2015 NCAA Tournament: First Round Preview

NCAA logo for parallax

2015 college cup logoIt’s that time of the year again. Our Game Magazine‘s college editors Rachael Caldwell, JJ Duke, and Ruth Moore preview the first-round action of the 2015 NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament. Joining in on the fun is Glenn Crooks, former women’s soccer head coach at Rutgers. They break down the first-round matchups, which teams have the easiest roads to the College Cup, and offer thoughts on possible upsets.

Bracket Quadrant #1


  • #1 Florida State
  • #2 Clemson
  • #3 North Carolina
  • #4 Auburn

Bracket Outlook

This quadrant seems to be Florida State’s to lose. However, who the Seminoles play along the way will no doubt be interesting as it seems there’s potential for an upset in every round. Take at look at No. 2 seed Clemson — a team many didn’t consider to have a legitimate case for a two seed — and its potential College Cup route. In the second round, the Tigers will most likely be playing Ole Miss and freshman phenom CeCe Kizer. It’s not exactly the easiest second-round draw.

The same goes for No. 3 seed North Carolina, which suffered a huge blow on Wednesday when it was announced Joanna Boyles and Cameron Castleberry suffered ACL tears in practice and are out of the tournament. A win over Liberty likely gets the Tar Heels a date with Texas A&M, a squad it has struggled with before. It’s not just my SEC roots talking, those aren’t the easiest second-round matchups, and both teams could be a little worse for wear if they advance to the quarters to face each other.

As for Auburn, the winner of the match between Texas Tech and North Texas will not go away easily, and should the Tigers advance, they’ll have to face the buzzsaw that is Florida State. There’s potential for several upsets along the way, but can anyone in this quadrant defeat the Seminoles? That’s what a ticket to Cary will likely come down to for some of these squads.

Which Seed Has the Easiest Route to the College Cup?

Florida State logoConsidering that seeds two through four could be on upset alert in the second round, it’s clear that Florida State has a relatively cushy route. The Seminoles shouldn’t even be challenged until the Elite Eight, and even then it will more than likely be an ACC foe they’ve already beaten this season. While both games were relatively close, the Seminoles only allowed a goal each to Clemson and North Carolina, and both were a bit fluky. Clemson’s was an own goal, and North Carolina’s came in the second meeting between the teams and came off of a deflected free kick.

If both Clemson and North Carolina are upset, it will most likely be at the hands of a very young Texas A&M squad. We saw what Florida State did to the Aggies’ fellow SEC member South Carolina last season, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw something similar. It wouldn’t be entirely crazy to start booking your College Cup tickets now, Seminoles fans (I just probably jinxed it, didn’t I?).

Which Seeded Team is on a First-Round Upset Alert?

Clemson logoCall up the Clemson Tigers, they’re on upset alert. Historically, Clemson hasn’t struggled against the ever valiant mid-majors like Furman. Over the past four seasons (2011 to 2015), only two of which have seen the Tigers in the tournament, Clemson has posted a 20-2-3 record against mid-major squads. However, it’s worth noting those lone two losses come at the hands, or feet, of Furman. Clemson has played Furman, whether in regular season, exhibition, or now the NCAA Tournament, every season since 2011 so these teams are rather familiar.

Let’s break down some stats that shift things in favor of the Paladins. First, let’s introduce Stephanie DeVita. The senior forward has 18 goals on the season, and seven of those 18 goals are game-winners. If Furman gets on the board in this match, there’s a good chance it’ll come from DeVita. There’s also a good chance it comes in the second half. Furman has been much better in the second half this season, scoring almost two thirds of its goals in the second half this season with 23.

So, what’s this mean for the Tigers? Well, Clemson has allowed more than double the goals in the second half compared to the first, and has scored fewer second-half goals than first-half goals. Opposing teams have also found it easier to get shots against Clemson in the second half of action, and considering DeVita has scored on almost half of her shots on goal, giving her chances could send the Tigers home early.

Featured Match

In every sense of the word, Texas Tech versus North Texas will be a knockout game. The Mean Green lived up to their namesake, and lead Conference USA in fouls, committing 270 total fouls this season, as well as yellow cards. With that physical style of play, North Texas posted an impressive 16 shutouts this season. On the other side, the Red Raiders aren’t anything to scoff at defensively. Tying the runaway Big 12 leaders West Virginia for most shutouts in the conference with four, and allowing only nine goals on the season.

