Florida vs Florida State – 7:00 PM
It seems a bit hyperbolic at this stage of the season to be touting an “unstoppable force vs immovable object” matchup, but on a matchday short on outright elite showdowns, it’ll do. Florida’s Savannah Jordan had an immensely impressive debut weekend for the Gators last week, netting five goals in her first two collegiate matches. Jordan would come up big late in the club’s opener last week to net the winner and insurance goal in the final ten minutes against a stubborn Florida Gulf Coast, before a hat trick paced the Gators against Oregon State on Sunday. Obviously, it’s going to be tough to replicate that scoring pace for the rest of the season, more so considering the defense Jordan will be facing on Friday night. While the Gators do have other offensive outlets, most notably Havana Solaun, if the opening weekend of the season is any indicator, a lot of the offense is going to run through Jordan this season. The Gator defense was pretty stout last weekend, holding opponents to just four shots overall and conceding just once, to Oregon State. FSU’s a whole different matter though, and it will be interesting to see how the Gator defense copes and whether the club uses Nora Neset Gjoen or Taylor Burke in goal after each started once last weekend. It’s difficult seeing Florida struggle with any of the remaining non-conference opponents after FSU, so this might be the club’s last major test in a while.
The Seminoles were also very impressive in a perfect opening weekend. A 1-0 final against Oregon State in the opener perhaps flattered the Pac-12 side, with the scoreline not indicative of the dominance of FSU, who could have had many more had they not hit the woodwork multiple times. The defense was equally crushing, with FSU limiting OSU to just a single shot on goal. They were even more impressive in the match after, pounding Auburn, 4-1. Despite some squad rotation, the Noles, the ACC powerhouse held Auburn without a shot on goal until a flurry in the eighty-sixth minute that led to the Tigers’ goal. Redshirt freshman Berglind Thorvaldsdottir showed the Noles some of what they were missing last year with a brace and an asset on a third goal and looks like forming a fearsome attacking partnership with Dagny Brynjarsdottir for Florida State. The defense, anchored by center-back titans Kassey Kallman and Kristin Grubka, will have a big test in shutting down Jordan, and the duo has found an able full-back partner in Irish international Megan Campbell, who has won rave reviews for her early play for FSU. Jordan will likely need to find pockets of space away from the heart of Florida State’s defense, as 2v1 against Kallman and Grubka is almost always a losing proposition. FSU steps right back into the fire on Sunday against UCF, but a win here would give them momentum and likely a big piece on their resume come Selection Monday and the battle for national seeding.
Virginia Tech vs Louisville – 4:00 PM (Winston Salem, North Carolina)
And now the tests really begin for Virginia Tech, who had a rather easy time of it in their first two matches of the season, putting the heat on High Point, 7-1, before easing past East Tennessee State, 2-0. In typical Hokies fashion, it’s largely been a balanced effort thus far, with seven players scoring goals last weekend, with the club being led by towering rookie Murielle Tiernan, who netted a brace on opening weekend, and senior Ashley Manning, back in a super sub role that she filled in her first two seasons here, who also netted two goals last week. The defense was a bit uneven against High Point but still held ETSU to zero shots on goal last Sunday. It has to be said though that the score against the A-Sun side was still 0-0 through an hour despite VT’s domination, with the ACC side only striking paydirt when ETSU went down to ten men. Louisville’s a much bigger test, though the Cardinals’ defense has proven to be pliable in the first weekend of the season. The AAC side and future ACC rival is almost assuredly going to be the Hokies’ biggest opportunity to net a big non-conference win, with three mid-major sides to follow to close out the slate before ACC play. Given the unpredictability of league play, VT may want to score a victory here and increase their margin of error come Selection Monday.
Louisville will be in the heart of a make or break section of their non-conference season this weekend, continuing a stretch that began with Illinois last Sunday and ends with Kentucky next Friday in Lexington. The Cardinals were very assured in avoiding a banana peel in the opener and taking down Butler, but the game against the Illini was absolutely bonkers, and not necessarily in a reassuring way for the AAC side. The Cardinals blew two leads, needing a late equalizer to just force extra time, in which they were quickly dispatched by the Illini. If there’s a happy note, it’s that Charlyn Corral looks like turning into one of the nation’s most dangerous attacking players. The fact that Christine Exeter also seems to have rediscovered her scoring touch bodes well for the season as well. The bad news? Uh, did you notice they gave up five goals last Sunday? Virginia Tech, and especially Wake Forest, aren’t going to be accused of not being able to score any time soon, and if the Cardinals can’t tighten up, it promises to be a lost weekend. If they can keep the offense flowing though, the possibility of an upset is certainly there, and a win (or two) in Winston-Salem could be priceless for NCAA Tournament hopes.
