Wake Forest vs Maryland – 1:00 PM
The ACC title race has taken an early turn, with these two sides coming into Sunday with a chance to sit alone on top of the standings come day’s end. Maryland sits there going into the day, a rather surprising fact considering some of the club’s early non-conference struggles. The Terps’ draw with Villanova and defeat to Fordham had some likely fearing the worst, especially with Maryland’s RPI lagging behind many of their ACC rivals. The league opener was a time for a statement though, and Maryland shook off non-conference blues to top North Carolina in a 2-1 upset. A dominant performance against Clemson then set up a 2-2 draw in Durham against Duke, leaving Maryland on top of the table. Staying there means getting something from Sunday’s clash against a defensively stingy Wake Forest side. The Demon Deacons kept Boston College’s explosive offense off the board on Thursday, holding Kristen Mewis without a shot on goal over ninety minutes. It was another exemplary display from a group that has kept four clean sheets in five games and hasn’t conceded multiple goals all season. The real story was Katie Stengel’s big night, as she toyed with the Boston College defense en route to scoring both goals in the 2-0 win. The brace allowed Stengel to break the school’s points and goals record despite the Floridian having played just more than two seasons with the club. The victory not only gave Wake Forest three valuable points in the ACC, it also gave them a way back into the title race after a damaging 1-0 loss at Florida State the previous Sunday. Stengel again will be called upon to carry a lot of the load, with strike partner Rachel Nuzzolese an injury doubt after missing Thursday’s game. Stopping the rampaging forward isn’t an easy task, but it’ll be one that Maryland has to accomplish if they have hopes of topping the table come the end of Sunday.
West Virginia vs Oklahoma State – 12:00 PM
Most figured this first league meeting of powerhouses would be a potential Big XII title decider. It still could be. Most did not figure it to also be a potential bubble battle, which it most definitely is. The thought of either of these sides missing the NCAA Tournament seems absurd on its face given the success of both over the past few years, but it’s also a painful reality given the pair’s placement in the current RPI. The home side dug themselves a massive hole with a rocky non-conference campaign that somehow featured a win over Stanford but also a draw with Duquesne. It left WVU a deep hole that they now must climb out of to get back in the NCAA Tournament picture. A 3-2 win over potential bubble rival Oklahoma State was a good start, but the Mountaineers know they need more to get into a zone where their win over Stanford would matter. That means climbing over a lot of worried Big XII bubble teams in their wake, and that means Oklahoma State on Sunday. The pressure on the Cowgirls has to be immense after a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Kansas on Friday. Unlike their hosts, OSU doesn’t have a great win they can hang their hat on unless Memphis makes a late push up the rankings. With the majority of the Big XII looking unlikely to help the Cowgirls out much in the RPI, matches against the league’s bigger clubs look vital. OSU failed that first test on Friday, with West Virginia and Baylor likely the two biggest remaining fish the Cowgirls hope to snare. Traveling to Morgantown is never an easy venture for any side, certainly not one feeling the heat in the RPI like OSU is. The Cowgirl defense also knows they must do better after conceding multiple goals four times already this season. That’s very much out of the ordinary for this group, and something that will have to be fixed with Kate Schwindel and Frances Silva on the opposite side. It’s high stakes at high noon, with the loser left to sweat even more about their bubble fate.
Illinois vs Penn State – 1:00 PM
The last time these two clubs met on the pitch, we were treated to a classic, with the Illini winning in extra time to lift the Big Ten Tournament title. They’ll be looking to make it two in a row over title rivals Penn State when the clubs met in a pivotal league matchup on Sunday. Illinois entered league play in a bit of a funk, with nothing in the way of quality results and on the back of a stretch of three losses in four. All of that though was without the services of attacking dynamo Vanessa DiBernardo, who was a little busy helping the U.S. U20 team win the U20 World Cup in Japan. Since she’s been back, it’s been a different story for the club, with Illinois picking up two huge wins against Iowa and Ohio State that not only boosted their NCAA Tournament hopes immeasurably, they also gave the club hope of upsetting the order and making a run at a league title. Winning a league title in the Big Ten means going through Penn State though, and the Nittany Lions have unsurprisingly leapt out to a quick start in the league. After beating back Wisconsin in the league opener last week, PSU eased past Northwestern to run their record to 2-0-0 in the Big Ten. The goals go far beyond another league title though, as the Nittany Lions take aim at a potential #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Given the problems the club showed when they travelled to Provo earlier in the year, home advantage could be huge for this group come November. In terms of another league title, PSU’s schedule is front-loaded with their likeliest rivals, with Ohio State following the Illini next week. Odds are, if Erica Walsh’s side can win their next two, there’s not going to be anyone left on the schedule that can halt their progress towards another league crown. Defeat to the Illini would throw the title race back open though, meaning this could be one of the most important fixtures of the league season in the Big Ten.
