It’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 review the first round of action and break down the second-round matchups, which teams have the easiest roads to the College Cup, and offer thoughts on possible upsets. NCAA Tournament time, nothing like it!
Bracket Quadrant #1
- #1 Florida State (2nd/3rd Round Host)
- #2 Clemson (2nd/3rd Round Host)
- #3 North Carolina
- #4 Auburn
Status quo was upheld in this region of the bracket. All of the first-round hosts won their matchups with little drama, and as a result, we have several eye-catching second-round matchups. Really no team was pushed by their opponent to open things up, with the exception of the rather evenly matched first-round game between Texas A&M and Washington. The impressive freshman duo of Ally Watt and Emily Bates were held to zero shots on goal by the Huskies’ defense, and going forward they’ll need to find a way to change that. The increasingly clutch Haley Pounds was responsible for both goals in the match, and if she gets going along with Watt and Bates, other teams may need to be put on upset alert. For most of these teams in the second round, it’s starting to come down to fitness, depth, and injuries. Seeing as no one was really pushed in round one, things will definitely start to get interesting once round two gets underway.
Biggest Surprise from the First Round?
Well, there were technically no upsets in the first round, as I mentioned previously all of the hosts won their matchups. That being said, South Alabama’s rout of LSU was definitely surprising. Certainly a win wasn’t out of the realm of possibility for the Jaguars by any means. However, in their two total trips to the NCAA Tournament, South Alabama had yet to win a game or even score a goal. To be fair, those games were both against Florida State, who they’ll play this Friday, and this time around LSU was clearly a much easier opponent to handle.
South Alabama has been an offensive power all season long, currently fourth in the nation in goals scored, but what was most impressive, and shocking, about this match was how the they completely shut down LSU’s offense. Star forwards Summer Clarke and Jorian Baucom only had one shot on goal each, which accounted for two of LSU’s three total shots on goal during the game. Power-five conference teams have been taken down by non-power conference schools in the tournament before, but the last time the margin was four goals was way back in 2005, when Portland won its second College Cup title against UCLA.
Who Advances Out of the Tallahassee Section?
This section is a bit of a bore if I’m honest with you. I just don’t see how anyone gets past Florida State. That being said, the winner of the Auburn versus Texas Tech match could prove to be a tough task for the Seminoles, so let’s look at the case for each of those squads. Should Auburn make it past Texas Tech in a rematch of last year’s second-round game, I think the Tigers’ defense could keep them in the game with Florida State. However, where are the goals going to come from for Auburn? In the Tigers’ three postseason games so far they’ve scored just three goals. I’m not sure their defense can hold all the way to penalties if it comes to that, so they’ve got to find a goal somewhere if they even want a sliver of hope for the next round.
Texas Tech is in the same boat. Even if the Red Raiders do hold defensively, they wouldn’t stand a chance in a shootout against the Seminoles, so they still have to find a goal if they want a realistic chance to advance. Their past four games have all been tight one-goal wins, and even though Janine Beckie has come alive of late, they have to be better at finishing their chances than they were in the first round. Texas Tech finished just one of 11 shots on goal against North Texas, which isn’t going to cut it against Florida State. If you get chances against the Seminoles you have to finish them, it’s as simple as that. At the end of the day, a team has to shut down Florida State’s offense and find a way to score goals. I don’t see that happening.
Who Advances Out of the Clemson Section?
My eyes are absolutely glued to this section. Sure, it could end up being two absolute blowouts by seeded teams, but I don’t see that happening. Texas A&M and Ole Miss are going to put up a heck of a fight against these seeded ACC foes. Looking first at North Carolina versus Texas A&M, I do think the Aggies can pull off the upset here. The Tar Heels have lost several key players, and their depth is in question. While A&M is dealing with some banged-up players themselves, the Aggies are on their third-string keeper, and is a team that starts a whopping eight underclassmen; this is definitely going to be an opportunity for the Aggies to take advantage of and make the Sweet 16. It’ll come down to which team has the depth and the fitness to make the most of their chances.
I think Clemson will find a way past Ole Miss, a team whose offense has stalled a bit here in postseason play. CeCe Kizer and Addie Forbus haven’t found the back of the net, and that could mean trouble for the Rebels. In the end, I think Clemson advances from this section, but wouldn’t be surprised if the Aggies found a way to shock the number two seed. Yes, they’re a young squad and it would be a bit shocking to see them make their way through two tough seeded ACC teams, but they’re extremely talented and can find the back of the net. As I said earlier, the biggest thing for the Aggies is how much is left in the tank, and the same goes for UNC should they get a second round win, which I think is why Clemson will advance here.
