It’s that time of the year again. Our Game Magazine’s college editors Rachael Caldwell, JJ Duke, and Ruth Moore review and preview the NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament. And because UCLA has qualified for the NCAA Tournament after last year’s… absence,* Brandi Ortega joins the fray for this year’s coverage. They review the first round of action and break down the second- and third-round matchups.
The seeds were dull this round — more on that below — so I’m focusing my attention on two teams that hosted the first round. First, I was mightily impressed with the performance Colorado put forward. They have truly stunned me all season, and I think they got a bit of an unlucky draw as they now must face the well-oiled machine that is South Carolina. Taylor Kornieck didn’t get her first NCAA Tournament goal but there is no doubt she’s going to be a headache for Pac-12 teams for the next few years.
Now, give me a moment for the Razorbacks. Arkansas fought back from behind to win the first NCAA Tournament game at Razorback Field. What makes it even sweeter is the fact both goals in the 2-1 win came from fifth-year senior Lindsey Mayo.* We’ve given Mayo some shout-outs here on OGM before, simply because no one embodies the true grit the Razorback program operates on like Mayo. After a back injury caused her to redshirt last season, she’s returned for an incredible senior season. Truly there is not a more fitting ending to Arkansas’ historic first-round game than to see Mayo bag both goals in a come-from-behind overtime win. Unfortunately there is bad news, as Claire Kelley’s senior season is over. Kelley exited the match with a knee injury and she won’t be returning. Kelley is the NCAA leader in assists, and obviously means quite a lot to this squad. She’s an outstanding individual and has grown so much as a player over the past four years. Team OGM wishes her the absolute best.
* What would be sweeter is spelling Mayo’s name correctly on first pass, Caldwell. Some Razorback. — Brandi
Biggest Surprise from the First Round
There were no real surprises on this side of the bracket. As I said, all of the seeds are still alive, and every team that hosted a first-round game advanced. The real surprise from the first round for me was that BYU only managed to hang two goals on UNLV. All the talk heading into this tournament was about the Cougars’ efficient and devastating offense. They’re the No. 3 scoring offense in the nation, and have two goal scorers (Ashley Hatch and Michele Vasconcelos) in the top 15 nationally. When you consider just how red-hot BYU’s offense was heading into this match, scoring 16 goals over their last three matches, only two goals in their NCAA opener is a little disappointing. Getting through Oklahoma shouldn’t be a problem, but should they have to face off with South Carolina they will need to bring a finishing prowess they just didn’t have last round.
Who Advances from South Carolina’s Section this Weekend?
I’m going with the Gamecocks. Popular pick is BYU, and with good reason, so perhaps it’s my SEC bias rearing it’s ugly head but I think South Carolina wins this one. I think it’s a tight affair, with the Gamecocks and the Cougars both having top 10 defenses and the ability to put goals on the board.
For South Carolina, as it has been for many years running now, it’s all about the defense. The Gamecocks have the seventh best goals against average in the nation (BYU, the eighth best). Until their first SEC tournament game, in NOVEMBER, South Carolina had not trailed in a game. Not for a single minute. They have 12 shutouts this season (BYU also has 12), and a seasoned back line.
When all else fails they send out the battering ram that is Savannah McCaskill. I’m not sure anyone in the country works harder during the time they’re on the field than McCaskill. Her motor is just off the charts. Add in some sweet technical ability, a lethal finishing strike, and the fact she’s almost unmarkable, and yeah, that’s going to cause some problems for other defenses.
Who Advances from North Carolina’s Section this Weekend?
Here goes nothing. Clemson will be advancing from this region.
The aforementioned loss of Kelley may have cooked Arkansas’ dark horse dreams this season, although a gutsy team with extra motivation heaped on top can be a scary thing, their first-round match didn’t leave much terror in opponents. The balanced Razorback attack is going to suffer without its main provider. Seed holds. Clemson advances.
Oh, and so that it doesn’t appear I am completely writing off Kansas (which, I am) let’s discuss why they won’t win. While the Jayhawks have had a penchant for keeping it close against top competition this season (just one loss this season by more than one goal), they haven’t exactly been lethal on the attack. It’s well balanced, yes; they have five players with at least three goals, but they don’t have a single player with double-digit goals or assists this season. Not exactly above average, and if you want to make the College Cup you must be just that. Seed holds. North Carolina advances.
Clemson versus North Carolina is going to be a lot of fun, and a rematch from earlier this season when the teams played to a 1-1 draw in ACC play. I lean toward Clemson, simply because they know how to get results out of close matches. Eight of their past nine matches have been decided by one goal, with the ninth being decided on penalty kicks. The Tigers have lost just two of those nine. Clutch is a factor.
