in the quarterfinals, and the Meghan Streight-lead defense was able to hold on long enough, but the main factor that’s propelled the Aggies is what I’m going to call the core five. That includes midfielders Shea Groom and Kelley Monogue, and the triple threat striker team of Bianca Brinson, Annie Kunz, and Allie Bailey. Four of the five are double-digit goal scorers this season, and are responsible for 85 percent of the Aggies’ goals this year.
Groom and Monogue. The midfield duo controls matches for Texas A&M. They can create chances for themselves or others, notably one of their strikers on goal. When Groom and Monogue aren’t on, the responsibility to create falls to the front three. Bailey fought hard for both of her goalmouth strikes, while Kunz did pressure Penn State’s back line into a few mistakes. I mentioned earlier that Brinson had a quiet game, but I don’t suspect that will happen again. Groom and Monogue will have their hands full against Virginia, a team with perhaps the strongest midfield Texas A&M has seen all year. This means Brinson, Kunz, and Bailey will have to play at their best.
What gives Texas A&M an edge against Virginia?
This entire tournament, the Aggies’ speed and athleticism has been their calling card. I don’t think this is something that will totally ruin Virginia or Virginia’s game plan. I think the edge comes from how well defensive midfielder Janae Cousineau plays. Cousineau has been plagued by injury issues since the beginning of the season, and freshman Mikaela Harvey has been excellent when called upon to fill in, but if the senior can help hold down the midfield I think that makes it a much closer match with Virginia. Whichever team can control the midfield wins this game, and it’s absolutely necessary for the Aggies as they won’t be getting any real breakaway chances on the counter. They need to control the center of the park and use the strengths of Groom and Monogue to create chances for the forwards. Simply put, iIf Virginia dominates possession, the A&M defense won’t hold for long. It comes down to holding serve against a talented Cavaliers’ midfield, and Cousineau will be key in shutting down their offensive chances and playing as a bit of a protector for the Aggies’ back four.
– by Rachael Caldwell
Stanford vs. Florida State
7:30pm ET, ESPNU
Breaking Down the Cardinal’s Journey to Boca Raton
Stanford won in penalties against Florida. Thoughts?
The quarterfinal in Palo Alto proved to be a battle between two sides that were fairly even position by position. And there wasn’t much that separated Stanford and Florida throughout the 90 minutes. Whenever one team went ahead, the other responded in short order. Since the beginning of this tournament, the Cardinal have had to respond to a different challenge in every round. Just as the previous three rounds, they were able to rise up and meet the challenge and they were solid in penalties. I was surprised that Savannah Jordan didn’t take a penalty for Florida but even more surprised that goalkeeper Jane Campbell looked so cool, calm, and collected taking the final spot kick for Stanford. A ‘keeper taking a spot kick isn’t unheard of but taking the final kick of the five is very strange. Nonetheless, she was able to bury it and Stanford moves on to the College Cup for the sixth time in seven years.
What got the Cardinal back to the College Cup after missing out in 2013?
Putting together the whole package was the difference for Stanford. The Cardinal lost several players to graduation after the 2012 season, lost Emily Oliver to injuries, saw home match winning streaks end, and had to integrate young players into the lineup. While the lineup had a lot of potential in 2013, it actually reached that potential this year. They have a great back four of Laura Liedle, Maddie Bauer, Hannah Farr, and Kendall Romine who have allowed just 12 goals in 24 games, plus an experienced Campbell in net. Andi Sullivan has looked nothing like a freshman in the midfield but more like a seasoned veteran and the Cardinal have a three-headed goal scoring monster between Lo’eau LaBonta, Chioma Ubogagu, and Taylor Uhl, who have combined for 33 of the team’s 56 goals. All things are looking right for Head Coach Paul Ratcliffe’s side heading to Boca Raton.
What gives Stanford an edge against Florida State?
Stanford is facing one of the most consistent women’s college soccer teams in the nation on Friday. Stanford isn’t a massive underdog by any means but they’re facing a Florida State team that has won 18 of its last 19 with the one blemish coming in a 1-1 draw against North Carolina and are equally as stout defensively, only allowing nine goals in 24 matches. What gives Stanford an edge is its ability to create goal-scoring opportunities for the front three of LaBonta, Ubogagu, and Uhl. If Stanford can spread the field and create space for those three run on to balls or a couple of decent crosses, the Cardinal could be in business as the defense should be able to limit Florida State’s chances.
– by JJ Duke
Breaking Down the Seminoles’ Journey to Boca Raton
Florida State’s one-sided quarterfinal result against South Carolina. Go.