— by Rachael Caldwell
Bracket Quadrant #2
- #1 Stanford (2nd/3rd Round Host)
- #2 Florida (2nd/3rd Round Host)
- #3 Duke
- #4 Santa Clara
Stanford’s quadrant played out pretty much as expected in the first round. There were no major upsets, and even No. 4 Santa Clara pulled through over Long Beach State. So I’m happy about the Broncos and happy to find that the committee put together a balanced quadrant (and that I had the luck of drawing it for OGM’s postseason coverage). Everyone likes an upset, but on the outside looking in, no one really wants to watch a smaller conference’s automatic bid and sole representative get blown out of the water, or to walk away suspecting that a team’s seeding was unfairly inflated. Fortunately, in the Stanford quadrant, we can proceed happily knowing that Duke’s trouncing of James Madison doesn’t eliminate the Colonial Athletic Association from NCAA play or even our own corner, as William & Mary plays on. The next couple of rounds should be full of tight contests, particularly in the bottom half of the quadrant.
Biggest Surprise from the First Round?
There weren’t any big surprises here in the first round. Maybe the only surprise was the lack of skewed results beyond Duke rolling 5-0 over James Madison. Scorelines for the other seeded teams were 1-0 and 2-0, then a 2-1 result in FGCU’s favor over South Florida, and a scoreless draw between William & Mary and Central Florida, which was decided in a clear-cut 3-1 penalty kick shootout to send William & Mary to Gainesville.
Who Advances Out of the Stanford Section?
The remaining teams in Stanford’s section have all met in 2015, whether in regular season or preseason. Santa Clara beat Stanford for the first time since 2006, Arizona beat Santa Clara, Stanford beat Arizona and BYU, and BYU played Santa Clara to a scoreless draw after meeting Arizona in preseason. Top-seed Stanford is 10-1-1 at home, compared to the road records of the opponents: BYU is 4-2-2; Santa Clara is 6-3-1; and Arizona is 4-2-1. Although this should be an exciting couple of rounds regardless of who meets in the third, Stanford seems poised to advance to the Elite Eight with a team full of Pac-12 honorees and both the home field and past record advantages.
Who Advances Out of the Gainesville Section?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Duke has a shot at breaking the seeded status quo and going to the Elite Eight. Three of the Blue Devils’ last four games were multi-goal wins. Their past two games have been 5-0 shutouts, sandwiching a weekend off as Duke didn’t play in the ACC tournament. Duke’s 11-5-4 record might not seem like much compared to Florida at 18-3-1, but Duke is one of seven seeded teams from the ACC (two of which are No. 1 seeds). Florida’s SEC produced only two seeded teams of its six in the tournament field. On offense, the Gators’ goals come mainly from two sources: juniors Savannah Jordan (22 goals, 50 points) and Brooke Sharp (11 goals, 26 points) accounting for 33 of the Gators’ 55 goals, while senior Christen Westphal provides the majority of assists (13 assists, 19 points). Duke sees a much more even spread on offense, with two freshmen leading the way: Kayla McCoy providing a spark off the bench (7 goals, 15 points) and Taylor Racioppi a steady starter with a goal and assist in each of the past two games (6 goals and 17 points on the season).
Is it presumptuous to think both Florida and Duke will beat their second-round opponents? Yes, but I’m looking for Duke’s momentum to work in its favor and William & Mary’s resilience to slow Florida’s roll.
— by Ruth Moore
Bracket Quadrant #3
- #1 Penn State
- #2 West Virginia
- #4 Virginia Tech
The NCAA Selection Committee is charged with minimizing the number of airplane journeys among the 64 initial selections from across the country. Consequently, four of the five Big Ten Conference representatives in the tournament are included in this bracket. Top seed Penn State along with Ohio State, Minnesota, and Northwestern all advanced with victories in the opening round. According to the guidelines of the committee, conference foes can’t face off in either the first- or second-round. Those restrictions are moot beyond the Round of 32. Therefore, there’s the possibility that this bracket could resemble a Big Ten Tournament collection in the Sweet 16 — Penn State versus Ohio State and Northwestern against Minnesota would be cause for celebration at the B1G offices in Rosemont, Illinois.
The Seed Upset: Loyola Marymount over California
What Happened? Cal had produced a draw against Stanford to end the Cardinal’s 10-match win streak while earning positive results against top ACC programs UNC and Duke. It demolished UCLA, 7-0. The Bears featured their first Pac-12 Player of the Year, Arielle Ship. They were the heavy favorites to win their NCAA opener at home against Loyola Marymount. “There’s nothing worse when you work hard for something all year long and in the first game of the tournament you probably play overall your worst game of the year,” remarked Cal head coach Neil Maguire to The Daily Californian.
