Penn State vs Stanford – 7:30 PM (Penn State Invitational)
Many have tried, none have succeeded since the beginning of 2011 to take down a Stanford program that has stood steadfastly against every challenge thrown up against it, conquering challenger after would be challenger, often in devastatingly convincing fashion. Their mettle will again be put to the test on Friday night, with potentially one of their most dangerous tests to date in the form of Penn State. Then again, that’s what a lot of people were likely saying before last Friday’s opener, where Santa Clara went into the break with a 1-0 lead and went home with a 6-1 defeat. The Nittany Lions certainly looked good on the first weekend of the season as well though, topping Virginia, 3-1, before pummeling an overmatched St. John’s (NY) team, 5-0. When you consider the club was without a pair of injured players in Lexi Marton and Jackie Molinda and a pair of players on the U.S. U20 World Cup squad in Maya Hayes and Taylor Schram, those wins become even more impressive. Stanford’s an entirely different animal though, and one that didn’t have trouble piling on the goals despite also being without their top goal getter in Chioma Ubogagu, also in Japan at the U20 World Cup. The Card’s defense will surely be put to the test here though, as even without some weapons, Penn State showed that through the likes of freshman Mallory Weber and junior Tani Costa, they’ve still got enough firepower to trouble any college club. PSU will also likely have a large crowd backing them on Friday night in front of a national television audience as they try try and deal Stanford their first regular season defeat since 2008.
West Virginia vs Central Michigan – 5:00 PM (Penn State Invitational at College Park, Pennsylvania)
As far as tournament undercards go, you certainly could do much worse than this matchup, as the Mountaineers do battle with Central Michigan in the match before the big Stanford-Penn State showdown. Nikki Izzo-Brown’s side has stumbled out of the gates in an all too familiar fashion, coughing up an early lead in a 2-1 defeat to La Salle in the season opener before laboring to victory against what should have been an overmatched Western Carolina squad. There certainly has to be an improvement this weekend with Stanford looming on Sunday, but overlooking MAC powerhouse Central Michigan would certainly be a mistake. The Chippewas have not mirrored WVU’s slow start, coming out with a win over mid-major upstarts Detroit on the road before looking to be on their way to a win over Evansville before Mother Nature intervened and washed the result away. The warm-up acts are over for CMU though, as now begins a murderous stretch of non-conference games before league play starts up towards the end of September. While multiple losses would seemingly be over the horizon, especially with CMU playing the role of road warriors throughout, even one or two positive results could go a long way in their hopes for an at-large bid. With WVU having stuttered out of the blocks, Friday could well be one of their best opportunities for an early season upset, though the Mountaineers will be eager to build momentum for their Sunday showdown with Stanford by coming out on top here.
Kanas vs Georgia – 6:00 PM (Kansas Invitational)
It’s been as much about who hasn’t been there as who has for the these two clubs thus far in 2012, with both Kansas and Georgia missing key elements at points on opening weekend. Kansas, like a handful of other clubs last weekend, were missing their Colombian stars who had featured at the Olympics, with striker Ingrid Vidal and midfielder Liana Salazar both missing in action, along with midfielder Sarah Robbins, in Japan for the U20 World Cup. The effects were tangible, as the Jayhawks struggled to an extra time win over UC Santa Barbara before a surprising defeat at the hands of Northwestern, also in extra time in Lawrence. Given how shaky KU looked without their Colombian talismans last week, getting the duo back in action post haste looks paramount to the Jayhawks’ season. The visitors don’t come into this without problems of their own though, after a shaky, but ultimately winning weekend of their own. Georgia dominated UNC Greensboro on the stat sheet but needed a penalty in the second half of extra time to spare their blushes, while two days later, the Bulldogs got all they could handle from SoCon side Furman, needing a goal late in regulation to escape with a 2-1 win over the minnows. That game was also marked by the absence of Alexa Newfield, and it showed in the club’s lack of cutting edge in front of goal. While mum’s been the word on Newfield’s status for this weekend, the club also lost Andie Fontanetta to a broken collarbone during that Furman game, with the rookie now looking like a contender for a medical redshirt with an estimate of up to ten weeks being the time for her recovery. While the variables for these two teams are plentiful going into Friday, both will need to look beyond who might or might not be there in pursuit of a win that could prove so vital come Selection Monday in November.