With the experience of entering its 10th consecutive Elite Eight, the longest active streak among NCAA programs, Florida State cruised into its home match against debutante South Carolina with alacrity and assurance. The result was the largest margin of victory in a quarterfinal in Seminole history. Florida State earned a school record 10 corners in the first half and three goals during a six-minute span after the interval, including two by Cheyna Williams, to put the final line at 5-0 in the 61st minute.
The collective effort on the defensive side meant a 17th shutout for Cassie Miller — she has not permitted a goal in 720 minutes. Consequently, the ‘Noles secured a fourth straight College Cup, the seventh program in NCAA history to reach the national semifinals four successive years. Do you know the other six? If you get all six without looking, you can consider yourself a women’s soccer fanatic. The answer is at the bottom of my prediction.
What got the Seminoles to their fourth consecutive College Cup?
For the second time in the last three weeks, Florida State Head Coach Mark Krikorian called his side the most complete team he has fielded in Tallahassee. The combination of experience, maturity, athleticism, technical and soccer brain are qualities that have led to this achievement.
What gives Florida State an edge against Stanford?
You could argue that these two teams are mirror images of each other. Both set school records for consecutive shutout minutes while almost always snatching the timely finish on the attacking side to advance. The apparent edge for Florida State could simply be the venue — Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton, Florida hosts for the first time. Stanford has to fly across the country and adjust to Eastern Standard Time at a juncture when fatigue could set in at inopportune moments.
– by Glenn Crooks
With the College Cup matchups now set, it’s time for the OGM College Staff to boldly (or not) predict which team wins its semifinal match and which team will hoist the NCAA Championship trophy on Sunday afternoon. It’s been a long and exciting 2014 season with many twists and turns along the way but it’s time for this group to put all the cards out on the table and pick the winners.
I’ll go with not-so-bold on this one because I get really superstitious about the College Cup.
Not to write off Texas A&M’s successes to this point, but Virginia is on a roll. This two seed just as easily could have been a one seed. For all the reasons detailed above, I expect Virginia to advance to the final. And I hope the Aggies hold the Cavaliers to a reasonably close scoreline.
The Florida State-Stanford semifinal will definitely be the one to watch. While on paper I think Florida State has the edge, I would love to see Stanford scrap its way out of this one. In fact, it could very well go down this way, with FSU creating a lead that will force Stanford to tap into the best of its team character to get another come-from-behind win this postseason.
This is Virginia’s year to win it all. It would be equally fitting for the Cavaliers to finally beat the Seminoles (who beat them twice) this year, or to take down another Pac-12 power enroute to the title.
Florida State versus Stanford will be a fun match no doubt, but my eyes are glued to Texas A&M versus Virginia. I think the winner of this match will go on to win the College Cup. It’s all about the midfield in this one.
Morgan Brian versus Shea Groom. Colaprico versus Monogue.
Whoever can control the midfield and distribute to their excellent forwards, which both team’s have, will be the winner.
If Jordan Day turns in another near perfect performance, I think the Aggies could pull what would most certainly be considered an upset, despite their higher seed. However, the Cavaliers are far too clinical to lose this match. They’re one of the only teams that won’t be blown away by the pure speed and athleticism of the Aggies on the wings, and this isn’t their first College Cup experience.
I’ve got Virginia marked down as the College Cup champs.
Now I do realize that Virginia’s match with A&M is a semifinal, so who do they beat in the final? I think its Stanford. The Cardinal were challenged a bit more than expected in its run to Boca Raton, and really had to grind out several wins. Florida State never really saw its tournament lives flash before their eyes, and I don’t think they’ve really had to fight for a win so far. Stanford is the tougher squad, and in a game where offense could be at a premium I put my money on the Cardinal, which sets up a Stanford-Virginia final.
The Cavaliers take home the hardware. Morgan Brian scores one and assists two as they win it 3-0.
In one of the more consistently high-scoring NCAA tournaments in recent memory, this weekend will change pace as we should be in for three defensive struggles with only the strongest left standing on Sunday afternoon.
Florida State’s prowess at both ends of the field should outlast the stingy Stanford back line and the Seminoles will move onto Championship Sunday. The more intriguing of the two semifinals will be the first match as Texas A&M walks into the unknown against Virginia, who is still stinging from its defeat at this stage last year against UCLA in penalty kicks. The Virginia senior class has climbed every hurdle throughout its four years minus winning a national championship and will get to the final to face an ACC rival but will need extra time to finish off the Aggies.
