NCAA Soccer – The First XI for October 27, 2013 – (1) Virginia vs (7) Florida State

(1) Virginia vs (7) Florida State – 2:00 PM

Call it a clash of the titans. Or perhaps a potential preview of the national title game. This showdown of unbeatens also serves as a de facto ACC title match, as the Cavs will be crowned if they score a point against the Seminoles. Defeat, and the title will go down to the final day, hardly a given for UVA considering they play third placed Virginia Tech in the regular season finale. You wouldn’t bet against the Cavaliers to go to 18-0-0 though. Steve Swanson’s side has picked up steam with four straight clean sheet wins by multiple goals since their thrilling 3-2 win over Notre Dame in early October. The latest victim was a Miami (FL) side that was well out of their depth. Morgan Brian was again in the ascendency, opening the scoring with her tenth goal, the first of four goals for Virginia as they ran riot through the overmatched Hurricanes. Had it not been for Emily Lillard in the Canes’ goal, Virginia could have had much, much more. The Hurricanes were kept to just one shot on goal, another indication of UVA’s absolute dominance on the evening. Florida State are going to be a much more difficult proposition to deal with on Sunday, though the blowout win certainly afforded UVA a chance to rotate the squad and keep legs as fresh as possible. It’ll be interesting to see if the attacking trio of Makenzy Doniak, Brittany Ratcliffe and Gloria Douglas can get the best of FSU’s tremendous backline. That won’t necessarily solve the attacking problem of Brian though, who could further her case for the Hermann Trophy with a big performance on Sunday. Regardless of the result, a #1 seed looks in the bag. A league title before the last game of the season would be a nice bow on top of a dominant ACC campaign.

Florida State hasn’t captured as many of the headlines as Virginia has, likely down to those three draws, but a win here certainly gives them a chance at the ACC title considering UVA’s difficult finishing game. FSU shouldn’t overlook Notre Dame on the final day, but you’d certainly tip them at home. However, the Noles’ title bid will end if they can’t turn over the Cavs in Charlottesville on Sunday afternoon. FSU comes into this one having racked up five straight wins after their surprising draw at Clemson at the end of September. FSU certainly had the tougher time on Thursday. While Virginia was mowing down the Hurricanes, Florida State was huffing and puffing to a hard earned victory against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech may have outshot their opposition and put more shots on goal, but they didn’t have the talents of Dagny Brynjarsodttir at their disposal. While the Icelandic international’s departure for international duty is imminent, she more than made her mark in the win over the Hokies, netting the opener in the first quarter of an hour before heading home the winner with just minutes remaining from Carson Pickett’s assist. The Noles’ attacking midfield juggernaut is the side’s irreplaceable influence in the midfield, and with the frontline still struggling for consistency, Brynjarsdottir is the key to any hopes of silverware FSU may have this year. Crazily enough, she had all five shots FSU managed against the Hokies on Thursday, a pretty telling statistic about her importance to the side. Virginia Tech’s late goal marked the second time in a row FSU had conceded late on against an ACC opponent. With the margin of error likely to be very small on Sunday, FSU will need a complete ninety minutes (or more) if they want to stay alive in the ACC title race. While the center-backs should be a match for UVA’s forwards, it’ll be how the club handles Morgan Brian in midfield that determines how this one will ultimately go.

(28) Maryland vs (39) Boston College – 1:00 PM

It’s hard not to look at Boston College and not get a sinking feeling, as the Eagles have now won just one of their last five league games and dropped to .500 with their 3-1 loss at Notre Dame on Thursday. There are two league games left, and Boston College knows that dropping just one of them will mean they cannot lose a game in the ACC Tournament if they win the other to get back to .500. Wins over Duke and Wake Forest mean BC will be in the field of sixty-four if they end up on the bubble and at .500, but the latter is far form a given at this point. BC’s defensive woes continued in earnest, with the club’s midfield being turned into mincemeat by the Irish duo of Morgan Andrews and Mandy Laddish, who ran riot throughout. It was the second straight game the Eagles had shipped three goals in and the eighth time this year the club had conceded multiple goals. At least BC will be able to welcome back starting goalkeeper Alex Johnson, after Jessica Mickelson deputized last time out following Johnson’s sending off against Miami (FL). But the customary leaky defense from the Eagles is going to have to be tightened up in a hurry considering some of the weapons Maryland has at their disposal. Offensively, Stephanie McCaffrey and McKenzie Meehan were held to one combined shot on goal against Notre Dame, and it goes without saying the club needs better on Sunday if they’re to break their losing streak. While most will point at the Syracuse game next week as the must win for this club, lord only knows the amount of pressure that will descend upon the Eagles should they fall to defeat to the Terps on Sunday afternoon.

