Duke vs Virginia – 7:00 PM
With nine matches left before the postseason, there’s likely a palpable tension in Durham as Duke sits on a record of 4-4-2 and have just one win in four ACC matches. Besides potentially running afoul of the .500 requirement for at-large bids, while also increasingly looking like being in a fight just to make it into the ACC Tournament, a result that would’ve been unthinkable at the beginning of the season. The Blue Devils might have hit a low point last Sunday when they were up 2-0 on the road against Syracuse but promptly coughed up the lead after the break, being pegged back for two goals within the first twenty minutes of the second half. It kept up the disturbing trend of Duke’s defense not being near good enough in the league, as after shutting out Miami (FL) in the opener, the club has promptly given up seven goals in their last three league games. The offense has proven somewhat capable, not being shutout since the loss to South Carolina, with Laura Weinberg and Kim DeCesare starring against Syracuse, but the club still hasn’t had that explosive performance that would set most minds at ease. The focus going into this one has to be on defense though. Puzzlingly, the club bright Mollie Pathman off the bench against the Orange on Sunday, though she did play for eighty-one minutes. You’d have to think the senior will be on the starting backline against Thursday’s opponent, but in reality, this is a Duke club that only used two reserves for more than ten minutes last time out, so you wonder how much faith in the bench head coach Robbie Church has. A result against Virginia, even a draw, would solve more than a few problems, but three points would cause Durham to exhale. Defeat would only ramp up the pressure going into a stretch of four straight games against potential mid-table rivals that carries the club through the middle of October.
The lone side with a 100% record going into Week Six of the season, Virginia might well be looking for some revenge on a Duke side that ended their season in the Sweet Sixteen last season. The Cavs probably had a few more speedbumps than they would have liked last week, with the club going behind to both Boston College and Pittsburgh on the road, before battling back for victory. UVA also, it has to be said, was on the road for the first time all season last week, and you have to wonder if there’s the slightest shred of vulnerability away from the comfy confines of Klockner in Charlottesville. The good news is that after Thursday, six of the club’s last nine are back at home, but first, there’s a tricky trip to a desperate Duke side. Virginia went down early against Pittsburgh in a shocking turn of events, but the Cavs didn’t waste a lot of time in making their pressure count, with Morgan Brian netting an equalizer. The red hot Makenzy Doniak had an absolute stormer, with two goals and six shots on goal and looks to be rounding into a top class forward for the club. There was also some interesting lineup shuffling for UVA. Danielle DeLisle started in goal in place of Morgan Stearns, while usual super sub Brittany Ratcliffe got a start, while the excellent Danielle Colaprico took up a reserve role. It remains to be seen if its squad rotation from Steve Swanson or a more permanent pattern, but it certainly bears watching as we get into the heart of ACC season. UVA will be favored up to the showdown against Notre Dame in a few weeks, and collecting wins until then will be crucial in firming up their position as a favorite for a #1 seed come November.
Boston College vs Wake Forest – 7:00 PM
Read what I wrote about Duke above? Well, it goes for Boston College too, even if expectations weren’t as high coming into the season for the Eagles thanks to graduation losses. The Eagles made a winning start to the ACC season with a 3-0 drubbing of Pittsburgh but have since slumped to three straight one-goal defeats, with two of those coming at home last weekend to the Virginia schools. Worryingly for the club, the offense has dried up after showing signs of explosiveness a few games before. The team has netted just two in the past three, which is a big problem since defense has never been this program’s calling card. Despite those defensive worries, the club still managed to hold Virginia Tech to just three shots on goal, one of those being the third minute penalty kick that ended up being the match winner. BC didn’t do much offensively themselves, with the Eagles just taking three on-target shots themselves. Particularly worrying was the fact that Stephanie McCaffrey had zero shots period. Considering McCaffrey’s importance to the offense, the club can’t afford too many more 0-fers from their offensive talisman. There’s intrigue in goal as well, with Alex Johnson coming in for the start in place of veteran Jessica Mickelson, who’s handled much of the work this season in goal. Changes or no, BC’s a game under .500 with the likes of Florida State, North Carolina, and Notre Dame still to come. The wins have got to come from somewhere if the team is to be eligible for an at-large bid, but Thursday’s opponents aren’t going to be easy to turn over in the least.