LMU defeated Cal, 1-0, and advance to face Minnesota in round two. “They took away some of our strengths but we were poor,” said Maguire. “Quite frankly, LMU deserved to win.” LMU used an asset to score the winner. Junior Jocelyn Blankenship drove a corner that was finished by senior Callie Taylor in the latter part of the first half.
“Our strength all year has been getting down the flanks and getting crosses in,” said Michelle Myers, the West Coast Conference Coach of the Year. “Between that and set pieces, we feel we are a very dangerous team.”
Predictably, Cal had a majority of the play in the second half, scrambling for the equalizer with 14 shots. Redshirt freshman keeper Charlee Pruitt made four saves, one of the spectacular kind, and LMU finished with its 11th clean sheet of the season. Cal had 19 shots overall, but only four on frame. LMU earned its first NCAA victory, displaying forte in the attack while realizing a collective energy on the defensive side, especially after the halftime interval. And now the Lions have a realistic opportunity to reach the Sweet 16 — perhaps a season unsurpassed in the LMU annals.
Who Advances Out of the University Park Section?
B1G Ten supporters are hoping that Ohio State can eliminate No. 4 Virginia Tech, but the Hokies played top-ranked Florida State to a draw in late October while winning at No. 22 Duke earlier in the month. Ohio State has been uncertain in goal (splitting time in goal between senior Jillian McVicker and freshman Devon Kerr) and Virginia Tech can score in bunches — the Hokies are eigth in the country in goal production. Murielle Tiernan has 14 of 47 goals scored by her team including the game-winner in the first round against Cincinnati. The Buckeyes enter this match with the momentum of a walk-off goal — Sammy Edwards scored in the 107th minute to defeat Butler in round one. Ohio State permitted 18 shots and seven corners by the Bulldogs — at home. The test against the Hokies will have added severity.
Meanwhile, No. 1 Penn State gets another home match (the Nittany Lions are unbeaten at Jeffrey Field in 2015) against Boston University. The Patriot League champs scored in the 78th minute (goal by Alexandra Cooper) and the 94th minute (goal by Clare Pleuler) to make up a 1-0 deficit at St. John’s. It’s been a remarkable transition for the Terriers, who were winless in their opening seven matches. The Patriot League was the perfect tonic, leading to an 8-0-1 league mark. Under Nancy Feldman, the Terriers are well coached, but battle tested they are not. The Nittany Lions, 5-0 winners against Albany and outscoring their opponents 16-3 since a road loss to Rutgers, should prevail.
Penn State versus Virginia Tech in the Sweet 16. This should be an exciting match on the attacking side. I’ll select PSU in penalties.
Who Advances Out of the Morgantown Section?
No. 2 West Virginia is on the verge of setting several single-season records. Following a 4-0 thrashing of Duquesne in the opening round, the Mountaineers have 52 goals, three shy of the mark set by the 2006 squad. Seven players have scored at least four goals led by Michaela Abam (10). The clean sheet matched the total of 14 set by the 2010 team. WVU now has 17 wins, one away from equaling the best in the 20-year history of the program. Their lone blemish since August was a 1-0 loss to Texas Tech in the Big 12 semifinals, a team they vanquished 4-1 in Lubbock, Texas during the regular year. At home, the Mountaineers are 11-0 including a 1-0 triumph over No. 1 seed Penn State. Northwestern, their second-round opponent, is one of the top road teams in the nation (6-1-1), defeating B1G regular-season champs, Wisconsin, in Madison to end the regular campaign. The Wildcats then upset 24th-ranked Washington State in Pullman, Washington, for the right to play the Mountaineers. Regardless, WVU should advance and face the winner of LMU/Minnesota, perhaps the most difficult second-round match in the bracket to forecast. The Gophers have advanced to the Sweet 16 twice in the last seven seasons while LMU will be seeking its second NCAA win. Minnesota forward Simone Kolander may be the marquee player in this matchup although the junior has been stuck on 10 goals since October 11, or the last eight matches.
Among the teams battling in Morgantown this weekend, WVU clearly has the bulk of the quality, including Canadian World Cup starters Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence. The Mountaineers should make their second Elite Eight appearance and first since 2007 when they dropped a 1-0 home decision to Southern California — the eventual national champs.