Maryland ended its three game road swing with a win at Syracuse, in what may have been a must win game for the club in their pursuit to stay at the magic .500 mark for NCAA Tournament at-large bid eligibility. That win also came after a run of one league win in four games that had pushed Maryland’s postseason ambitions to the brink going into the stretch run of the league campaign. Just one more win will guarantee the Terps finish at .500, but they’ll be wanting more than that as they try to make a late, late push towards a potential national seed. That looks like a longshot considering the club’s only real significant win is against Wake Forest, but who knows if this club catches fire in the ACC Tournament? If they qualify, which is also a big ‘if’ at this point. They certainly could use a win over Boston College, one of their rivals for a spot in the Top Eight. On Thursday, the club took a first half lead through Aubrey Baker before being struck back from the penalty spot early after the break. It wouldn’t take long for them to take the lead for good again though, as UM got goals from Hayley Brock and Kristen Schmidbauer before the seventieth minute to ease to a 3-1 win and three big points. The defense limited Syracuse to just one shot on goal not counting the penalty kick goal, a nice statement of intent ahead of Sunday’s showdown against a powerful BC attack. The likes of Brock have to be drooling at the possibility of facing the lax Eagles defense, with Maryland having scored in six straight now after previously being held without a goal in three of four league matches. As stated above, the stakes are high for both sides going into Sunday’s match. It may not be the biggest glamour tie going into the day, but it could be one of the day’s most important matches as far as the postseason is concerned.

(13) Wake Forest vs (2) North Carolina – 1:00 PM

North Carolina probably could’ve used with some cheering up after their decisive 2-0 defeat to Virginia last Sunday. It probably didn’t wash away all of the pain, but the Heels did get back on the winning track with a dominant 2-0 victory over Clemson for their seventh win in eight games. The return of Crystal Dunn to the lineup after her time with the USWNT proved to be well-timed, with the Heels’ senior playing a role on both goals, helping set up Summer Green in the first half and Kealia Ohai in the second to lead the offense to a confident showing. UNC put constant pressure on Clemson’s goal and probably would’ve had more had it not been for some great saves from Tiger keeper Kailen Sheridan. The Heels only got forty-two minutes out of Alexa Newfield off the bench, but the junior proved to be a real spark for the lineup, putting a match high four shots on goal for the club. Newfield’s minutes are going to have to be managed carefully, but it’s clear she’s a very important cog in the attack for the Heels. Almost as impressive was the defensive display, with Carolina holding the Tigers to just two shots on goal the entire match. The Heels were probably in need of a lift defensively after shipping a couple against Virginia last Sunday, and keeping a clean sheet against a motivated Clemson side certainly should help morale in Chapel Hill. UNC’s probably close to a #1 seed for the NCAA Tournament given their previous set of results, and they’ll be looking to further that case against Wake Forest on Sunday. UNC should be sizable favorites on paper, but the Heels have struggled to break down clubs at times, meaning the defense again may have to lead the way to three points.

Backs to the proverbial wall in their bid to qualify for the ACC Tournament after a torrid run of one win in six and without top offensive options Katie Stengel and Rachel Nuzzolese, Wake Forest has come out swinging with two big wins in their past two matches. They had to ride out a storm against Clemson last Sunday but were forced to endure a different kind of travail against Pittsburgh on Thursday. Wake would batter the Pittsburgh goal all night long but had to wait to just short of the hour mark to grab the lead through Taylor Waters. It’d only last ten minutes though, and Wake were forced to push again for a winner, finally breaking through as Waters assisted on two goals in the final ten minutes to give the Demon Deacons a 3-1 win that perhaps didn’t totally reflect their dominance on the day. Regardless, Ally Berry and Riley Ridgik did will to energize the attack, with Waters having a career day from the bench. It was the first time the Demon Deacons had scored multiple goals in over a month, and they’ll be hoping they can squeeze more goals out against a stingy North Carolina defense on Sunday. Despite their patchy period in league play, Wake’s still very much in the hunt for a national seed, perhaps even a top two seed if they can get a result against the Tar Heels on Sunday afternoon. That’s easier said than done, considering that this Wake team isn’t equipped to come from behind right now nor are they going to win in a high scoring affair, but their resolve and grit the past few weeks has been impressive. Now it’s just a matter of putting it all together against UNC on Sunday.

