6:00 PM – (1) UCLA vs (4) Pepperdine
Friday was a day for statements in Westwood as these two sides punished their opponents in the second round in a pair of devastating displays. The WCC side killed off one of the remaining Cinderellas in the NCAA Tournament by ruthlessly dispatching Illinois State. Amanda LeCave started the scoring early, and Pepperdine didn’t stop for the course of the ninety minutes. Lynn Williams put on a brilliant performance, scoring twice and assisting on Pepperdine’s final goal to cap off a great day for the Waves’ attack. Just as importantly, Pepperdine was able to keep the Illinois State attack, namely Rachel Tejada, as contained as any side has this season. There’s a big difference between ISU and UCLA though, and the Bruins are likely to make that point clear in the opening minutes of Sunday’s showdown. Pepperdine made a bright start to the regular season clash between the teams but were ultimately defeated in decisive fashion. They’ll need a Herculean effort and probably some luck to shock the world in Westwood.
UCLA took a talented Harvard team and flat-out destroyed them. As was the case with their opening round match, the Bruins jumped on their opponent early and didn’t let up, going up 2-0 after seven minutes and going into the break up 4-0. It wasn’t just an unstoppable offensive performance either, with the vaunted defense holding the Crimson to just a single shot on goal all night. Sarah Killion took top honors with two goals and an assist in just forty-five minutes of action, while the sensational late season of form of Kylie McCarthy continued, as she scored again in limited minutes. It goes without saying that the degree of difficulty ramps up considerably at this point, as there are no more gimmes at this stage of the competition. Pepperdine were eventually batted aside in the regular season, but they were more than game for the opening minutes of their encounter in Hawaii. The Bruins won’t want to give Lynn Williams any clean looks at goal, while the offense will aim to keep the goals rolling. Being able to bring players like Darian Jenkins off the bench is a frightening proposition for opponents, and UCLA’s depth may well lead them to another dominant win on Sunday.
CF – Lynn Williams (PEP) vs CB – Abby Dahlkemper (UCLA)
The nation’s best senior striker will hope to add another feather into her cap after a stunning showing on Friday, when she scored twice and assisted on a third as the Waves blitzed Illinois State en route to this Sweet Sixteen rematch. Williams usually has the advantage in pace on her markers, but that may not be the case in this one against the Bruins’ Abby Dahlkemper, the rock at the heart of the backline for the Pac-12 champs. Given the fact that Pepperdine has often struggled with consistent offense when Williams hasn’t been a big influence in the match, UCLA will be hoping their star center-back can keep her opposing number’s contributions to a minimum on Sunday night.
2:30 PM – (1) Texas A&M vs (4) Notre Dame
In terms of “best second round performance” (non-UCLA category), Texas A&M probably took top honors after a 7-2 starching of Arizona to avenge a 2-2 regular season draw with the Wildcats. The Aggies started scoring in the fifteenth minute at didn’t stop scoring until they had netted seven, which didn’t even take them an hour. The Aggies got braces from both Kelley Monogue and Allie Bailey, while Shea Groom sashayed her way to a goal and two assists as the A&M offense ran riot. I suspect the defensive performance may be viewed a little more critically, though the SEC side was already up 6-0 by the time Arizona had netted their first consolation goal. The defense is going to need to tighten up if A&M is to keep advancing. But if the offense plays like they did on Friday, there’s certainly going to be a large margin of error against just about anyone.
Notre Dame’s performance on the same pitch just a few hours earlier was hardly as convincing. The Irish looked to be lacking a distinct sharpness all over the pitch and surely would have crashed to defeat against a less limited opponent than a game Texas Longhorns side that still pushed the ACC side all the way to the end of the match. Team talisman Morgan Andrews played just forty-four minutes and didn’t put a shot on goal. The Irish also ended up getting much more production from its attackers off the bench. In particular, Karin Muya was a revelation in a super sub role, setting up the first goal before an ice cold finish with less than five minutes to play to win it. It’ll be interesting to see if Muya or Anna Gilbertson, who also scored off the bench, are moved into the starting lineup on Sunday. Regardless, Notre Dame’s going to need a much better performance in all phases to stand a chance to upset Texas A&M.