Michigan State vs San Diego State – 5:00 PM
OK, Michigan State, time to prove it. The Spartans have played a bunch of stiffs in non-conference play for years but have appeared to finally grown smart to the whole non-league scheduling thing and put together a slate with some tests on it. OK, it’s really a lot of traditional mid-major powers, but baby steps, alright? The Spartans face a crunch weekend against San Diego State on Friday before traveling to Dayton on Sunday. Admittedly, MSU’s looked good so far against rather modest opposition, with Jessica White pacing the club with two goals over the weekend, while Rachel Van Poppelen had a goal and two assists in the 5-2 win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee. There’s evidence that San Diego State isn’t going to be as strong as last season’s tremendous squad, but the Aztecs still have name value, with a win by MSU important for them to shift the perception of them as mere flat track bullies. The Spartans were 5-0 up against Wisconsin-Milwaukee after an hour last Sunday, meaning their 5-2 final scoreline against the Panthers wasn’t indicative of their domination, but they still can’t get complacent against a SDSU side eager to net a big scalp after a weekend of mixed fortunes.
San Diego State were welcomed rudely into 2013 by USC last Friday, with the Trojans essentially tap-dancing on the Aztecs’ skulls all game long, leading 3-0 at the half before cruising to a 4-1 victory. While it’s not like USC didn’t come into the game highly tipped to make a major impact, the margin of victory against SDSU had to have been disappointing for an Aztecs side trying desperately to shed the ‘inconsistent’ tag that the club has been labeled with for ages. They’d grind out a win against Saint Mary’s (CA) on Sunday, though five shots on target (+1 off the woodwork) out of twenty-three shots total wasn’t exactly something to crow about. Senior Jensen Skinner had a great performance and will need to continue to produce to keep teams from just keying in on Hannah Keane up top. The defense did a much better job of keeping the Gaels at bay on Sunday, but Michigan State’s attack will probably be closer to USC’s than Saint Mary’s (CA). This is a very big game for the Aztecs. They’re testing themselves, no doubt, but they really don’t want to go into Sunday with the prospect of being 1-3-0 with a loss to Michigan. Looking ahead, Michigan State could also be a potential bubble rival for an at-large bid if both clubs play up to their potential this season.
UCLA vs Marquette – 5:00 PM (South Bend, Indiana)
Now comes the hard part for UCLA. The really hard part. The next four games are almost ludicrously difficult for the Bruins, with Notre Dame, North Carolina, and Duke the next three teams on the docket after a testing neutral site game against Marquette on Friday evening. The Bruins didn’t seem to need too many gears last weekend to put Northeastern and Cal State Northridge in their place in two almost criminally easy victories. The Pac-12 side gave up one (one!) shot on goal COMBINED in two games and just four shots overall last weekend. Both games were essentially over after a quarter of an hour following an explosive burst of offense from the Bruins, who have effectively spread the wealth thus far. Jenna Richmond and Darian Jenkins have paced the club with a pair of goals each, while Caprice Dydasco’s marauding runs down the flank and Sarah Killion’s steady passing have kept the chances coming. Marquette’s a massive step up in class from the likes of Northeastern and Cal State Northridge though, and it’s going to be very interesting to see how UCLA deals with a side that has the ability to strike back with some offense. The Bruins will be hoping for another fast start so they can rotate players with Sunday’s match against Notre Dame in mind. They can’t overlook the Golden Eagles though, especially considering Marquette will be eager to please after an uneven first weekend.
It’s been a turbulent beginning to the new season for Marquette. The exhibition blowout loss to Wisconsin probably raised a few eyebrows, while the club’s roller coaster weekend in the Pacific Northwest may not have calmed nerves much. The defense kept it tight against Portland for much of last Friday but couldn’t sufficiently clear a ball, leading to the match’s only goal, as Marquette’s offense couldn’t really do much to trouble the Pilot defense, putting just two shots on goal. Marquette generally dominated Portland State on Sunday but still found themselves down going into the final quarter of an hour before turning it on for three goals, helped no doubt in the end by PSU going down to nine men after two players were sent off. The defense absolutely has to tighten up ahead of this showdown against a UCLA team that is lethal if given good looks in front of goal. Marquette has usually been lights out against teams of similar reputation but have often struggled to replicate that form against the top of the cut. This is their one and only chance to rectify that notion in the regular season this year, and an upset here would not only send shockwaves through the NCAA but also be a big boost to their national seeding hopes. It might be just the win that could give the club the confidence to slay giants regularly as well.