(35) Indiana vs (34) Wisconsin – 1:30 PM

One of the nation’s surprise packages, Indiana will try to continue its unlikely march towards the NCAA Tournament. The Hoosiers currently sit comfortably in the upper-half of the Big Ten and have taken some big steps towards the field of sixty-four with away wins against Michigan State and Purdue in the past week. With their only significant win over Minnesota, Indiana probably needs to get above the bubble zone to feel safe on Selection Monday, something their Big Ten form has helped them accomplish at this point. Avoiding a costly defeat at Purdue on Thursday was probably a good thing for Indiana, though it certainly looked to be in doubt after a half in which the Hoosiers’ rivals had outshot them, 13-7, and carried a 1-0 lead into the break. Whatever was said at the half worked, as the Hoosiers were ahead in every offensive category in the second half and scored two goals in the final thirty minutes to walk away with three points and another big win in their rivalry series with the Boilermakers. The Indiana attack kept humming, with Rebecca Candler netting a goal and an assist. The defense probably yielded a little more than desired, but goalkeeper Shannon Flower was on hand for ten saves to keep her side in it. She’ll have to be in top form again against the Badgers, who themselves are probably stinging after another tough loss on Thursday against Minnesota. Nebraska on the final day should provide a big chance to cement their NCAA Tournament spot. But Indiana has a pretty good chance on Sunday as well, if not to seal their Big Dance invite, then to give themselves some breathing room above the bubble while damaging a potential bubble rival in the process.

Though Wisconsin should be safe if they land on the bubble given their earlier away draw to Michigan, recent form still has to be making for some uncomfortable viewing for Paula Wilkins and co. The Badgers have faded mightily since their quick start, sinking into mid-table in the Big Ten and looking none too spectacular over the past few weeks, as they’ve lost three of four heading into the final weeks of the regular season. Dreams of a potential national seed have faded, with the Badgers now struggling to get in a position to be favored to just host a first round game in the NCAA Tournament. Last time out in Madison against Minnesota on Thursday, the Badgers threw everything but the kitchen sink at their opponents, including eleven shots on goal and thirty-two shots overall in almost a hundred ten minutes of action. Despite the likes of Rose Lavelle, Cara Walls, and Alev Kelter having plenty of opportunities, Tarah Hobbs would stymie chance after chance, with Haley Helverson grabbing the sucker punch winner for Minnesota when the clubs appeared to be heading for a draw. In many cases, the defense has been Wisconsin’s downfall, as they’ve conceded in four straight now and five in six and were hardly airtight on Thursday night despite giving up just one goal. The Badgers probably created enough chances to not get shutout, and they did score in six straight before their loss to Minnesota, but they may need to score in bunches if the defense can’t tighten up. If there’s some good news to be had, it’s the return of Alexandra Heller, who missed the Minnesota game through suspension for yellow card accumulation. While the Badgers look to be in decent shape for the NCAA Tournament, three points here would be a big morale boost if nothing else for Wilkins’ beleaguered club.

(21) Colorado vs (3) UCLA – 2:00 PM

To the relief of many, UCLA showed a bit of mortality on Friday in a draw against surprise packages Utah in Salt Lake City. While UCLA bossed play for much of the day, they also were caught cold for the opener, with Ashton Hall putting the Pac-12 favorites behind early. UCLA would hit back just five minutes later through Taylor Smith, but the Bruins found themselves being stopped by Lindsey Luke at every turn, with the Utes keeper making eight saves to ensure the match finished 1-1. Particularly surprising was the non-performance from rookie scoring machine Darian Jenkins, who put up a bagel on the stat sheet, not recording a shot in eighty-five minutes. It was probably just a blip on the radar, but it was also the second time the Bruins have been held to a low scoring draw by Pac-12 opposition. The offense has been pretty good for much of the year, but the forwards, Jenkins and Smith, are still pretty young, meaning these types of wobbles are to be expected. Still, the club kept its record of having not conceded multiple goals intact yet again. A Colorado side full of confidence is likely to provide another stern challenge on the road. The Buffs are also likely to be UCLA’s last real challenge with the three coming to Westwood to close out the season likely to be easily swept aside by Amanda Cromwell’s side. Thus, for the Bruins to make a final stamp on a potential #1 seed, three points on the road against Colorado are of vital importance.

