NCAA – Spotlight Five – Week One Review

It’s rare when a team that went 0-2-0 on opening weekend is at the front of the headlines, but it’s tough to discuss the first few days of the new season without speaking of Santa Clara, their reputation as a contender on the national stage largely in tatters after two meek displays over the weekend. Perception is everything, and the manner of the defeats was most disturbing, as two losses for SCU would have likely been more tolerable had they gone out on their shield. Instead, the Broncos were largely feckless in one hundred eighty minutes, managing four shots on goal combined. Morgan Marlborough was supposed to be the missing link for the attack, with the former All-American expected to shine for SCU but instead was utterly invisible for most of the weekend. What was most shocking though was how utterly out of their depth the Bronco defense looked against the athletes of an ACC side. The backline looked like they were running through quicksand in comparison with the frontrunners of North Carolina and Virginia, while goalkeeper Andi Tostanoski hardly helped her side’s cause, being culpable for multiple goals and eventually being pulled for Molly Mettler after conceding a soft third goal against Virginia.

There’s no question that many a reputation took major hits over the weekend. Marlborough likely could have played herself into being a first round pick in the NWSL Draft had she shined this past few games and put together a consistently strong season but may now have to settle for being selected in the second half of a striker loaded draft. Tostanoski looked a shell of the superior keeper she had been at one time and may not even be first choice any more considering her hook in the second half against Virginia. But head coach Jerry Smith and the Santa Clara brand figure to suffer most in the fallout from the weekend debacle. This was already a program straining for credibility as a contender for high honors on the national stage, and this season may well have been a Waterloo for the Broncos, with players like Johnston and, conceivably, Marlborough not falling off of trees. It’s already a long way back for SCU after just one week, and while wins over the likes of Maryland and Cal would at least see the program save a little face, only a win against Stanford would really salvage what’s left of the Broncos’ reputation as contenders this season. On this past weekend’s evidence though, it’s hard to have much faith in SCU’s chances against Stanford, a side that has lately done more with less when necessary, as opposed to the Broncos who did little with much in Charlottesville.

You get the feeling that there may not be any weekend road trips involving long plane rides between games in Duke‘s future. The Blue Devils gambled with a punishing road set at Texas A&M and South Carolina on Friday and Sunday and paid the price on the second half of that stretch. Duke may have started slowly on Friday in College Station but eventually grabbed a foothold on the game and escaped with a priceless win. The long trek back to the East Coast clearly took its toll on Duke on Sunday night though, as the Blue Devils delivered a laggard performance against the Gamecocks. The normally vibrant Duke offense failed to spark, and despite throwing numbers forward in the end, the club was shutout in arguably the biggest upset of the season to date. The Blue Devils only managed four shots on goal total, getting little from the bench in terms of offense.

While you might be able to chalk this one up to an ill-designed road trip in the end, there are probably a few things to worry about until Duke shows differently. The goalkeeper situation continues to be a bit of a concern as Meghan Thomas got the start before being taken out at the break with a potential quad injury. It remains to be seen whether head coach Robbie Church will continue to rotate his netminders if both are healthy. The defense is actually holding up pretty well considering all the turnover, and Rebecca Quinn has slotted into the midfield well to provide a bit of a balancing presence with the attack minded Kaitlyn Kerr and Kim DeCesare also on that line. While Toni Payne has been solid early, I’m sure Church is hoping for the return of a healthy Cassie Pecht down the line. Expect a lot of goals next week against Kennesaw State and New Mexico. Some of the ACC road trips are onerous, but Duke does get an extra rest day in between games with the league operating under a Thursday-Sunday schedule.

So…who had Florida State‘s defense being just as dominant this season as last? Obviously, there’s still a long way to go, but the loss of both of last year’s starting full-backs doesn’t seem to be affecting the club that much, with replacements Carson Pickett, Kirsten Crowley, and Megan Campbell doing well to replace the departed Casey Short and Ines Jaurena. The stats for the weekend were staggering. Two shots, one shot on goal conceded against Oregon State. Three shots, and two shots on goal conceded against Auburn (though they conceded a very late consolation). It remains to be seen how well exactly Oregon State and Auburn do this season (there’s cause for pessimism with both), but that’s still two really big performances against big conference clubs. There’s a pretty big challenge coming up Friday against Florida and sudden star Savannah Jordan, but if Florida State can shut her and the Gators down on hostile ground, it might be time to start thinking College Cup contender once again.