Virginia vs Penn State – 5:30 PM
So what in the world can Virginia do for an encore? Their four goal dismantling of Santa Clara could eventually go down as one of the results of the regular season, but there’s no time to bathe in the plaudits that came after that performance. Virginia had begun the weekend by crushing VCU, with midfielder Morgan Brian savaging the Rams with six shots on goal and two assists to her name. Makenzy Doniak came alive on Sunday with a goal and an assist, while Brittany Ratcliffe continued to be a super sub extraordinaire, netting two more off the bench after having added one as a reserve on Friday. The defense had given up a pair of goals very much against the total run of play against VCU but made no mistake against Santa Clara, limiting the Broncos to a paltry one shot on goal and holding Morgan Marlborough, Sofia Huerta, and Julie Johnston to zero shots combined. Interestingly, Virginia opted for hotshot rookie Morgan Stearns in goal against the Broncos against SCU despite splitting Churchill O’Connell and Danielle DeLisle against VCU a few days earlier. Picking right in goal again could be key for Virginia’s hopes for victory against an explosive offense. Going the other way, UVA will be thankful to have Morgan Brian’s services after the midfielder was recalled to the USWNT for a friendly against Mexico. Helping to mastermind a win against Penn State would be another feather in her and her side’s cap and could reap big dividends in November.
Penn State were expected to keep on rolling going into the new season despite some heavily losses in the offseason but stuttered a bit on opening weekend. PSU dominated the stat sheet against West Virginia on Friday but still found themselves staring at defeat with ten minutes to play, down 2-0. They’d pull it from the fire with two late goals from Taylor Schram and Maya Hayes, but it was probably still too close for comfort for Erica Walsh, while the boss will likely also see it as a chance for a big win spurned. Though the club would come out furiously against Hofstra, racing out to a 2-0 lead, they struggled to salt the game away, with the club having to defend doggedly during a sluggish second half which featured the Nittany Lions up by just a goal for most of the period. It’s not exactly the roaring start some had envisioned for PSU, but they certainly have enough talent to burst into life at any moment. A reworked defense and new starting goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom will be put to the test against a Virginia club that has shredded defenses thus far. Penn State’s not going to face another ‘elite’ team (probably) until they host Michigan in mid-October in league play. With one potentially big chance for a trademark win having gone against West Virginia, it’s going to be critical for PSU to grab a victory on the road here for their hopes of a high national seed.
UCF vs Tennessee – 6:00 PM
This fixture became a whole lot more important to Tennessee after their shock defeat at the hands of Samford last Sunday. Lady Vols coach Brian Pensky sounded physically ill after the upset to the SoCon side, perhaps knowing that such a misstep could prove to be very costly down the line come Selection Monday. The non-conference slate is pretty light after this crunch showdown with the AAC side, with only Dayton next week likely to be a possible feather in the club’s cap when looking at their resume. Tennessee’s generally had a rather annoying problems the last season or so with key components of their offense never being healthy and/or available at the same time. Hannah Wilkinson was often on international duty last year, while Caroline Brown struggled with injury. This year, the club has had to deal with Amalie Thestrup being at the UEFA Euro U19 Championships with Denmark, but the gang might finally be complete with Thestrup’s return. The offense did just fine against Oklahoma, getting three different goals from three different scorers, but the offense fell mysteriously silent against Samford. That the club hasn’t kept a clean sheet in two tries is also worrying. They gave up nine shots on goal against Oklahoma, and though they cut that number significantly two days later, they still couldn’t totally silence Samford. A result here is crucial, as a second straight defeat could produce a crisis in confidence already in Knoxville.
It’s unlikely the home side will be suffering any such crisis after two impressive wins in Hawaii to open the season. The Knights dominated Washington in the opener to the tune of a 3-0 win before staving off a dogged Hawaii side, 2-0. Back on the mainland, UCF has the potential to create some huge waves in what, by far, is going to be their biggest weekend of the non-conference season. While most eyes will be glancing towards the club’s huge showdown with Florida State on Sunday, UCF can’t look past Tennessee on Friday night. The Lady Vols will likely be desperate to strike back after last Sunday’s letdown, meaning the Knights need to keep the defense tight again this weekend. Though UCF was able to stifle a pretty promising Washington attack, UT has more weapons on the whole and could present a big challenge. The Knights aren’t packing any small degree of firepower themselves though, with Auburn transfer Tatiana Coleman clearly not skipping a beat from last season, as she netted two goals and an assist over the opening weekend of the season. Though she didn’t really show it on opening weekend, German Lena Petermann has just as much potential and will be looking to help the UCF offense outshine their counterparts from Knoxville. Victory here could potentially set up the chance for a weekend sweep that might go down as one of the best weekends in program history.