Pepperdine vs Auburn – 6:00 PM
Two of last year’s success stories will collide in Malibu on Friday afternoon, as Pepperdine puts its twenty-two match unbeaten streak at home in the regular season on the line against Auburn, who’ll try to become the first opponent to win at Pepperdine in the regular season since 2009. The Waves certainly made a fine first impression in 2012, thrashing San Diego, 4-2, in their opener to go some way in proving they weren’t just a one-hit wonder after last season’s rise to prominence. The attack, led by the likes of Anisa Guajardo and Lynn Williams looked dynamic and deadly as they pulled apart the Toreros, though the defensive effort might need a bit of tightening up after conceding a pair of goals in a pulsating encounter. Auburn comes into the weekend with a perfect 2-0-0 record, though you can’t really argue they’ve faced the stiffest of opposition thus far, topping Georgia State and High Point on The Plains. The former was stubborn in their resistance, only falling 1-0, while Auburn’s effort against the latter was much more assured in the end, with Tori Ball netting twice from corner kicks, matching the weekend’s other two-goal scorer, Mary Coffed. It’s the defense which will draw the most attention for Auburn this weekend though. They may have been able to keep GSU and HPU at bay, but Pepperdine and UC Irvine are another matter entirely. If the Tigers are able to keep Friday’s opponents at bay defensively though, they might just have enough offense to spring an upset in Malibu.
Texas Tech vs Stephen F. Austin – 6:00 PM (TCU Invitational at Fort Worth, Texas)
Opportunities for small conference clubs like Stephen F. Austin to make a discernible impact on a bigger stage are often few and far between, meaning the Ladyjacks will want to take every opportunity Friday to claim a major scalp and down Texas Tech on neutral ground in Fort Worth. SFA certainly passed their first test last weekend, easily defeating Houston before a rather perfunctory beating of Jackson State on Sunday. Bigger challenges away over the next month, with the Red Raiders being one of the largest obstacles in front of the Ladyjacks. Texas Tech themselves have been fast starters on this year’s quest to finally break into the NCAA Tournament, beating both Idaho and New Mexico in Lubbock during opening weekend. SFA is the biggest challenge TTU will faced in the opening half of its non-conference season though, and the Ladyjacks have enough weapons to even give some of the Red Raiders vaunted defenders pause. Olympian Kylie Louw pulled the strings on the first weekend for SFA, racking up four assists, while dangerous attackers Chelsea Raymond and Laura Sadler both netted a pair of goals each in the club’s first two games. The Red Raider offense should be in line to cause a few problems of their own, with the well balanced unit being spearheaded by rookie Janine Beckie, who looked very dangerous on opening weekend for the club. Though it might fly under the radar of some, this encounter may well have some of the highest stakes of the matchday, with both clubs known a win here could be the difference between bubble salvation and heartbreak come November.
UConn vs Boston College – 7:00 PM
This regional rivalry probably got a little more juice behind it after last Friday’s performance by UConn against Pac-12 powerhouse UCLA. Though weather would wipe out an official result, the Huskies were more than a match for the visiting Bruins and looked like capturing the win before the weather turned sour. UConn would follow up with a win over Vermont that probably forced them into more work than they wanted, but the result was still the club’s first win of the season. Opponents Boston College showed no signs of the early malaise that plagued them last season, easily dispatching of Providence in their opener last weekend, holding the Friars without a shot on goal. A goal and an assist from Kristen Mewis was surely music to Eagles’ supporters’ ears, but the club also may be a bit nervous over the fact that scoring talisman Victoria DiMartino again was MIA, not logging a shot on the night. That BC was still able to dispatch of the Friars by three clear goals though speaks to the quality of the team, and they’ll be looking for a repeat performance against a game UConn side in Storrs. Despite holding a massive edge in this rivalry historically, the Huskies haven’t beaten their regional rivals since 2003, a run UConn will be desperate to end on Friday night. A convincing win here could show that the Huskies might be ready to make some noise in the Big East in 2012.