AMCs – Shea Groom & Kelley Monogue (A&M) vs DMCs Cari Roccaro and Glory Williams (ND)
It’s one of the weekend’s tastiest matchups, as the main battle on Sunday between these two clubs figures to be in the heart of the pitch. The determined pair of Shea Groom and Kelley Monogue have crushed opponents beneath their heels this season, including in Friday’s overpowering display against Arizona. But they are going to have their hands full in getting past the duo of Roccaro and Williams. Roccaro is one of the nation’s top players who sometimes falls between the cracks due to her unflashy role. But Roccaro is very efficient at shielding the backline and has a very solid partner in Glory Williams. Organization and discipline will be key for Notre Dame’s defensive midfield partnership. If they get dragged apart, the club’s front four may end up doing more defending than they’d like, limiting their offensive potential.
1:00 PM – (2) Penn State vs Virginia Tech
It’s been steady as you were for Penn State through two rounds. Given some of the displays of their seeded brethren, PSU’s calm 4-1 demolition of MAC double winners Buffalo flew under the radar a bit. And so it was once more on Friday for the Nittany Lions. Against a UConn side that posed a very real threat to PSU’s ambitions of advancing, the Big Ten champs put together a confident display in the first half to take an early lead through Frannie Crouse and didn’t really look back. Things evened out in the second half a bit, but keeping a clean sheet and holding Rachel Hill without a shot on goal was a positive sign for the future. Defensive solidity will be a must again on Sunday against a Virginia Tech side that exploded offensively on Friday against Georgetown.
The Hokies surely though that Friday was going to be a walkover against Georgetown akin to their regular season meeting, scoring in just the third minute. But the Hoyas hardly rolled over, even taking the lead at the hour mark before a wild final eleven minutes of regulation saw VT score twice and concede once to send the match into extra time at 3-3. They’d make their eightieth minute equalizer count, winning just thirty seconds into extra time off of an Ashley Meier goal. Meier’s goal was assisted by Murielle Tiernan, who scored and assisted on two goals in a brilliant display. But the defense has to, obviously, do a much better job against Penn State. Georgetown netted their three goals on just five on-target attempts. PSU doesn’t figure to let the Hokies off the hook so easily on Sunday.
CM – Raquel Rodriguez (PSU) vs DMC – Candace Cephers (VT)
Whether or not Rodriguez plays in an advanced position in midfield or in a deeper role remains to be seen, but Candace Cephers will probably be her shadow all day long no matter her position. The very definition of an uncompromising force in midfield, Cephers has added an offensive dimension to her game this season with six goals in her sophomore season. Any offense she can provide will be a bonus here, as the Hokies well likely be hell bent on stopping Penn State’s Costa Rican dynamo in midfield. The Nittany Lions are a much, much worse team when Rodriguez is quiet, so if Cephers is at her best, Virginia Tech will fancy their chances of an upset that much more.
1:00 PM – (2) North Carolina vs (3) South Carolina
Credit to South Carolina for battling against adversity. With Sabrina D’Angelo limited to deep rotation field player duty due to an arm injury, the Gamecocks put their faith in rookie Abbey Crider, and the stand-in for the All-American more than repaid that trust with a solid display in goal before a confident showing in between the pipes for the shootout against Seattle. But Crider and South Carolina figure to be in deep against North Carolina on Sunday, especially with center-back Taylor Leach banned after being sent off late in Friday’s match. Perhaps just as worrying is the club’s stagnant offense, without a goal in three matches. Odds are, they’ll need at least one against the Tar Heels.
UNC bossed their match against Colorado, with the defense keeping Buffs chances to a minimum through regulation and the first few minutes of extra time. The big problem though was with the offense, which showed a startling lack of cutting edge against their Pac-12 opponents. Summer Green continues to misfire, with five off-target shots for the club. The only starting forward with a shot on goal was Amber Muerlyn, who put two of the club’s seven on-target shots up. In the end, North Carolina’s depth won out, with the unheralded Maya Worth putting back a deflected header in extra time. UNC’s defense is keeping them in every game, but better finishing is a must if Carolina wants to be still playing in a few weeks.
CB – Andie Romness (SC) vs CF – Emily Bruder (UNC)
South Carolina’s hopes of an upset diminished considerably late in Friday’s match against Seattle when Taylor Leach was shown her second yellow card and sent off. Considering that the Gamecocks are almost certain to be without Sabrina D’Angelo in goal again, losing the club’s leader of the backline is another huge blow to the SEC side’s defensive setup. There’s no telling who Carolina will stick back on the backline considering they used the same eleven players for virtually the entire season, meaning the absolute the can be counted on is Andie Romness becoming the new leader at center-back. Her veteran presence will be more important than ever in organizing the backline against UNC’s frontrunners, but her biggest challenge may be against the Heels’ bull in a china shop, Emily Bruder. The physical clashes between Bruder and the SC backline will undoubtedly set a tone for this Sweet Sixteen clash, and if she can run riot, the SEC side will be in for a long day.