Wake Forest vs North Texas – 6:00 PM
It might not make most people’s radars, but Wake Forest sawed through two SEC clubs like they were nothing on opening weekend. The club actually went down a goal towards the end of the first half against Kentucky, but that was about as bad as it got for the club all weekend, as they then scored six unanswered goals against their two foes. Katie Stengel had a banner few games for the Demon Deacons, with two goals and three assists to pace the offense and further her credentials as one of the nation’s top forwards. There were also promising signs from rookie Caroline Wootten, while midfielder Annick McBryar also racked up a couple assists. The defense made no mistake against Alabama, holding the Crimson Tide without a shot on goal and generally making their SEC opponents look toothless in attack. Louisville’s the bigger fish this weekend, with Wake playing the AAC side on Sunday, these are simply the types of games Wake can’t lose if they want a high national seed down the line. Next week could be brutal on the road against Washington and Portland, meaning Wake will want to keep building momentum on this penultimate weekend of non-conference play.
North Texas has long been a mystery on the biggest stages. The Mean Green have piled up winning season after winning season but have almost never ventured away from their region in non-conference play, usually content with challenging themselves with Midwestern rivals from big conferences or pounding smaller schools in the region. This is most definitely the exception to the rule and a big, big chance for the Mean Green to make a name for themselves on a bigger stage. Setting up with a weekend against Texas Southern and Houston Baptist may have been good for the W-L-T record and for confidence purposes, but the jump in opponent’s talent level could be jarring against the Demon Deacons. The defense wasn’t exactly convincing in shutting out Houston Baptist, giving up nine shots on goal, and the offense misfired a bit as well, netting just once in twenty-three shots against the Southland side. Rookie Rachel Holden netted four goals on that opening weekend, meaning she’ll probably have a target on her back against the suffocating WF defense. If she, and her teammates, can get anything out of this match, it’d be a huge boost for the program in general, as well as their slim chances at an at-large bid to the Big Dance this season.
Washington vs Baylor – 6:30 PM
The Huskies are still probably trying to get the sour taste out of their mouth after last Friday’s stunning blowout defeat to UCF. It wasn’t so much the result that raised eyebrows as much as the margin of defeat, with UW getting plastered with two goals in twenty minutes before falling to a 3-0 loss when all was said and done. Head coach Lesle Gallimore was able to celebrate win #200 a few days later when UW topped UNC Greensboro, but it was hardly the most convincing performance. Washington may have battered the Spartans with twenty-four shots but only put eight on goal (+1 off the bar). That they needed extra time to finally polish off an obviously outgunned UNCG team might be a cause for concern, especially for an offense that has been more miss than hit through two games. Kate Bennett was impressive against UNCG with four shots on goal, but the club probably needs more from senior midfielder Lindsay Elston if they’re to make a big push forward this season. The UCF defeat was a chance for a nice resume booster spurned, something the club will want to rectify here if they want to avoid more pressure going into the Wake Forest game next Friday.
There’s probably a good reason you didn’t hear much of anything about Baylor during opening weekend. Namely that the Bears didn’t play anyone with a pulse, topping regional minnows UTSA and Northwestern State, 5-0, in each contest. The schedule picks up for the next few weeks, beginning with Friday’s showdown in Seattle. The Bears took North Carolina to the brink last season in the NCAA Tournament and will be looking to keep their momentum going this year, despite some major losses throughout the team. In that sense, it might have been good for a few warm-up acts, though the Bears may find a pretty big jump in opponent quality this weekend. Highly touted rookie Ashley York did not disappoint in her first weekend of collegiate ball, scoring three times and adding an assist to the cause. It’s pretty tough to draw any conclusions about the club’s first week showing (other than that they can crush lesser teams), given the level of competition faced. There are few better at this level at getting the most out of their players than co-head coaches Marci and Paul Jobson though, meaning Baylor could yet surprise. With a flight back to Dallas and a game against SMU there on Sunday though, the Bears would do well to avoid any extra-time encounters in this one.