North Carolina vs Florida – 7:00 PM (Nike Carolina Classic)
Yes, there’s a chance that one of these two clubs will be 0-2-0 after Friday night, meaning both will be desperate to avoid that fate in a crunch matchup in Chapel Hill. The home side are much more likely to be in decent spirits after last Friday given the manner of their loss, where they created the bulk of the opportunities but were ultimately undone by an early set piece against Portland. Set pieces would also prove to be Florida’s undoing in their opener against Miami (FL), but it was to a far greater degree, with the Gators conceding three from dead ball situations before falling 4-1 to state rivals Miami (FL). At least Florida seemed to have stayed relatively healthy, with North Carolina losing both Megan Brigman and Brooke Elby from the defense to injury with the status of both being unknown going into this weekend for the Heels. While the defense might be a concern given the potential absence of those two players, its the offense that may actually present a more pressing worry, with the club looking all too eager to rely on long shots against Portland last week. The Heels also won’t be with rookie Summer Green this weekend, as the U17 World Cup hopeful is at the age group’s last domestic camp before the selection of the final squad for the U17 WC Finals in Azerbaijan. Florida isn’t without offensive problems of their own though, as the Gators’ offense looked sluggish against the Hurricanes last week and will need to up their game, even if Carolina are shorthanded on Friday in defense. Another defeat for the visitors could be bad news, with Duke and Florida State next on the docket, meaning UF has little respite over the next few weeks.
UCF vs Florida State – 7:00 PM
It might be the biggest regular season clash for UCF, since…well, maybe since the last time UCF played Florida State, as the two clues have become fierce rivals in recent years as the Golden Knights’ profile on the national stage has continued to rise. The home side comes in ranked ninth in the NSCAA’s poll, which may have a lot to do with finishing so highly ranked last year, but Amanda Cromwell’s side certainly did their cause no harm by demolishing both South Florida and Florida Gulf Coast on opening weekend. Florida State is most definitely not the above two clubs though, and the Seminoles should really be 2-0-0 but for Mother Nature, who wiped out the game against Marquette prematurely when the Noles had jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead. FSU had seemingly rectified their opening night troubles, when they had quickly fallen behind 2-0 to Minnesota before pouncing for three unanswered goals to emerge victorious. While some defensive frailties may have been exposed in the opener, this FSU club showed an explosive offense last weekend, lighting up two very good teams for three goals each, with the number against Marquette potentially going higher had the weather not deteriorated. They’ll be wary of a Golden Knights club that has the habit of saving their best for the most difficult of foes, a trait the Seminoles learned the hard way two years ago here when they were upset by UCF.
LSU vs Rice – 8:00 PM
A week after coming up short in their first opportunity to net a potentially big win in the RPI over a major conference team, Rice will get another crack at it in Baton Rouge, knowing such opportunities are finite. While the Owls fought very hard at home against Baylor last Friday night, they were ultimately second best on the night, falling 1-0 to the Big XII side. The visitors here will do their best to regroup and get back in the hunt for a big scalp as the travel down to the Bayou to run up against an LSU team who opened the 2012 season with a battling extra time win against Oklahoma on the road on Monday. It wasn’t exactly a thing of beauty in whole, with the offense struggling mightily in stretches, but Alex Arlitt’s blast in extra time ensured the Tigers would head back home to Baton Rouge happy. Whether they can stay that way may largely depend on sorting out said offense. Starting forwards Addie Eggleston and Carlie Banks combined for zero shots against the Sooners. Not zero shots on goal, but zero shots period. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that that can’t happen too many more times for LSU if they want to put together a winning season. The good news is that the club looks to have found a real gem in Mexican freshman Fernanda Pina, who led all players with three shots on goal and could be right in the running for SEC Freshman of the Year come season’s end. The defense still needs to tighten up a little, despite keeping the clean sheet against OU, as the Sooners had some clear cut chances spurned by woeful finishing. Rice will be hoping those same opportunities can fall into their lap on Friday in their pursuit of a priceless win.
Tennessee vs William & Mary – 8:00 PM (First Tennessee Lady Vol Classic)
It’s take two for William & Mary, as they go in search of a win over a big name that could make all the difference in November. The Tribe got their first such chance last week but were sent away with their tail between their legs after being soundly beaten by an irrepressible Duke side in Williamsburg. Working against W&M is the fact that they haven’t gotten a chance to work out the bugs after the calamity of the last match, meaning it will again be a trial by fire as head coach John Daly must surely be hoping the defensive kinks have been fixed after last weekend’s woeful first half against the Blue Devils. They’ll be facing another strong side in Tennessee, who made easy work of Samford and Western Kentucky, two of the region’s more traditionally competitive mid-majors. Hitting both sides for four goals was quite the statement, and in particular, Canadian senior Amy Harrison has gotten off to a blinder, scoring a brace in each of the club’s first two games. That’s more impressive when you consider she hadn’t scored four goals in an entire season in the three other years of her UT career. Whether she, and the Lady Vols, can keep up that blistering pace is the big question. On paper, the Tribe are a whole lot better than either of the Lady Vols’ vanquished foes thus far and will be very eager to prove that the Duke disaster was just a one-off. Though it’s not quite do or die for their at-large hopes in the RPI, the Tribe really does need a result to avoid the pressure of having to win a ton of games the rest of the way, with few big scalps left on the schedule. A win for Tennessee here, and 6-0-0 is very possible going into an early September showdown against UCLA in Westwood.