7:30 PM – (4) Washington vs Missouri
Given an odd matchup in the first round, Washington avoided any untimely slip-ups, winning 1-0 against MAAC Tournament champs Rider. Their opponents were quite limited when all was said and done, but the Huskies got the job done, making an early McKenzie Karas goal stand up. UW might be a little perturbed at not putting more offense on the board with the chances they stacked up, but it was a solid start to their NCAA Tournament campaign. Against a fast and physical Missouri side though, improvement will have to be in the cards if UW are to avoid an upset.
Missouri got a victory of the sweetest kind in the first round, going on the road and knocking off their hated border rivals, Kansas. Taylor Grant had a game to go down in Mizzou lore, scoring twice and assisting on the team’s third goal in the 3-1 win. That third goal came from Reagan Russell, who also assisted on Grant’s first, showing the Tigers aren’t just a team running on the magic of Kaysie Clark. The defense wasn’t exactly airtight though, and heading to the West Coast to take on Washington, the Tigers will have to tighten up their rearguard if they want to crash the Sweet Sixteen.
CF – Softli (WAS) vs CB – C. Johnson (MIZ)
It’ll be like too giant rams colliding with one another as Washington’s spearhead in attack meets up with Missouri’s tower of power in defense. Softli was mostly muted in attack against Rider, with the center forward putting up just a single shot on goal, while Chelsea Archer did most of the damage with four of the club’s nine shots on goal. Don’t look for it to be a trend though, as Softli has been at the heart of much of UW’s offense this year. Candace Johnson is simply one of the SEC’s best defenders and a towering presence at 5’10″. UW can do damage out wide, but limiting their opportunities front and center will be key to a win.
3:00 PM – (3) Texas Tech vs Auburn
Texas Tech won’t enjoy near as easy a time as they had against Prairie View A&M in the opening round of the tournament. The Red Raiders probably should have had a tougher first round matchup, even with a national seed, but they benefitted from geography and pounded the stuffing out of the SWAC team as a result. It’s pretty hard to discern anything from that win, other than that TTU is pretty good at beating up minnows. A last chance to cash in on the combination of Jaelene Hinkle and Janine Beckie together on the same team is on the table, with SEC foes Auburn unlikely to be too accommodating.
Auburn looked like a clear candidate for an upset going into the NCAA Tournament against a surging Florida Gulf Coast team. But the Tigers tossed conventional wisdom aside in a 1-0 win where they jumped on the Atlantic Sun side early before holding off any attempts at a comeback. It was an impressive showing for a Tiger side that had much to prove after an early flameout in the SEC Tournament. Karen Hoppa’s side has never been beyond this stage of the NCAA Tournament but will fancy their chances against a Texas Tech side that is one of two representatives remaining from the Big XII after a disastrous opening weekend for the conference.
LB – Hinkle (TTU) vs RF – Dodson (AUB)
You could also add in right-back Samantha Solaru to the list on Auburn’s side, as it’s pretty likely Jaelene Hinkle will be spending as much time in the Tigers’ end of the pitch as her own. Hinkle is one of the nation’s premier full-backs and will be counted on to provide attacking width for the Red Raiders. Auburn’s Kristen Dodson has shown potential as a rookie, but her job will be as much about defense as it is offense on Friday. Letting Hinkle run riot down the line is a recipe for disaster.
3:00 PM – (3) Kentucky vs Arizona State
Iron nerves at the penalty spot separated Kentucky from a scarcely believable fate in first round elimination to minnows SIU Edwardsville. The Wildcats started out jittery against the Cougars but grew into the game, yet were unable to hit the back of the net despite a ton of of opportunities to claim the decisive goal. UK moved on, but they know that another day without their shooting boots in tow will likely equal an early end to the weekend for the Wildcats. While the focus was on the offense against SIUE, the defense will have to reign on Friday, with stopping Cali Farquharson the highest priority.
Arizona State didn’t experience such a degree of drama in their first round matchup against Northern Arizona, but the fact that they still conceded twice to the minnows has to be a bit alarming. ASU were thrown a bone in the first place by drawing one of the competition’s weakest teams, not that they’re about to complain. But it also means we don’t really have a solid grip on the Sun Devils’ form at the moment. They’ve shown they can get results against some of the nation’s top teams, but the metrics have not smiled on the Sun Devils all season, making Friday afternoon’s match something of an unknown commodity.