Offensively, both teams bring something to the table, but in reality this could be a gritty match with few goals. So why did I pick it as the featured first-round match? Well, to me this match could exemplify what this tournament is all about. We’re going to see two teams that are relatively well-matched absolutely go at it. There’s going to be a lot of physicality in this match, and the goal that wins it is going to be a good one. A North Texas win would be an upset, and it’s very much in the cards. Plus, both of these teams have a chance to challenge Auburn for at least a half, assuming Auburn advances.

Additional Thoughts

Once again I direct my attention to the state of the SEC as the tournament begins. The conference has six teams in the tournament this year, down two from 2014, and four of those are in this quadrant of the bracket. Two of the six have a second-round date with their quadrant’s No. 1 seed should they advance past the first round, and only Florida is seeded. That’s not to say the teams didn’t deserve their draws, it was a wacky year in the conference, with many teams’ nonconference schedule leaving something to be desired (there’s a reason second-place Mizzou is sitting at home).

However, compared to last season, which saw an SEC team in the College Cup for the first time since 2003 and four seeded squads, the SEC conference will no doubt be a bit of a disappointment. All the SEC squads have mountains to climb if they want to make it to Cary, and in this quadrant they’ll more than likely have to take out some of their conference colleagues.

— by Rachael Caldwell

Bracket Quadrant #2


  • #1 Stanford
  • #2 Florida
  • #3 Duke
  • #4 Santa Clara

Bracket Outlook

Conference and intrastate foes define the Stanford–Florida quadrant. There are two representatives each for the American Athletic, Colonial, West Coast, and Pac-12 conferences. There are four Florida schools in the top half of the quadrant and four California schools in the bottom half. Only one of the ACC’s eight representatives represents women’s soccer’s top Division I conference, with Duke as the No. 3 seed here. At a glance, this quadrant is well-stocked and well-balanced, and no chance of coast-to-coast travel until the quarterfinal stage. No. 1 seed Stanford, undefeated in Pac-12 play, and No. 2 seed Florida, both regular season and tournament champion of the SEC, are both ranked in the Top 5 in the NSCAA coaches’ poll and clearly equipped for a tough and exciting road to Cary.

Which Seed Has the Easiest Route to the College Cup?

florida gators logoLet’s not call it easy, but Florida seems to have the least standing between itself and the Final Four. Even though (spoiler alert) No. 4 Santa Clara is the seed on upset alert, it seems likely that No. 1 Stanford would still be facing Arizona in the third round if the Broncos fall. The Wildcats fell to Stanford, 2-3, in double-overtime during conference play and were the only team other than Penn State to score twice on Stanford this season.

Florida, meanwhile, can claim dominance over the Southeast in 2015, both as regular and tournament champions in the SEC, and in beating all intrastate opponents during the regular season, including UCF (2-0) and top-seed Florida State (3-2). The Gators’ first-round opponent, Western Michigan, will be making a much greater trip than Stanford’s San Jose State. Number games aside, though, we can’t kid ourselves that either end of this bracket is too skewed. There are familiar faces every step of the way, and none of them were simply handed tickets for a Carolina cruise.

Which Seeded Team is on a First-Round Upset Alert?

SantaClara-100x100No. 4 seed Santa Clara is definitely the one on upset alert as the Broncos host Long Beach State on Saturday. Regardless of what you think of the West Coast Conference or Big West Conference, you have to give both teams a nod for the strength of their nonconference schedules. SCU’s record of 13-5-2 includes narrow losses to Arizona and seeded Notre Dame and Penn State, but also a win over the quadrant’s No. 1 seed, Stanford. Long Beach (11-6-3) opened its season with a 1-0 win over UCLA* and either drew or narrowly lost to Auburn, Southern California, LMU, Cincinnati, and BYU. Both the Broncos and the 49ers come into the tournament as at-large bids and on paper, are closely matched. Leading goalscorers Julie Vass (Santa Clara) and Ashley Gonzales (Long Beach) each have 8 goals and 17 points on the season. On the defensive end, Santa Clara has 13 goals against and a .61 goals against average (GAA), while Long Beach State has 14 goals against and a .64 GAA. These two sides have met twice before in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, with Santa Clara scraping by with 1-0 and 2-1 wins. So, although the overall record between them is 7-1-0 in the Broncos’ favor, the seeded hosts are the side with everything to lose, should they get complacent looking at the circumstances rather than the 2015 season.