Rutgers vs Marquette – 1:00 PM
Do the numbers lie in the case of Rutgers? The RPI right now says that the Scarlet Knights would be easily in the field of sixty-four if the season ended today, but the reality paints a bit of a more complicated picture. Since starting off their season with four straight wins, including a triumph over Ohio State that may ultimately be their NCAA Tournament meal ticket, Rutgers has gone just 4-3-0. The Scarlet Knights have been particularly unimpressive in the opening fixtures of league play. The loss to a floundering Villanova side to open up Big East play was particularly worrisome, and Rutgers then slipped to defeat against Georgetown just a few days later. In a sense, it put their backs to the wall against South Florida on Friday, and the Scarlet Knights were able to come away with a win, but only just. Despite some painfully wayward shooting on the afternoon, the club would be bailed out in extra time, with Jonelle Filigno converting a spot kick for the decisive golden goal. Rutgers know that they’ll need to do much better against a Marquette club desperately trying to make up for lost time. The Golden Eagles didn’t really get a trademark win in non-conference play, with its win over Northwestern and draw against Central Michigan likely counting as its best results, which might explain why the club was so low in the RPI entering into league play. They’ve come up big in the club’s first two games in Big East play, but beating Pittsburgh and Seton Hall isn’t likely to move the needle much come November, and a stretch against Rutgers and Louisville over the next two games could prove decisive for the club’s NCAA Tournament hopes, especially with Notre Dame and Georgetown not on the schedule and the rest of the league being in such shambles RPI-wise. Marquette used a balanced effort and four different scorers to topple Seton Hall and will be hoping for more fireworks in New Jersey on Sunday as they try to improve their case for an NCAA Tournament berth.
Virginia Tech vs Boston College – 1:00 PM
Two sides who felt the sting of defeat on Thursday night will meet in Blacksburg, hoping to keep pace in the ACC title race. Virginia Tech got a cold dose of reality on Thursday against North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The Hokies had begun the season with nine straight wins, including six straight shutouts going into their second league game. It took less than a quarter of an hour for all of that to unravel though, as UNC scored two quick goals and then went up 3-0 in the thirty-fifth minute. VT would pull one back shortly after but couldn’t muster up enough offense to mount a big comeback. The continued absence of offensive talisman Kelly Conheeney due to a concussion continues to be felt, and her lingering absence could prove to be detrimental for the Hokies’ hopes of a top half finish in the league. With or without Conheeney, they’ll have their hands full with a Boston College side all too eager to make up for Thursday’s 2-0 defeat to Wake Forest. Considering the Eagles had scored thirteen goals in their previous two matches, had scored multiple goals in five straight, and hadn’t been shutout all season, few expected Wake to stop the BC attack. But stop them they did, keeping a clean sheet and holding Kristen Mewis without a shot on goal the entire match. Going the other way, Wake exposed a sometimes flaky Boston College defense, with Katie Stengel’s double ending the Eagles’ unbeaten season. The odds of keeping these Eagles grounded for too long don’t appear to be great though, meaning Virginia Tech will have to put in an exemplary performance to walk away with a win on Sunday. Neither of these clubs wants to be stuck with two losses after two weeks of league play though, meaning there should be some urgency on the field in Blacksburg, which could lead to a classic affair in this ACC showdown.