CB – Berryhill/Grossman (ASU) vs CF – Novak? Klump? (UK)
Those question marks might be important for Kentucky, as they try and decide who to start at center-back to best trouble a stout Arizona State center-back pairing. Kelly Novak got the nod against SIU Edwardsville but didn’t last long and ended up ceding most of her minutes to Jade Klump. Klump is Kentucky’s leading scorer with eight strikes but runs hot and cold, something which has to be a worry going into the later stages of the NCAA Tournament. Whoever starts will have their hands full with junior McKenzie Berryhill, one of the top center-backs flying under the radar. If Berryhill and Mckenzie Grossman help shut down the tip of the spear for Kentucky, it’ll put more pressure on the midfield and the full-backs to create, opening up counter-attack opportunities.
2:30 PM – (4) Wisconsin vs UCF
UCF may be closer to home, but the Knights also enter this one as clear underdogs against a surging Big Ten Tournament champion Wisconsin side. The Badgers were dealt a very tough hand by the selection committee, being matched up with a peeved DePaul side that felt a whole lot of disrespect following being shipped to a seed after doing the Big East double and not losing a match going into the NCAA Tournament. The Badgers would jump on their opponent early in the snow, with Cara Walls netting a brace in the first twenty-one minutes to give UW a 2-0 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The defense did the rest, sending the Badgers out as confident winners.
Their AAC opponents on Friday looked to have made a similar hot start against a flat Georgia side in their first round match. Kayla Darden gave the Knights a 1-0 lead, but they’d be pegged back right after the half by a revitalized Georgia side. UCF would take the lead for good through central midfielder-turned-striker Ashley Spivey in the seventieth minute though, ensuring the Knights wouldn’t suffer a second straight first-round NCAA Tournament elimination. Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak’s predecessor, Amanda Cromwell, made her bones by coaxing big performances out of her club in matches just like Friday’s second round clash. Rekindling that fighting spirit could have UCF in with a chance of a shock in the day’s opening fixture.
LB – Laufenberg (WIS) vs RF – Coleman (UCF)
A bit player until this season, the junior left-back for the Badgers has her hands full in this matchup against UCF’s thoroughbred winger. Tatiana Coleman may be playing out on the wing, but she’s still been the club’s #1 option offensively, leading the team in goals, assists, and shots. She’s got a second gear that makes her a handful to contain, and if the Badgers’ D can’t shackle her, the odds of an untimely upset grow exponentially. Laufenberg has done well in 2014, but this figures to be one of her toughest matchups by far.
I’ve decided to re-rank the teams in the NCAA Tournament field after each weekend of play, while also devoting a little attention to the dearly departed. Anyone eliminated in a prior round can’t be ranked higher than someone still in the tournament, hence why West Virginia and DePaul (among others) aren’t still in the Top 32.
2. Florida State
4. Texas A&M
6. North Carolina
7. Penn State
9. Virginia Tech
12. Notre Dame
20. South Carolina
23. Texas Tech
26. Illinois State
29. Arizona State
Eliminated In Round One
33. West Virginia
It feels like this was a breaking point for West Virginia’s reputation on the national stage. WVU has one of the nation’s best defenders, a deep, talented team, and had come off doing another double in the Big XII, a league which they’ve romped through since joining. And yet, WVU again came up short in the NCAA Tournament. The Mountaineers have been eliminated in the first round in three of the past four seasons and only advanced to the second round last season through penalties. Nikki Izzo-Brown’s decision to send up Kate Schwindel and Ali Connelly for penalties despite neither having played is going to be second guessed for a long time. Given the Big XII’s poor NCAA Tournament performance, some might wonder if the league is actively damaging WVU’s ability to contend nationally. Then again, some might wonder if the Mountaineers have simply plateaued as a program under Izzo-Brown.
So I wanted to try my hand at booking the NCAA Tournament with the current field and a 1-16 seeding system ala NCAA Basketball. I tried to maintain geographic integrity where possible and kept the rule about teams from the same conference not playing until the third round intact, which caused a few problems, notably forcing me to bump Rice up to a #9 seed and Colorado down to #10 to keep things for breaking. After the top four seeds, I went down the RPI to seed everyone else.
Better? You be the judge.
Los Angeles Regional
(16) South Dakota State
(9) Oklahoma State
(13) South Alabama
(5) Washington State
(12) San Diego State
University Park Regional
(2) Penn State
(15) Central Connecticut State
(7) La Salle
(3) Texas Tech
(14) Northern Arizona