*ouch — Brandi

Featured Match

Aside from the Bay Area games, NCAA Tournament veterans UCF against William & Mary could present an intriguing match this first weekend of play. Both sides are, again, at-large bids, with William & Mary putting together the strongest season in its conference to match Santa Clara in making a 25th NCAA Tournament appearance. Hosts Central Florida (20 NCAA appearances) had a rocky season but didn’t shirk when putting together a nonconference schedule. A six-game winning streak and conference semifinal showing closed out the Knights’ schedule on an upswing, and they can feel bolstered by a 7-2-0 home record. UCF also holds a winning record against William & Mary at 4-1, but the teams haven’t crossed paths in the tournament since 1984.

Additional Thoughts

Per usual, I’ve got my eye on the “big three” in the Bay Area this season. Santa Clara seemed to struggle at times and California was definitely able to take advantage of the power vacuum left by UCLA*. It’s a pleasant surprise to see Santa Clara, Cal, and Stanford all seeded this year and only on track to meet in the third round or, by some massive stroke of luck, an all-Pac-12 final. Now that I’ve mentioned it, I would love to see that. But as we’re still only looking in on the first round, most of my focus is on Santa Clara. The West Coast Conference wrapped up with BYU, San Francisco, and Loyola Marymount all ahead of Santa Clara in the standings (and Portland, Pepperdine, and San Diego right behind). BYU, Santa Clara, and LMU all made the tournament — condolences to my Pilot-loving friends — but the Broncos must have really impressed to take a seed despite being behind BYU in everything but the NSCAA rankings… where they closed out at No. 12 while the Cougars are at No. 13. So what am I saying here? I’m cautiously avoiding outright optimism for Santa Clara. But I would definitely like to get home from my brother’s wedding on Saturday and find out my Broncos really earned that No. 4 seed on the big stage.

*still hurts, thanks — Brandi

— by Ruth Moore

Bracket Quadrant #3


  • #1 Penn State
  • #2 West Virginia
  • #3 California
  • #4 Virginia Tech

Bracket Outlook

There is little argument that this bracket is properly seeded. Although No. 2 West Virginia defeated No. 1 Penn State in early September, the Mountaineer’s quest for a top seed vanished with a 1-0 loss to Texas Tech in the Big 12 Tournament semifinals. Penn State won its 17th Big Ten regular-season title and sixth B1G Tournament Championship, defeating Rutgers, 2-0, in the final. With five teams in the Top 30 RPI, the Pac-12 offers an elevated strength of schedule and No. 3 Cal was bested only by Stanford on the index. Cal’s 7-0 triumph over 2013 NCAA National Champions UCLA* made about as much noise as any other result in DI this season. No. 4 seed Virginia Tech plays in the only conference with more Top 30 RPI programs, the ACC with seven. The Hokies finished fifth in the country’s top league and missed out on the ACC tournament by two points — perhaps a blessing with more time to physically recover from their arduous schedule and erase the most recent match memory, a 3-0 defeat in the regular-season finale at Notre Dame.

*it really hurts, thanks — Brandi

Which Seed Has the Easiest Route to the College Cup?

Penn State UniversityEasy is not a word that any coach would use to describe the journey to the College Cup — Erica Walsh included.  The Penn State mentor watched her side at their best on Sunday in a comfortable win against No. 2 seed Rutgers. If that performance is indicative of how the Nittany Lions will execute in the NCAAs, then a spot in the Elite Eight is assured.

In the quarterfinal round, Penn State will meet either Cal or West Virginia — a match that could well drain the winner, setting up Penn State to proceed to its fourth College Cup and first since 2012.

Which Seeded Team is on a First-Round Upset Alert?