Wisconsin vs Michigan – 2:00 PM
The battle to stay in the Big Ten title mix will be on full display in Madison on Sunday afternoon as Wisconsin hosts Michigan. The Badgers put up a spirited effort in their league opener against Penn State last weekend but just couldn’t contain the Nittany Lion offense, falling 2-1 in the end. UW rebounded with a narrow win over Michigan State and will continue to push on, hoping that PSU slips up a few times along the way. Though the offense has slowed down a bit in league play thus far, the Badgers can at least take heart in knowing that Friday marked the club’s first clean sheet in six games. Wisconsin had actually conceded multiple goals in four of five games before the MSU win, which is definitely atypical for a program that’s prided itself on a smothering defense over the past few years. That defense’s main goal on Sunday should be to smother Canadian bulldozer Nkem Ezurike. Despite missing a chunk of the season on international duty with Canada at the U20 World Cup, Ezurike has come back in fine fashion, already contributing a pair of game winners to the Wolverines’ cause. That include the only goal in Friday’s triumph over Minnesota in the club’s second league game. It extended Michigan’s winning streak to four games, with the Wolverines pitching shutouts in each. The streak has allowed the club to slowly but surely climb their way back up the RPI after a disappointing weekend in California had blunted their NCAA Tournament ambitions. Michigan’s far from out of the woods yet though and really needs some big wins in the league to solidify their standing before Selection Monday. With Wisconsin currently at #15 in the RPI, they certainly count as a big win if Michigan can get it. Heading into hostile territory and emerging with three points won’t be easy though, meaning Greg Ryan’s side will have to be at their best again if they want to keep pace with the leaders in the Big Ten title race.
Texas A&M vs Auburn – 2:30 PM
Different conference, same results thus far for Texas A&M, who didn’t really need to dip out of second gear to do away with South Carolina on Friday night. The Aggies added the defending league champs to their hit list, which has included eight straight teams after a stuttering start to the new season. Those eight wins included six straight clean sheets, including three in the SEC, quite the impressive feat considering the league’s often gung ho style of play. A&M will try to take down another of last year’s trophy winners, as SEC Tournament champs Auburn come to town. Whether the Aggie’s will be complete is another story though, as star forward Kelley Monogue did not play on Friday. While A&M coped well enough, Monogue’s health could be key for the club’s potential postseason aspirations. For now, the club will continue to ride the goals of Annie Kunz to success. Kunz has been in resplendent form thus far, with seven goals in ten games for the Aggies. Midfielder Meghan Streight has also been a weapon on set pieces, with her talent for heading home goals proving to be key in the club’s quick SEC start. They’ll be hoping for more of the same on Sunday against an Auburn side that may have saved their season with a 3-1 win at LSU on Friday. The Tigers had opened up the new conference campaign with two losses at home and had lost five of seven to raise fears about their postseason hopes. But a battling performance in Baton Rouge led to a big win and renewed optimism on The Plains. It was too much of a battle in some respects, as leading points getter Tatiana Coleman, who scored in the LSU match, also picked up her fifth booking of the season, meaning an automatic one match suspension at the absolute worst time for the club. Though she only has two goals on the year, Coleman also had five assists and was an important part of the offense for Auburn. The two players with more than two goals are rocket footed Tori Ball, who’s a threat from distance, and veteran Mary Coffed, who’s struck three times this year. Though offense may be on Auburn’s mind, the defense will have to be key. This is a club that hasn’t kept a clean sheet in five games, which could be a foreboding omen against A&M. The Tigers need wins for their lagging RPI though, so an upset here could be invaluable come November. The home side have their own eyes on the RPI though, knowing that wins must come fast and furious for them to have a shot at a coveted #1 seed.
Portland vs Denver – 4:00 PM
Denver will try to reach out and grab the brass ring on Sunday as they try to notch the win that would all but guarantee them a place in the NCAA Tournament come November. The Pioneers enter on the back of a nine game unbeaten streak, having not lost since their opening day slip to Colorado College. In that time period, DU’s beaten Colorado, UC Irvine, and Kansas to rise up the RPI ranks and put themselves in a great position for an at-large bid. The Pioneers have averaged two goals a game and have a pretty well balanced offense, with eleven players having scored for the club. Leading the way is the deadly duo of Kaitlin Bast and Kristen Hamilton, both of whom have scored four goals and will be vital for DU’s hopes on Sunday at Merlo. Normally, Denver having played extra time in the match before this one would be seen as an advantage for the home side, but the Pilots aren’t exactly doing that well in the depth department at the moment. The club may have toppled Seattle with ease on Friday night, but they did so with a short bench and many players out through injury, including star full-back Kendall Johnson. While the Pilots have been getting some previously injured players back, they don’t figure to be back to anywhere near full strength come Sunday, which could be a problem against such a talented and motivated Denver side. The offense is still up and roaring though, as Portland’s three headed monster of Amanda Frisbie, Micaela Capelle, and Kalia Cameli have been in fine form thus far. Frisbie and Capelle have combined for nine goals thus far and have a great striker partner in top reserve Cameli, who scored twice on Friday to bring her season total up to five. Both of these clubs come in with no shortage of firepower and high stakes on Sunday. Denver knows a win here would be a big step towards an at-large berth, while Portland would likely take a large step themselves towards a potential #1 seed with another quality win. It should add up to a fantastic non-conference showdown on Sunday afternoon.