FSU were terribly unlucky in some harsh conditions on Friday against Oregon State, whacking the woodwork on multiple occasions in driving rain but showed a more acute edge on Sunday. There were many questions as to where the offense was going to come from before the season, and some of those questions may have been answered on Sunday. Icelandic freshman Berglind Thorvaldsdottir did very well leading the line, scoring twice and assisting on a third goal to pace the club. Mark Krikorian shuffled the deck a bit, using Jamia Fields and Nora Kervroedan as impact subs, and it worked a treat, with both netting goals off the bench. Any questions about the depth of the club may have been eased by the confident display against Auburn, and the Noles’ ability to rotate their squad and not dip in form could be huge during the grind of ACC play. There are no gimmes this weekend either, with a trip to Florida followed by hosting a red hot UCF team that could give clues as to the state hierarchy after a few weeks of the season.

It’s probably going to be a cliche that comes up umpteen times this season, but Irish eyes were likely smiling at Notre Dame‘s opening weekend, as the newly minted ACC club lived up to their advance billing in two easy wins to open up their season. It’s true that bigger challenges are to come, specifically on Sunday against UCLA, but as far as opening statements are concerned, UND made a pretty good one this past weekend. While Illinois hasn’t shown much aptitude for defense thus far in 2013, and Northwestern is still very much a club in a rebuilding phase, Notre Dame didn’t stub their toes in the least in dealing with the Big Ten duo. The pattern for both games was eerily similar, as the Irish were out of sight within a half-hour before cruising to victory. The fact that Notre Dame is already proving to be adept at going for the jugular and not dallying about despite still being a fairly young team should be pretty frightening for opponents, as the Irish only figure to get better with age.

The offense may be the most interesting part of the Irish, as Lauren Bohaboy may finally be beginning to grow into her upside as a massive talent. Notre Dame has had some very talented attackers as of late, but none have totally filled the shoes of the tremendous Melissa Henderson. Bohaboy was touted coming into South Bend as the next big thing for the Irish and has shown flashes but hasn’t really developed into the superstar some had anticipated, with Crystal Thomas largely playing a more prominent role last season. But three goals this past weekend are a promising sign, and Bohaboy will likely be vital in the club’s big-time showdown with UCLA on Sunday. It’s going to be interesting to see how Notre Dame’s RPI fluctuates given their non-conference schedule. Oakland and Detroit aren’t going to help the resume much, and neither may Northwestern in the end. The jury is still probably out on Illinois as well, meaning victory over UCLA could be key if the club aspires for a top two seed come NCAA Tournament time.

Statements don’t tend to come much bigger than what USC delivered this past weekend as they reannounced their presence on the national stage with two big wins in San Diego. Opinions on the Women of Troy going into the new season inevitably varied, with some wondering how long it would take for the team’s top notch recruiting class to gel with this year’s returners. Not that long as it turns out, as the USC offense cut through their two opponents with thorough ease, with the Pac-12 side netting four goals in each of their two wins. There were plenty of bright spots, including Kayla Mills coming in and being a factor right away, as well as Tanya Samarzich’s double off the bench on Sunday. The team has to be most enthused with Elizabeth Eddy’s opening weekend performance. Long a player with tremendous potential, Eddy’s college career has largely been a “what if” proposition through three years, with the U20 international having netted just ten goals in three seasons. She already has three in two games though, and her maintaining that sparkling form could be key for USC’s season.

USC definitely aren’t the finished product though. They still have to show they can go a full ninety minutes, as frustrating letdowns in the second halves of games that were well in hand can attest to. The Trojans don’t figure to roll over all their opposition, and the ability to keep clean sheets is going to be something this USC team needs to get comfortable with if they’re to battle with the upper echelon of the Pac-12 this year. The rest of the non-conference schedule breaks pretty well for the Trojans. If they play to their potential, it’s hard not seeing USC ease past the mid-majors left on their schedule, while they should also wax SEC mid-table sides Ole Miss and LSU if the trip to Minnesota doesn’t take it out of them. The big challenge might come back at home where a strong Pepperdine side that held Cal to a draw comes challenging on September 13. Take care of business there, and USC might well be looking at being well positioned for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament already.