VirginiaTech-100x100There are an abundance of very good players and quality coaches that represent programs across the country. Therefore, a coach with strong tactical acumen and a well-organized side, can set up a match to frustrate the favorites. Case in point: Cincinnati. Neil Stafford is in his third season as the head of the Bearcats, steering them to an initial American Athletic Conference title on Sunday. The ’Cats defeated UConn in the semis and USF in penalty kicks for the championship. Stafford chose to replace red-shirt junior keeper Natalie Smith in favor of freshman Kaleigh Piscioneri for the shootout. Piscioneri made one huge save and the Bearcats hoisted the hardware. Cincinnati also had crucial regular season wins over USF and UCF while earning a 2-2 draw against a substantial West Coast challenger in Long Beach State. All those matches were contested at Gettler Stadium, regarded by the coaching fraternity (including myself) as one of the most challenging environs in college soccer. Regardless, Stafford prepares his teams to create chaos through pressure and that frequently puts them in a position to nick a late goal — Jaycie Brown scored in the 88th minute to send the AAC final into extra time. The next opponent they plan to frazzle will be No. 4 Virginia Tech.

Featured Match

The Yankees versus the Red Sox, the Jets against the Patriots, the Rangers battling the Bruins. When New York meets Boston in a sporting event, there’s always some extra juice. I don’t think there will be a mayoral side bet for this one, but St. John’s University will host Patriot League champions Boston University in the opening round.

Oddly, this will be the first match between these two programs from the Northeast. The Terriers, playing in their 10th NCAA Tournament in 11 years, went undefeated in league play while St. John’s won a school record 15 games led by one of the top strikers in the country, Rachel Daly. Both teams play on artificial surfaces but BU will climb the steps to the top of a parking garage and onto Belson Stadium for the first time — a gusty, city environment where St. John’s has a perfect record this season. It’s the third bid for St. John’s and its first home NCAA match.

Additional Thoughts

While there are upset possibilities along the way and the game is often cruel, the committee has set up a region that should play out as advertised — the top four seeds will advance to the Sweet 16.

— by Glenn Crooks

Bracket Quadrant #4


  • #1 Virginia
  • #2 Rutgers
  • #3 Notre Dame
  • #4 Southern California

Bracket Outlook

As the theme has been throughout this 2015 season, anything and everything could happen in women’s college soccer and this quadrant is certainly not exempt from this sentiment. I can truthfully say that outside of Virginia being a No. 1 seed, I would have never thought Notre Dame would fall to a No. 3 seed and Rutgers or Southern California would have been a top seed come tournament time. But that’s the beauty of putting aside the paper and pencil and watching these matches unfold.

I can see at least two road teams winning their first-round matches and one of the seeded teams falling before the Sweet 16. And that’s just based on the regular season alone. There hasn’t been many times this season in which I could confidently say that any team based on the conference in which they play alone would win a match. While I think teams like Virginia and Notre Dame have the pedigree to potentially square off in the culminating match in this bracket section, I’m not going to put a stamp on it that these two teams will be there. Not to dismiss their talents or style of play because I believe Virginia on its day (and I’ve only seen a handful of times when the Cavaliers weren’t firing on all cylinders) plays the best soccer in the country and Notre Dame’s stout defense could be a factor in its run toward a Cup. But this year, more than ever, a three or four seed or even a non-seeded team has a chance to break through.

Which Seed Has the Easiest Route to the College Cup?

small virginia cavaliers logoIt’s not that any seeded team has an easy route to the College Cup, because let’s face it, you’re playing against the best in the nation. My instinct tells me Virginia has the easiest path out of this quadrant to Cary. In fairness to the Cavaliers, they’re on form and won eight straight matches before falling to Florida State at the ACC Championship match in penalty kicks.

But if seeds were to hold out, there’s something in the back of my mind that says Rutgers may have a better route to the quarterfinal than Virginia. The Scarlet Knights are 10-0-1 at home with three wins against Top 20 teams (UConn, Penn State, and Minnesota) and have outscored their opponents, 21-3, in those matches. Rutgers hit a bit of a speed bump in the Big Ten Championship match at Penn State but will use that as experience heading toward NCAA Tournament play. Analyzing the Scarlet Knights’ route to the College Cup sees them hosting Garden State rival and NEC Champs Fairleigh Dickinson (which has scored 50 goals but allowed in 31) in the first round. The Fairleigh Dickinson Knights will put up a fight, but barring something crazy taking place, the Scarlet Knights should defeat the FDU Knights and host the winner of Georgetown versus Hofstra in the second round.