Marquette vs Milwaukee – 9:30 PM
A derby that stood tall in the limelight last season has probably taken a step back this year with the Panthers looking to be in the midst of a rebuilding effort after heavy losses in the offseason. Still, that doesn’t mean that these two fierce rivals won’t be looking to tear into each other once more for city bragging rights on Friday night. Last year’s derby saw a national television audience and an excellent defensive performance from Marquette, as they ultimately stymied the Panthers and Sarah Hagen for a big win. That defense was anything but steadfast last Sunday though, as Marquette gave up three quick goals to Florida State at Valley Fields before weather washed away what looked like a certain defeat. It’s certainly raised a question or two about the Golden Eagles and their hopes against the biggest teams, questions that probably aren’t going to be answered in full on Friday night, regardless of the result. After a rather tame draw against South Carolina in the opener, Milwaukee responded with a commanding victory over St. Bonaventure last Sunday to let their supporters breathe a little easier. The Panthers have been desperately searching for a consistent replacement for Hagen up front, with the scoring and shooting thus far being spread rather evenly through two matches. Panthers supporters aren’t likely to care where the goals come from as long as they come on Friday, with Milwaukee desperate to get one over on their rivals after last season’s tough defeat. Marquette isn’t likely to make it easy on them though, with the Golden Eagles trying to build momentum towards a big road trip at the beginning of September to play North Carolina and Duke.
Cal State Northridge vs Baylor – 10:00 PM
Seemingly just a step behind UC Irvine and Long Beach State for the past few seasons in the Big West, Cal State Northridge finds itself suddenly relevant on the national stage after a pair of upsets over Arizona State and San Diego, the latter win looking a lot better now with the Toreros’ shock win over Texas A&M on Wednesday. The defense has been the key for the Matadors thus far, with two clean sheets looking very impressive for the Big West side. A somewhat ambitious non-conference schedule provides plenty of opportunities to make an impression, but the Matadors should have a big chance on Friday, when Baylor comes to town. The Bears themselves have seemingly perennially been looking for respect, with that drive only increasing after last season’s stellar campaign came to a crashing halt at the hands of North Carolina in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. A couple of wins this weekend would go a long way into adding to the Bears’ profile, with the club taking on Long Beach State next after Friday’s matchup. The Bears have also not given up a goal in two games, though admittedly, the competition hasn’t been to the level that Northridge has turned back, with Rice and Northwestern State looking overmatched for the most part against Marci Jobson’s club. With the schedule easing up considerably after this weekend for Baylor though, the Bears need to record some impressive wins with an eye towards November and a national seed. At the same time, the Bears know that if they can get through this weekend unscathed, it could be a while before they lose this season, adding to the incentive for Baylor this weekend.
San Diego State vs Seattle – 10:00 PM
There probably weren’t too many giving this one a second thought when schedules were released before the season, but given first weekend results, this match looks surprisingly meaningful in the big picture. The Aztecs looked like a sneaky pick to make some noise this season after returning the vast majority of last year’s starters and have more than lived up to the early hype with three clean sheet victories thus far. The SDSU offense hasn’t exactly been explosive, but then again, they haven’t had to be, with the defense in such fine form. One has to worry about heavy legs though, as the Aztecs will be playing in their fourth game in eight calendar days. They aren’t getting any easy opponent either, as an under the radar Seattle side awaits. The Redhawks were shockingly effective against Pac-12 side Washington in an opening day derby, only being foiled in the end by some terrific saves from UW keeper Kari Davidson after testing the Huskies constantly. The form would be shown to be no fluke come Sunday, as Seattle proceeded to destroy WCC side St. Mary’s (CA), 5-1. UConn transfer Melissa Busque ended up being the spark, netting a hat trick in the span of less than forty-five minutes and already looks to be an astute pickup for the Redhawks this season. While their odds of an at-large bid are pretty slim barring a whole lot of wins over the next few months, a victory on the road here would show that Seattle might be coming of age as a mid-major of note. Their opponents will also be eager for victory, potentially setting up a huge match against Pepperdine next Friday.