Quick Hits

There’s certainly nothing “mid-major” about the top of the AAC, as Memphis, Rutgers, and UCF all went about their business in fine fashion…Temple’s opponents may have not been top notch, but 2-0 is 2-0 for such a program…Louisville’s Charlyn Corral is a big reason the FMF should keep funding players in the NWSL…This just in: North Carolina is still ridiculously good. I just wish this weekend upcoming wasn’t wasted on New Mexico and Kennesaw State…Lost in the shadows a bit might be how Wake Forest dismantled two reasonable SEC sides. The Demon Deacons are a sleeper pick for Cary…Clemson’s attack is still a work in progress, but the defense has looked promising early on…West Virginia showed some of their potential by jumping out to a lead on Penn State on the road but still showed some of their youth by coughing that lead up and struggling with Syracuse on Sunday…anyone want to get footage of Texas’ Abby Smith’s free-kick goal from the halfway line online?…Give credit where credit’s due, Xavier gritted out a win against Purdue despite being barracked the whole match. The Musketeers might be friskier in the Big East than we thought…Two matches in and all has been going to plan for Nebraska, though their true mettle well be tested in Provo this Saturday…Wisconsin’s defense has been leaky, but their offense looks very good through two games so far…Is everything OK with Ohio State? They’ve had way too much trouble with Morehead State and Eastern Michigan for a program of their stature…I don’t know if they can defend the chair I’m sitting in, but Illinois has proven to be one of the nation’s most exciting teams through a weekend…Talk about diametric opposite results. Purdue followed up their blistering of Akron with a potential at-large bid killer loss to Xavier…Cal Poly’s Elise Krieghoff played through mono last year and scored eleven goals. She’s already scored five in two games and netted four against Cal State Bakersfield on Sunday…You have to feel a bit for Hawaii, who battered UNC Greensboro on Friday and were competitive with UCF on Sunday but came away empty-handed…hoping for a multi-bid CAA this year? Keep hoping, the league went 3-13-1 this weekend…what happened to the Twitter critic that questioned my questioning of Illinois State’s defense?…Still early doors, but hard not to be encouraged by Colorado’s two-win weekend, which they accomplished convincingly…Yeah, Stanford’s defense may be giving up a few too many shots for my liking, but credit them for always finding ways to win…UCLA looked positively frightening in dismantling two opponents this weekend, and the scary thing is they may have a few more gears to hit…They may have lost, but it’s hard not to be impressed with how competitive Oregon was in hosting a fancied Portland side on Sunday…14-9-3 does not make pretty reading for the SEC, who could be in tough in the race for at-large bids if they don’t turn around their non-conference form…So much for second season syndrome in Fayetteville. All the Lady Razorbacks have done is beat two teams who finished in the RPI Top 80 last season thus far…I saw Savannah Jordan play a bit this Summer in the W-League and questioned whether she would make a smooth transition to the DI game. Guess I was a bit wrong on that one…Barring Duke pulling off the equivalent of a faceplant for the rest of the season, South Carolina may have its NCAA Tournament golden ticket after Sunday. SC’s year away from the upper tier of the SEC may be over with a side that looks like the Gamecock teams of old…Auburn might need one heck of a Houdini act this season. The offense looks toothless, and there’s not much room for RPI building in the non-conference slate…Alabama laid a giant egg against Wake Forest, but they still have a few opportunities away from home to boost their RPI…Talk about schizophrenic. Vanderbilt logged a great 2-2 draw at home just two days after a galling 3-1 loss to UAB…The Citadel might want to forget these past few weeks, where they lost in a friendly to Georgia, 9-0, before losing their first two regular season games by a 14-0 margin. Thankfully, the schedule eases up…Remember Ted Flogaites’ name. The second-year Western Illinois coach was impressive last year and saw his side knock off Northwestern in 2013’s opener…So much for a letdown. BYU dominated Cal State Fullerton in their opener and will probably be favored in every match now up to a stern road test at Baylor in October.

2 thoughts on “NCAA – Spotlight Five – Week One Review

  1. sec

    Great new column, good format (five teams in focus, then quick hits).

    Also, agree that Santa Clara is the biggest story of the opening weekend. They had a strong spring season (it seemed from results and reports), they added Marlborough and some good freshmen to a team that looked pretty strong at times last season, and they had no players missing due to international duties — and then this happened. Completely unexpected. One stat that rings out from Sunday: 17 fouls committed to one for Virginia. That’s one slow, tired team, trying to catch up with another. I almost wonder if they were overtrained or struggled with the travel?

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  2. Archie's Grandpa

    Vandy started 9 freshmen and sophomores against OK State in their 2-2 tie. The future looks very bright for the Dores with Sasha Gray, Cheyna Williams and Simone Charley up front leading the charge as Vandy had 19 shots on goal Friday night and 24 on Sunday.

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