Santa Clara vs Washington State – 4:00 PM
It’s not like most needed reminding, but Washington State proved again on Thursday night why they’re not a very fun side to play against for top teams, as the Cougars shut down UCLA’s smooth running machine, holding the Bruins to a scoreless draw in Westwood. The last team to shutout the Bruins? Also Washington State, last year in Pullman. Their NCAA Tournament hopes solidified greatly with the point in their Pac-12 opener, Washington State will look to close out their non-conference schedule with another vital result against Santa Clara. Not scoring goals hasn’t exactly been a common sight for WSU this season, as the Cougars had only been shutout once before Thursday, when they were blistered by Duke in USC’s tournament, 4-0. Of course, WSU hadn’t exactly faced the best of non-conference competition, meaning they had a lot to prove on Thursday in Westwood, and you’d have to say they fared pretty well against a UCLA team that had looked to be in stunning form in non-conference play. The visitors should have a decided advantage going into Sunday’s match as well, as they had an extra day of rest, with Santa Clara having played on Friday. WSU likely would’ve rued going into extra time and having played that extra twenty minutes, but Santa Clara was dragged into extra frames as well by a pesky Cal State Northridge side. The Broncos enter this one on a six match unbeaten run, though three of those matches ended up as draws. With two of those draws coming against Georgetown and San Diego State though, it’s hard to quibble. Now’s no time to let up for the Broncos though. They know all too well how important it is to earn a national seed to avoid Stanford for as long as possible in the Big Dance. SCU’s well positioned to earn such a distinction, but they still need to finish strong to further their claim. A win over Washington State would be a big step in that direction, though the Cougars have already shown that they’re a match for just about anyone in the nation.
Stanford vs Arizona State – 5:00 PM
It wasn’t long ago that Arizona State looked dead and completely buried as far as an NCAA Tournament bid was concerned. They had sealed a nice draw with Kansas, but they were also 1-4-1, with their only win being over Northern Arizona. And then, the Sun Devils hit their groove with a 1-0 win over Pepperdine and have now won three straight, with all three coming by way of clean sheet. All of a sudden, ASU finds itself within touching distance of the good side of the bubble and has a golden opportunity on Sunday to take a massive step towards a return to the Big Dance. Bitten by the injury bug at times this season, ASU may be edging back towards health and has a great offensive weapon in Devin Marshall. Marshall hasn’t escaped those woes, having missed a pair of games but has been in fine form in the seven games she has played in, netting six times to lead the club by a good margin. If ASU wants to pull off a shock though, it’ll likely have to come via a standout defensive performance. That’s easier said than done though, with the Card having shown signs of being and explosive offensive force throughout 2012. Against conventional wisdom, Stanford’s excelled in front of goal on Sundays the past few weeks while laboring a bit on Fridays. The Card has put ten past teams the past two Sundays and will be looking to continue that trend against the Sun Devils. It’s been the defense which has led to the club’s recent revival though, as the Card has kept four straight clean sheets after having not kept one in their first four matches of the year. The potential return of Emily Oliver between the pipes has to be music to Stanford supporters’ ears as well. While Aly Gleason has filled in competently in Oliver’s absence through injury, the junior is one of the nation’s very best and could be the difference between a return to the College Cup and an early exit come the NCAA Tournament. For now, the worry is retaining the Pac-12 title, and with UCLA drawing on Thursday, you just know Stanford can smell blood and will be looking to make a statement on Sunday. Of course, ASU knows a win would be huge for their own NCAA Tournament hopes, meaning the home side could be in for a fight.