Boston University vs South Carolina – 7:30 PM
Welcome back to the big time South Carolina. After a painful rebuilding year that left the club scrambling to make just the SEC Tournament and saw them miss out on the NCAA Tournament, the Gamecocks reannounced their presence on the national stage with a shock upset of Duke on Sunday. After a perfunctory 2-0 win over UNC Wilmington on Friday, Carolina took advantage of a travel weary Blue Devils side, making Danielle Au’s first half goal stick for a 1-0 win. The blueprint for success so far for the Gamecocks has looked a whole lot like what has helped them be so successful so far in Shelley Smith’s tenure with the club: stifling defense and opportunistic offense. If SC can keep Duke’s vaunted offense off the board, it’s safe to say they’ll fancy their chances with anyone else in the nation. Consistency counts for much in the end though, and SC still has to show it can finish the job on the road after a winning start at home in Columbia. The next three aren’t especially imposing contests, but they are all on the road, meaning the Gamecocks will need to keep it tight at the back and take their chances to keep up their winning start. Danielle Au netted in both games last weekend and could finally be making the most of some the large potential she entered college with. With goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo usually up to the task, Carolina should have a chance against anyone. The rest of non-conference play doesn’t look especially intimidating, meaning the Gamecocks could be in fine position for the NCAA Tournament by the time SEC play starts if they can just take care of business.
Back from the purgatory of being ineligible for the America East conference tournament, Boston University got off to a reasonably promising start to the 2013 season last week. The Terriers effectively put the clamps on Dayton in a mid-major spotlight showdown, getting a goal from Jenna Fisher in the first half-hour of play and stifling the Flyers for the rest of the match in large part. That’s no easy feat considering Dayton’s litany of weapons, and BU had another pretty promising defensive performance against Boston College a few days later. They’d hold the potent Eagles attack to three shots on goal (+1 off the post). However, BU’s inability to really get going on offense would cost them here, as they couldn’t claw themselves back from a 1-0 deficit early on. It speaks to the potential problems the Terriers may find themselves up against when taking on a SC team that shut out Duke. The good news is that the Gamecock offense probably isn’t going to explode for a ton of goals, meaning as long as BU can keep things tight at the back, they should be in it right until the end. There are still potentially big opportunities for RPI boosters later in the year, but given Carolina’s success so far, few may be bigger than tonight’s chance.
Texas A&M vs Arizona State – 8:30 PM
The agitation in Aggieland has started early this year. Not, however, as a result of the club’s defeat to Duke to open up the season, but rather as a consequence of the side’s maddening inability to put away an inferior UTSA side on Sunday until the final quarter of an hour in College Station. There was no question that the Aggies were on top against the Roadrunners for much of the evening but still found themselves needing Shea Groom’s late goal to wrap up a 1-0 win. It was a bit startling considering the Aggies have made a habit of crushing smaller clubs in years past, often using the occasion to put up a flurry of goals. When you consider that A&M had one of the nation’s most potent forward lines on paper going into 2013, supporters will be anxiously anticipating a more clinical display in front of goal in the near future. The focus might be more on defense this weekend with Arizona State and Pepperdine coming to town. There was a more convincing display of that on Sunday, though the Aggies needed some great saves from Jordan Day on Friday to keep them in things with Duke. The next few weeks are in large part the meat of A&M’s non-conference schedule. Having missed out on an opportunity to log a big win for their RPI against Duke, A&M really needs to get on a big winning streak the next few weeks if they have much hope for pulling in a national seed of consequence come November.
Arizona State are no mugs though, and the Sun Devils will be eagerly anticipating a chance to claim a big scalp of their own to aid their own NCAA Tournament ambitions. ASU was in action just once on opening weekend but made the most of their single match, derailing a tricky Cal State Northridge side with a 2-0 win. The Sun Devils used a well balanced effort to shoot down the Big West side, including getting a goal from sophomore Cali Farquharson, of whom much is expected this season. The ASU defense perhaps showed the need for a bit of improvement despite the clean sheet, conceding five shots on goal, which was actually one more than the Pac-12 side finished with. Defense has been something of a sticking point in the past for the Sun Devils, and they’ll certainly need to be on their toes against an A&M side desperate to awaken the attack after last weekend’s moribund showing. ASU’s got a few more opportunities to earn RPI kudos after Friday night, but A&M also looks like the biggest fish on the docket, meaning the Sun Devils will want to make the most of the opportunity. A nervy wait last season on the bubble is something that Friday’s visitors will want to repeat any time soon, and a win here could ease those concerns significantly.