— by Rachael Caldwell
Bracket Quadrant #2
Smooth sailing so far. Stanford is The Team, no question until the quarterfinals. Maybe not even then. One of the points I don’t get to touch on in the following sections is Harvard. I was hoping for a better end to the Harvard women’s season to make up for the Harvard men’s side’s gross behavior, a story which has followed the women around for the past month and resulted in the men’s season being suspended. In case you missed it, the Harvard men’s team has a history of lewdly ranking individuals on the women’s team. In case you didn’t hear anything else beyond that, read the op-ed response from the women specifically targeted by the men’s document:
We are these women, we are not anonymous, and rather than having our comments taken, spun, and published behind the guise of a fake anonymity offered to us by numerous news outlets, we have decided to speak for ourselves.
The direct message, addressing the men’s behavior, is important — but so is the act of this response. The six female athletes explicitly lay claim to their story and identities. They exert control over a prominent, prevalent narrative in a way that makes it personal, because to them (and so many others like them) it is intensely personal in a way that journalistic framing allows us to forget. Their approach effectively grounds persistent sexism in the real world with real, human targets that perpetrators, journalists, officials, and observers have to face. And it’s awesome. This is what happens when voices that are often kept out of or manipulated in the mainstream take back and tell their own stories. The women’s game is rife with opportunities for this to happen, and sometimes it seems as though the college level is where you see the best examples of this. There are multiple conversations the Harvard women set up with their response, and all of them are well worth our consideration.
Editor’s note — This past week, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Board of Directors has sanctioned Harvard men’s soccer and revoked team and player eligibility for NSCAA end-of-season awards, including All-American honors.
Biggest Surprise from the First Round
The biggest surprise from the first round definitely wasn’t in this quadrant. But for the sake of pulling my weight, I’ll go fishing. Was the surprise that I was right to put Minnesota on the upset alert? Or that the Minnesota–NC State game went as far as penalty kicks? Was it that Pepperdine–Cal also had to go to penalties? Is it that all three West Coast Conference representatives have advanced? (Two are in my quadrant, so that’s not cheating.) I was at least a little surprised that Santa Clara beat Long Beach State, 3-0, but I’m sure no one else is surprised that I underestimated my Broncos. Definitely not a surprise that senior Jordan Jesolva opened the scoring, though.
Who Advances from Stanford’s Section this Weekend?
It has to be obvious by now that Stanford advances, no question. (If it’s not the Cardinal, it will be Santa Clara and you’ll never hear the end of it from me.) The Broncos can put up a fight, but these two sides face each other often enough in the regular season and postseason that it’s an easy bet to call this one for the host. This year Stanford won, 2-1, at home in the regular season, and the Pac-12 side certainly earned its No. 1 seed. Santa Clara had a somewhat middling season and compiled a road record of 2-5-1. In the third round, Stanford will meet the winner of Pepperdine–NC State, two teams that will have done some traveling and both of which battled through two overtimes and the emotional strain of penalties in the first round. Even assuming their meeting doesn’t run as long, one of them will have a two-game weekend concluding with a tilt against the confident and better-rested Stanford.
Who Advances from Georgetown’s Section this Weekend?
This section is much tougher to guess. Penn State–Virginia is happening, and I fully expect to be entertained. Both pulled off multi-goal wins in the first round against minnows. Now they’ll be meeting at a neutral site, but still within relatively easy reach for fans willing to take to the road. These aren’t the best teams they’ve put forth to face each other, but they will do. Penn State leads the overall series 7-3-1, but the postseason series is a 1-1 split with the most recent of those meetings going Virginia’s way in an absolutely crushing 6-2 result at State College in 2009. (Lopsided score line aside, those were two great teams. Just look at these rosters. Amazing.)
Back in the present, host Georgetown faces Rutgers. The Hoyas notched a 2-0 win over St. Francis in the first round, while Rutgers handily settled Harvard, 3-0. These two also have a heap of history, with Rutgers leading the series 12-6-1. But Georgetown holds the advantage lately, having won their last three matchups, including the one this season at Yurcak Field.
So who emerges to play Stanford? Let’s play it safe and say probably not a Big Ten team. I expect Georgetown to face Virginia in the third round. After coasting through the first month of the season, Virginia was upended by Georgetown at the close of non-conference play. Georgetown scored three unanswered goals in the 3-2 win, and Virginia went on to stutter around the top half of the ACC after that. Can Virginia win the rematch when it counts? Although I’m not as certain here as I was with Stanford, I think the answer is a soft “no.” Georgetown makes good on its seed and heads west.
— by Ruth Moore
Bracket Quadrant #3
#1 West Virginia
Well, well, well… “this bracket is rife with peril” were my words in the bracket peril and it is/was, especially if you’re Notre Dame, who was bounced from the tournament by SIUE on penalties. For their efforts, the Cougars will face Northwestern, who were clear 3-0 winners over outmatched Kent State. On paper, Northwestern should handle SIUE but that was also true of Notre Dame. It’ll be Wildcats versus Cougars and if the underdog Cougars have any hope of advancing, they’ll need another standout performance from goalkeeper Juli Rossi, who recorded eight saves and two stops in the penalty shootout.