Hofstra is part of the four-team representation of the CAA making it into the tournament and could very well go down to Washington, D.C., and upset the Hoyas. But no matter the outcome of this match, the winner of this one will be a little taxed heading into the second week. Then Rutgers could face back-to-back ACC opponents in the Round of 16 and Elite Eight with the latter of the matches being played on the road. Something also tells me that UConn could spoil Notre Dame’s run in the second round and get a rematch at Rutgers, a team they lost 2-0 earlier in 2015. But again, I will take Rutgers holding serve for three matches at home before traveling to potentially face Virginia. And while the Cavaliers have outscored their opponents, 38-3, at Klockner Stadium, they saw their 38-match home-winning streak come to an end earlier this year. Anything is possible in a one-off scenario which gives me the belief that Rutgers could very well have the more ideal route to the College Cup.

Which Seeded Team is on a First-Round Upset Alert?

University of Southern California logoSouthern California started off its 2015 season on a shaky note. For a time, it looked like the Trojans’ revamped lineup wouldn’t gel in time to make a run. But that was put to bed quickly as they finished second in the Pac-12 with both 0-1 losses coming on the road to Washington and Stanford. There is no rest for the weary, however, as the Trojans will face the Titans of Cal State Fullerton in round one of the NCAA Tournament. This Titans team is not one that will lie down easily to their in-state rivals. CSUF got its revenge against the two teams it lost to in conference play, UC Santa Barbara and Long Beach State, in the Big West tournament by shutting out both teams en route to the title. CSUF head coach Demian Brown’s side has played some bigger sides in nonconference play earlier this year with games against Washington State, Florida Gulf Coast, and Loyola Marymount and will be paced by senior forward Rebecca Wilson’s 18-goal, 9-assist campaign, which netted her second straight conference Offensive Player of the Year award.

Featured Match

For the first time since 2004, postseason soccer has come to Princeton as the Ivy League victors get themselves what I call a “glory cup tie” at home against ACC representative Boston College on Saturday night. The lights will be bright at Roberts Stadium in central New Jersey and this match will feature two of the top junior forwards in the country. Boston College’s McKenzie Meehan bagged 16 goals and has scored in five of the last six matches for BC. And if you don’t know about Princeton’s Tyler Lussi yet, I suggest you start placing her in your 2017 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Draft charts. The forward from Maryland had 13 goals and five assists in 2015, giving her 41 goals in her collegiate career thus far. Plus, both teams have a 1-2 scoring punch as BC has Hayley Dowd’s 12 goals to go along with Meehan’s 16, and Princeton has a talented freshman named Mimi Asom, who scored 10 goals in her debut campaign and has a strong case to be named Ivy League Rookie of the Year. One key note is that Princeton’s defense has allowed only 16 goals in 17 matches and if the Tigers can find a way to keep Meehan and Dowd off the scoresheet (as the two have combined to score 28 of the team’s 36 goals), the Tigers may be dancing off to the second round.

Additional Thoughts

I have to give a shout to head coach Steve Karbowski and the Siena Saints out of the MAAC for making the NCAA Tournament. Ever since an early October loss on the road to Rider University, the Saints had their backs against the wall and couldn’t drop many more points if they wanted to make any sort of a run at the postseason. After a draw to Fairfield, Siena won three straight matches to claim the sixth and final spot in the conference tournament. The Saints defeated third-seeded Marist, 1-0, in the quarterfinals in a match that I called for the MAAC in early November before upsetting regular-season champions Monmouth, 2-1, in the semifinal and beat second-seed Manhattan, 5-2, to win their first conference title since 2010. This is a team that has been playing with no fear for a month now and I don’t think they will be intimidated  by UConn on Sunday.

— by JJ Duke



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 the color analyst for New York City FC on WFAN and a soccer commentator for the Big Ten Network. Additionally, Crooks is a host on SiriusXM FC 85 for World Cup Now, the Carli Lloyd Town Hall, and Counter Attack. 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). He was the Student General Manager at 107.7 FM The Bronc while at Rider and contributed to various local newspaper and Web sites in the Trenton, NJ, area of high school and collegiate sports includingTand Fish4Scores.com.

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.