Wake Forest are still smarting after a defeat of their own in the club’s fourth league game to Maryland on the road. Wake had come into last Sunday flying after a 2-0-1 start to the league season had affirmed their credentials as a potential title contender. An atypical defensive mistake proved very costly against the Terps though, as a turnover led to a through ball for Hayley Brock, who made no mistake. Maryland would be held to just one more shot on target for the rest of the match, but Wake Forest would be denied all day despite putting a lot of pressure on the Terps’ goal. Katie Stengel had the rare day without a shot on goal, despite leading all players in all shots overall with four. Riley Ridgik and the much improved Annick McBryar tried to pick up some of the slack, but they aren’t Stengel, with the Demon Deacons really needing their scoring talisman to exert her influence on the match. Wake really can’t afford any early game letdowns on the road against a desperate side like Boston College, especially one with the potential to score a lot of goals when on top form. Wake’s in the middle of a brutal stretch of six of seven on the road, but they’re still in the mix for a league title and a #1 seed. Their margin of error is slipping though, and a loss to BC could be devastating for their hopes for both.
Notre Dame vs Maryland – 7:00 PM
Now in a position of strength in the ACC table, Notre Dame will look to continue to keep the momentum with two more home games this weekend before a potentially critical game against Wake Forest. The Irish come into this one on the back of a four match win streak, as the club has responded in fine style after a tame defeat to UCLA towards the end of non-conference play. For an encore after the club’s battling 1-0 win over North Carolina, the Irish hosted Syracuse and had some trouble busting through a stubborn Orange side, with the match looking like heading for extra time at 0-0. Sammy Scofield would give the club a heart stopping win three seconds from the end of normal time after heading in Brittany Von Rueden’s free kick. It was likely a big relief for the Irish after they had seen the trio of Mandy Laddish, Lauren Bohaboy, and Crystal Thomas held to just one combined shot on goal. UND showed that they’re a dangerous squad on set pieces though, just one more weapon in a big arsenal of them. The defense, which has conceded just once in the past four games and hasn’t conceded more than one goal in a game this year, will be in the spotlight again on Thursday night, as the team tries to silence a potent Maryland attack. The matchup between dominating center-back Katie Naughton and jet-heeled forward Hayley Brock in particular could be one of the best of the weekend. Maryland’s been up and down in the league thus far, but as they showed against Wake Forest, they’re capable of beating anyone on their day, which means Notre Dame will have to be at their best to emerge with three more points.
The Terps had to be relieved a bit to get the aforementioned win over Wake Forest last Sunday. The club had come into the game on the back of a stretch of one win in four, and even that had been in extra time. Maryland had looked like a club that was taking up the role of flat-track bully, as they had dominated overmatched foes at home but were buckling under the strain of bigger sides. All it takes is one result, and in Maryland’s case, one goal, to change perceptions, and the Terps got an early Hayley Brock goal off a turnover to help propel them to a crucial 1-0 win over the Demon Deacons. The club didn’t exactly stonewall Wake Forest, but they did well enough to hold them off the board. The Terps’ lagging RPI bounced back in a big way with the win, but they definitely don’t want to stop there, as Notre Dame, Virginia, and North Carolina in the coming weeks all provide opportunities for the Terps to make their case for a national seed. While the club’s bubble worries seem to be in the shade, they still need to rack up some wins to solidify that positioning for a national seed. This weekend will truly test Maryland’s contender credentials. Even one win could establish the Terps as more than mid-table fodder capable of the odd upset over a big gun if they’re on form. Get results from both matches, and Maryland may well be right back in the mix for an unlikely league title.