— by Glenn Crooks
Bracket Quadrant #4
- #1 Virginia
- #2 Rutgers
- #3 Notre Dame
- #4 Southern California
This part of the bracket was as entertaining as the previous three in the first round. Sure, there were a few lopsided results thrown in there with Virginia bagging seven goals against Howard and UConn and Notre Dame scoring five each. The story of this quadrant is the teams from the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) are the real deal. Not too many teams have traveled down to South Carolina and walked out with a win. But UNC-Wilmington took its chances and limited the Gamecocks to just three shots on target en route to a 2-0 win.
Fellow CAA side Hofstra also advanced to the second round via penalty kicks over Georgetown to set up an intriguing match against Rutgers on Friday. In the lone West Coast match, Southern California dominated the shot count against Cal State Fullerton but had to battle back from a 2-0 halftime deficit. Morgan Andrews, however, chose that day to cement her name in Trojan lore as she scored twice to equalize and completed her hat trick to equalize after the Titans took the lead halfway through the second half. Sammy Jo Prudhomme came up with a pair of massive stops in the ensuing penalty kick shootout to see off the Trojans’ pesky opposition. It all sets up a very interesting second week in this bracket in which each seeded team will face a tough test to advance to the Sweet 16 on Sunday.
Biggest Surprise from the First Round?
It wasn’t much of a surprise but a bit of a coronation for the Princeton Tigers as they defeated Boston College, 4-2, in New Jersey on Saturday evening. Sean Driscoll’s bunch has been a confident group throughout 2015 and was hoping for a second chance to prove themselves on the national stage after falling to Rutgers at home on national television at the beginning of the year. Paired up against one of the toughest front-runnings duo in the ACC, the Tigers’ back line proved a worthy contender in limiting McKenzie Meehan to just three shots, none of which hit the back of the net, and held Hayley Dowd to zero shots on the night. Combining that and two-goal performances from Ivy League Rookie of the Year Mimi Asom and Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year Tyler Lussi, it was enough to send a raucous Roberts Stadium crowd into ecstasy after the final whistle as the Tigers advanced to the second round.
Who Advances Out of the Charlottesville Section?
This section matches up Virginia against UNC-Wilmington opposite to Southern California against Princeton. Virginia defeated UNCW 8-0 to open up the season and while I don’t think the Seahawks will concede eight this time around, it will be a very challenging task for them to defeat the Cavaliers at home. The second match, however, has a lot more to it than meets the eye. This is a chance for both the Trojans and the Tigers to make a statement in where their programs are at the moment. USC is a team that has been building toward the postseason but almost let it get away last week if it wasn’t for Morgan Andrews’ hat trick. Princeton was a deserved winner against Boston College and will be carrying the momentum it gained into this contest. And I think that might be enough for Princeton to reach the Round of 16. Regardless of the outcome however, Virginia will be the team to make it out of this section and will look forward to hosting an Elite Eight match after Thanksgiving.
Who Advances Out of the New Brunswick Section?
This section has so many plot lines to it that a paragraph may not be able to contain my anticipation. Three former Big East rivals will travel to New Brunswick this weekend with Hofstra in the group trying to crash the party. The first match will pit UConn against Notre Dame with both teams coming off of straight-forward 5-0 victories in their tournament openers. Logic might state going with the seeded team in this contest, I disagree. The Huskies are as good as most seeded teams in this tournament and the main reason why they didn’t score a seed was their loss in the AAC tournament semifinal. Their high-scoring defense will be facing a stingy Irish back line with Cari Roccaro and Katie Naughton.
The one thing UConn has that Notre Dame hasn’t shown in 2015 is a second and third scorer. While the Huskies’ Rachel Hill has 14 goals, both Stephanie Ribeiro and Samantha McGuire each bagged seven goals, meaning that Notre Dame will have to focus on more than just one offensive threat. Notre Dame does have 13 goals from Anna Gilbertson this year but no other player has more than four, which is just fine for UConn’s defense as it can key in on one player and force options from elsewhere.
Rutgers and Hofstra faced off on a neutral field at the beginning of the season with the Scarlet Knights winning, 1-0. They shut down Hofstra’s Leah Galton in that match and didn’t give the Pride a whole lot of looks. Don’t expect it to be that easy a second time around for Rutgers defensively as Galton snapped a four-match goalless streak with a tally against Georgetown last week but you would have to think that Rutgers will hold serve at home, where they are 10-0-1 in 2015. Even with a great home record, the team that advances out of this section will be the winner of the Notre Dame/UConn match as Notre Dame can win in a battle of defensive wits and if UConn were to get there, it’ll have learned from its earlier defeat at Rutgers and will respond better in the rematch.
— 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.