Colorado vs Stanford – 3:00 PM
Colorado’s mettle figures to get a true test on Saturday afternoon in Boulder as the Buffs host Stanford in the Pac-12 opener. It’s safe to say that CU did not really rise to their last big challenge, losing emphatically in the derby with Denver, 3-0. It’s a result that didn’t submarine their RPI but probably did bring them back to Earth after such a blazing start to the season. It was back to business last weekend though, as Colorado had little trouble dispatching Stony Brook and UNLV in Boulder, putting them on eight wins for the season and leaving them in fairly good shape heading into the league season. The familiar scoring duo of Brie Hooks and Anne Stuller were on target on Friday before turning provider, with an assist each against UNLV on Sunday, with Darcy Jerman netting her first two of the season in a 3-1 win. Hooks and Stuller have the potential to cause a lot of problems for many a Pac-12 defense this season, and they might have to be on song again in this one, as the defense has wobbled a bit as of late, conceding five in the past four games, while keeping just a single clean sheet in that span. The defensive performance against Denver, a team with an offense that is good but not at Stanford’s level, is a definite indicator of potential problems the club might have in slowing the Card’s attack. The reward for an upset would be huge though and would likely punch CU’s NCAA Tournament ticket.
Stanford comes into this one trying to defend its unbelievable forty-two match conference winning streak, the third longest in NCAA history, while also looking to kick off its bid for a fifth straight league title in style. Last weekend was eventful to say the least for the Card. The college soccer world was rocked by the announcement that Emily Oliver was retiring after a series of concussions, with the goalkeeper getting a heartfelt send off before the game at Saint Mary’s (CA), a 5-0 thumping. Stanford looked to be getting off to a great start when Courtney Verloo scored in the second minute before the tide turned, and Santa Clara struck back twice to take the lead into the final minute of play. But these Card never go down without a fight, and they shocked their hosts with a goal from the penalty spot and then Verloo’s third of the game off a free kick with a few minutes remaining in extra time. While there was some serious contention as to the foul that led up to that winning free kick, there was no denying Verloo’s brilliance, as the senior looks to be growing into a role as offensive leader. She had great help from Taylor Uhl, who had four shots on goal in the SCU match to give the club a dangerous one-two punch. Paul Ratcliffe did end up going with a very short bench, using just rookie Ryan Walker-Hartshorn in major minutes as a reserver. It’s not going to hurt the club this week, with just one game on the docket, but how Stanford manages their bench in the meat of Pac-12 play could be crucial. As for Saturday, the Card will be happy to get out of Boulder with another win, but the Buffs took them to the limit last year and will be looking to go one step better here.
James Madison vs William & Mary – 7:00 PM
Call it a potential elimination game as far as at-large bid hopes are concerned. It’s looking to be a wretched season for mid-major clubs looking to break through, and these two CAA sides look life just a few of the ones with a realistic chance of making the Big Dance if they fluff their lines in the CAA Tournament. The visitors probably have the better shot at it with a key neutral site draw against Rutgers on their docket. The Tribe are actually on a seven match unbeaten run since losing on opening day to Georgetown…it’s just that four of those results are draws. The effect hasn’t been fatal for the club’s at-large hopes, but it has put the pressure on W&M to start picking up wins in CAA play. Last time out, the club looked to be very much second best against Princeton, being outshot 24-7 and 7-2 in shots on goal but were able to scrape out a draw with Nicole Baxter’s free kick goal early on canceling out Gabrielle Ragazzo’s late goal. The defense has leaked a little but hasn’t been awful on the whole, but it’s still the offense that makes things tick over here, with Emory Camper the focal point up top. Four goals is good enough for the team lead, though nobody else has more than one goal, which could be a problem both immediately and over the course of the rest of the season. You have to think the Tribe have to won almost all their games left in the regular season to be in the bubble mix. You might be able to scratch the ‘almost’ from that if they lose on Saturday night.
Opponents James Madison began the season in spotty form, alternating wins and losses for the first few weeks of the season but have now won five straight, though the level of competition has been a bit spotty during that winning streak. The Dukes’ at-large hopes are actually probably reliant on Saturday’s opponents having a dominant league season, as there’s very little on JMU’s profile right now that would point to the club standing up to bubble scrutiny. That’s a shame, as the club has made it rain goals. In both directions, to the Dukes’ chagrin. The defense had not kept a clean sheet in seven games before a three game shutout streak in mid-September. The home side will obviously be hoping that the improved defensive form continues into league action, because just a little improvement could have the club dancing in November. The offense has only been shutout by Tennessee and has scored multiple goals in five straight and six of seven. The duo of Katie Hyland and Ashley Herndon have made things tick for JMU thus far, combining for seven goals while each netting a pair of game winners for the Dukes. Herndon came into the club with a ton of hype and has certainly lived up to expectations thus far in a strong rookie season. JMU will be hoping for more from their rookie on Saturday as they try and take a firm grip on the role of CAA title favorites by topping title rivals William & Mary.