Syracuse vs Clemson – 7:00 PM
Syracuse and Clemson have essentially played their way back into relevance in the ACC after bouncing back from some adverse results over the past week. They’ll meet on Thursday, with the winner right back into the mix for a spot in the ACC Tournament. Syracuse are definitely under more pressure coming into this one though, as technically, they still haven’t won a match in the ACC, though their draw against Duke last time out opened some eyes. The Orange looked to be going nowhere again after taking a 2-0 deficit into the half but came out like lions and pulled both goals back by the sixty-fourth minute. The club seemed to run out of gas a bit in extra time, but it was still a great fightback and a valuable point earned. Erin Simon was kept in check for much of the day but still assisted on the equalizer, while New Zealand youth international continued to deliver the goods for her side, being the catalyst for the comeback with the club’s first goal. On paper, Cuse has a great chance of picking up three points on Thursday before a very tough game on Sunday against Wake Forest. A game under .500 with nine to play, you’d have to think this is close to a must win if the club wants to get to .500 at season’s end when you look at some of the teams the club still has to play. The defense has to get much better though, as the Orange haven’t kept a clean sheet in six straight.
The less said about Clemson’s 14-0 win over Alabama A&M the better, but it did make for three wins in a row and four in five for the surging Tigers. All of those have come at home though, and Clemson is going to be looking for its first away win of the season when it travels to Syracuse on Thursday. Last time out, Clemson won its second straight ACC game for the first time in well over half a decade, dominating Pittsburgh in every category on the stat sheet. It’s easy to envision Clemson actually being 3-0-0 in the league, as they were also perilously close to beating Maryland before falling to the Terps in extra time. The offense was diverse and dangerous against Pittsburgh, with Tabitha Padgett’s deadly crosses finding Paige Reckert and Tori Andreski, who both scored their first goals of the season. There’s been a lot of scoring by committee for Clemson, but the leaders thus far have been Vanessa Laxgang, who’s been consistently excellent for years here, as well as Catrina Atanda, who has been opportunistic with four goals in just five shots on goal but who also didn’t play against Alabama A&M. Clemson’s at-large bid hopes are very much alive at this point, but this is the type of game they really need to win considering they’re still likely to take some knocks against the big guns later in the year.
BYU vs Denver – 9:00 PM
The cracks may be beginning to show for BYU, who are now in the middle of a run of one win in four that has seen their RPI begin to sag and raise fears that the Cougars may end up in another bubble battle this season. The Provo club began the year on fire and netted a series of wins over the likes of Nebraska that should help it towards an at-large bid, but hopes of a national seed seem to have faded after their latest stretch, which has seen them shutout in three of four games. It was actually close to being four-in-four, but the club rallied for three goals late to shock Oklahoma, 3-2. Those hoping that that win was going to be the catalyst for a revival must have been sorely disappointed when the club fell at the hands of Long Beach State on the road just a few days later. The club went down early to a Mimi Rangel free kick and never really got going, putting just three shots on goal in the defeat. Head coach Jennifer Rockwood seems to be struggling to find the right combination up top absent the departed Carlee Payne Holmoe and Jessica Ringwood, with the loss of Michele Murphy to a season ending injury also taking its toll on the club’s attack. The defense has probably held up better than expected, even if they have conceded in their last three, but until the offense gets firing again, it looks like a hard road forward. The next two matches against Denver and Baylor are critical for the club’s lingering hopes for a national seed. Fail to get a result, and the team might need to win a lot of games in the WCC to get seeded.
Denver doesn’t appear to be in the best form at the moment either. The Pioneers came into last weekend flying on the back of seven straight wins to open up the season but promptly lost their 100% record in a draw to TCU before losing their unbeaten streak against Nebraska two days later. Considering the Pioneers’ RPI is about to take a serious nose dive next week once league play begins, they’re in desperate need of some victories this weekend to mitigate some of the pending damage. Wins over Colorado College, UC irvine, and Colorado should help their cause for an at-large bid, but it’s not hard to believe that this might be a must win for national seed purposes. The defense disappointed last weekend, as after conceding just two in the past six games and having kept five clean sheets in that span, the Pioneers shipped three. Beyond just the goals though, the team gave up eleven shots on goal to TCU and seven to Nebraska, worrying signs against a club like BYU, even with the Cougars’ scoring struggles recently. Offensively, Denver’s been a bit reserved as well, as besides Kristen Hamilton’s goal against Nebraska, the duo of her and Nicholette DiGiacomo didn’t really get firing on the road last week. BYU’s young defense could offer a chance at least to get back on track, but nothing figures to come easy on the road in Provo. This one’s got plenty on the line, and the high stakes showdown should be one of the weekend’s most entertaining matches.