In another game that went into penalties, Michigan versus Illinois State, saw the Redbirds advance to face No. 3 Duke. Illinois State will need to score against a stingy Duke defense and keep the Blue Devils from equalizing, something they couldn’t do against Michigan. The third game that was decided by penalties was Nebraska and South Dakota State. The Cornhuskers advanced to face UCLA in the second round after freshman goalkeeper Aubrei Corder denied all three Jackrabbit shots in the shootout.
Ohio State edged past Dayton, 3-2, and will face West Virginia, who handled Northern Kentucky with a 3-0 win. UCLA meets Nebraska after a 3-0 win over Seattle.
Biggest Surprise from the 1st Round
Um, let me see… hmmm. Okay, SIUE taking out Notre Dame on penalty kicks was the first round’s — and the tournament’s — “Down Goes Frazier” moment.
Who Advances from West Virginia’s Section this Weekend?
UCLA faces Nebraska and should advance if the Bruins can continue to score and defend for two halves. On the other side, West Virginia will be tested more by Ohio State than it was in the first round against Northern Kentucky but will prevail.
West Virginia, and it literally pains me in my phalanges to type this, will be too much for UCLA. The No. 1 Mountaineers will face the scrappy Bruins and win to advance to face Duke.
Who Advances from Duke’s Section this Weekend?
Duke. The Blue Devils have the easier path to the quarterfinals and should face the Mountaineers. Northwestern should put an end to SIUE’s run and face a Duke team that handles Illinois State, prepping this side of the bracket for a West Virginia–Duke matchup.
— by Brandi Ortega
Bracket Quadrant #4
#3 Florida State
To be honest, I think this round went according to plan. No real upsets, no real surprises. It’s sometimes tricky when seeded teams play automatic qualifier teams because there is sometimes a fear of the unknown when you play a side you don’t have much to scout on. And for other teams like Florida Gulf Coast and South Alabama, who have had success in the NCAA Tournament before, those are the last teams that the seeded sides want to face. But impressive efforts across the board got the job done and chalk prevailed heading to the second week. Shout-out to Natalia Kuikka of Florida State for recording three assists in their 4-0 win over Samford as well as USC’s Morgan Andrews and Auburn’s Brooke Ramsier with multi-goal performances.
Biggest Surprise from the First Round
Last week I said I was shocked that Texas A&M received an at-large bid, especially with the up and down in-conference season they had. But the Aggies made the most of their selection by going on the road to an inspired TCU side and taking away a 1-0 road win. If anything, the win was a bit of the “smash and grab” variety due to the fact that the Aggies were outshot 11-4 and recorded just one shot on target, with that lone effort being the 7th minute goal from Stephanie Malherbe. But the last time I checked, ugly wins count just as much as convincing wins in the NCAA Tournament. Now, they do have a much different challenge coming this weekend as they will face USC in Southern California on Friday but the one thing this team has on its side is good preparation from a bruising non-conference schedule. Unlike prior years in which A&M made coast-to-coast road trips, they welcomed in Florida State and UCLA to Ellis Field earlier this year, but that combined with the strength of the SEC slate they face annually, makes me doubt that G Guerrieri’s team will fear this test against the Trojans.
Who Advances from Florida’s Section this Weekend?
Could this be the year that the Gators break the shackles of their second-weekend woes? Since getting to the Elite Eight back in 2003, they have survived playing past the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament once since then, back in 2014. I think that they can do that this season. Wisconsin will be their second-round opponent on Friday and got past Marquette due to Rose Lavelle being, well, Rose Lavelle as she weaved her way around a few defenders and curled one inside the far post at the half-hour mark. That will be a nice little matchup to see her take on a Florida back line that has held their opposition scoreless in five of their last seven games. Auburn in the other portion of this section will take on UConn and that is a team you cannot sleep on. Rachel Hill and Stephanie Ribeiro each had a goal and an assist in the Huskies’ 4-2 win over Albany this past weekend and definitely have what it takes to knock off a big SEC scalp. But I don’t think they can do it twice in one weekend, though, which is why I think Florida gets to the quarterfinals.
Who Advances from USC’s Section this Weekend?
This section is a little more intriguing to me than Florida’s section, purely because for the first time in seemingly forever (in reality, since the 2011 season) Florida State isn’t hosting second- and third-round games (and funny enough, they ended up hosting their quarterfinal match that season due to upsets elsewhere). So for the first time in a few years, Mark Krikorian’s team will have to buy into the road warrior mentality after winning their 40th NCAA Tournament home game out of the past 41 after beating Samford this past weekend. And their second-round opponent in Utah is one of the good stories of this 2016 season and not an easy opponent. After getting to the NCAA Tournament every year between 2002-2006, they have made one postseason appearance since 2013, when they exited in the first round. A 97th-minute winner by Katie Rogers lifted the Utes over Texas Tech, and will face Florida State without having any fear after being tested week in and week out during Pac-12 play. On the other side, USC gets Texas A&M, and while the Aggies squeaked by TCU last week, that most likely will not happen against the Trojans on Friday. So with USC rolling at home and the possibility to force Florida State to play an important match in enemy territory, I take the Trojans to win this section and give us a tasty quarterfinal match between USC and Florida next week.