Mark Krikorian’s team has had Steve Swanson’s team’s number in 2014, defeating the Cavaliers in the regular season and in the ACC Conference Championship game. However, the trend breaks in South Florida as Morgan Brian and Co. will defeat the ‘Noles and will give the midfielder the perfect ending to her collegiate career.
This should be fun, if not for sheer talent alone. Seven of the 16 MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalists will be on display in Boca Ration for the Final Four. Three of the No. 1 seeds have advanced with No. 2 Virginia ousting No. 1 UCLA, 2-1, to become the only team this season to put more than one behind the defending national champs. Junior Emily Sonnett’s rebound goal ended a 969-minute scoreless streak for the Bruins, the seventh longest in NCAA history. Virginia will next face College Cup neophytes, Texas A&M.
The Aggies eliminated Virginia in the third round eight years ago and the two sides haven’t met since. I had a sideline seat when Shea Groom tore my Rutgers team apart with her powerful movements to goal early in her freshman season. Now, a MAC Hermann semifinalist and one of eight senior starters, Groom (16 goals) along with Kelly Montague (17 goals, 10 assists) lead the Aggies after defeating Penn State in front of the Twelfth Man — 3,161 spectators — during Thanksgiving break! Virginia features three MAC Hermann candidates, Morgan Brian (10 goals, 13 assists), Danielle Colaprico (6 goals, 18 assists), and MaKenzy Doniak (19 goals, 11 assists). Virginia has the soccer acumen and ability to score in bunches against even the most elite programs, as well as the experience of its second straight College Cup and will defeat the Aggies, 3-1.
In contrast to the single Final Four display for Virgina-A&M, the Florida State-Stanford semifinal is notable with two programs that have a combined 15 journeys to the College Cup. These two schools share a similar philosophy — intelligent movement off the ball while reading the prime options in the attack on the ball. Both have lethal attacking choices. Florida State put up a 5-spot in the quarterfinal while Stanford responded to a 2-0 deficit in the opening round versus Fullerton, receiving five goals combined from Chioma Obogagu and Taylor Uhl to advance. MAC Hermann aspirant Lo’eau LaBonta (13 goals, 5 assists) is the focal point of the attack leading the Cardinal to their sixth College Cup in the past seven years. Florida State has a pair of MAC Hermann nominees in Dagný Brynjarsdóttir (16 goals, 6 assists) and Kristin Grubka (3 goals, 5 assists). Florida State scores first, Stanford rallies to equalize and the ‘Noles, with savvy and composure, tally late to move onto the final, 2-1.
I’m not one to subscribe to the theory, “it’s difficult to beat the same team three times in a season.” However, that will be the predicament for Florida State in the all-ACC final. The Seminoles defeated the Cavaliers by identical scores of 1-0, the most recent coming in the conference championship trial. It appeared that the Florida State coaching staff created adjustments between the regular game in late September and the ACC final less than a month ago. Virginia’s opportunities were limited and the Seminole’s numerous attacking weapons were more threatening. Florida State has the most potent blend of soccer qualities among this prodigious quartet of teams this weekend. And for the third time in 2014, will upend the Cavaliers, 1-0, to earn its first national championship.
(Trivia Answer: UNC, UMass, Stanford, UCLA, Santa Clara, Notre Dame)
Rachael Caldwell will be graduating from the University of Arkansas in 2015 with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and minors in Spanish and Business Management. Rachael played soccer from when she was three until her senior year of high school, where she was the captain of her state championship winning team. Rachael looks forward to writing more for Our Game Magazine and also writes about women’s soccer on her blog, rachaelfc.wordpress.com.
Glenn Crooks is the former Head Women’s Soccer Coach at Rutgers University. Crooks is currently a soccer commentator for the Big Ten Network, FIOS, and Sky Blue FC of the National Women’s Soccer League. He is also head coach of the Players Development Academy, N.J. Olympic Development Program, and a staff coach at U.S. Soccer National Training Centers, as well as a coach advisor for Polar USA. Follow Crooks on twitter at @GlennCrooks.
JJ Duke graduated from Rider University in New Jersey with a degree in Digital Media Studies. Although his playing days may have ended back in high school, he still prides himself on being a decent shot-stopper and an all-around fanatic of the beautiful game (fervent supporter of Manchester United and the founder of a Rider supporters group, the 206 Ultras).
Ruth Moore serves Our Game Magazine as a College Editor and the magazine’s Design Editor. She holds a degree in Professional Writing from Kutztown University, freelances in communication design, and loves coffee.