Colorado are likely headed to the NCAA Tournament, cruising in the RPI and having gone 4-1-1 in their last six. Still, they haven’t put up a dazzling resume in terms of seed ambitions, and this is pretty much their last chance of getting that one big result that would push them towards a national seed. The Buffs certainly aren’t lacking for momentum, unbeaten in their last three and having topped USC at home on Friday, their first match in Boulder after a three game road swing. The win over the Trojans was a bruising affair, that saw CU endure twenty-two fouls from USC and saw four of the visitors booked. It was perhaps all USC could do to stop the Buffs, who bossed play and were looking like cruising to a 2-0 win before USC grabbed a late consolation. CU had nine shots on goal compared to their opponents’ two, while Anne Stuller and Olivia Pappalardo causing problems throughout, while Brie Hooks continued to round into scoring form after an extended injury layoff, netting a goal and an assist in just forty-nine minutes. Hooks’ return is a big boost for the club, with the game against USC the first time CU had scored multiple goals in five games. The defense has to keep it tight at the back though to stand a chance against UCLA. They may have been close to a clean sheet, but it still marked the third time in four games the Buffs had conceded. Shipping multiple goals against Washington State and Stanford may have also showed some vulnerability against the league’s best, but Danny Sanchez’s side will still be looking to break new ground in their push for three points at home on Sunday afternoon.

(43) Iowa vs (60) Ohio State – 2:00 PM

Going into Friday, Iowa’s NCAA Tournament hopes looked to be dead in the water for the most part. Losses to Michigan and Nebraska were a few opportunities spurned, and the club seemed to have one last chance against Penn State that seemed to be a longshot considering the form and statures of the teams involved. Going into Friday, Iowa had drawn with erratic Minnesota and lost to Wisconsin, with only the most confident Hawkeye supporter believing their side could get three points for the Nittany Lions. The Hawkeyes came out with their hair on fire though, scoring early from Katie Nasenbenny and then getting a second from Ashley Catrell after the Nittany Lions had equalized. Still, Iowa had seemingly blown it going into the half after Tani Costa had added a second for the visitors. To their credit, Iowa didn’t give in the second half, netting the winner from Cloe Lacasse with fifteen minutes to play to wrap up three points and perhaps the biggest win of Ron Rainey’s reign with the Hawkeyes. It’s got Iowa right back in the mix for an NCAA Tournament spot if they can finish up with a win or two down the stretch. With a reeling Ohio State side and Purdue left on the docket, a three match winning streak to finish out the season certainly isn’t out of the question and would all but seal the side’s spot in the Big Dance going into the conference tournament. The Hawkeyes can’t afford a letdown though. A wounded OSU side will be desperate for a result at Iowa’s expense in what might be a must win game for the visitors.

The Buckeyes come into this one teetering on the brink after just two wins in their last seven matches, with one of those victories coming over league punching bag Northwestern. Any hope that the Buckeyes would be able to translate that 6-1 win into sustained momentum would be dashed by Nebraska just five days later. Ohio State would go down a goal in the middle of the first half and struggled to get back on level terms, overrunning the Nebraska defense in a sense by outshooting them, 12-2, in the second half. But despite an overall shot advantage of 18-7, Ohio State still finished even in shots on goal, 4-4, though they also hit the woodwork twice. It underlined the brutal inconsistency of the Buckeye offense this season. The youthful attack has looked sharp and cutting at times but has also in similar stretches looked very much its age. Having missed out on opportunities against Nebraska and Penn State now, OSU’s NCAA Tournament ambitions may well depend on getting a result against heated rivals Michigan next week in the regular season finale. At the same time though, OSU is just a point ahead of ninth place in the league, meaning their Big Ten Tournament prospects are also in doubt going into Sunday. A defeat to the Hawkeyes could well mean the club’s odds of a fail safe in the Big Ten Tournament decrease dramatically. Considering the defense hasn’t shut anyone out in the last five matches, Lori Walker’s side will probably be relying on the offense to have one of its good days. They might need more than just good against an Iowa side riding on cloud nine after their stunning upset over PSU.

(10) Nebraska vs (8) Penn State – 2:00 PM

It all comes down to this for Nebraska. The Cornhuskers haven’t blinked down the stretch and can win the Big Ten title with a win and some help from Northwestern. Sealing the league title against the goliath of the conference for the past few decades would be especially sweet for a Huskers program that had seemingly been in suspended animation for years before this season. There’ve been plenty of chances for the Huskers to fall away from the title race, but other than a blip against Michigan, Nebraska’s been steady and consistent in picking up three points against league rivals. Up against an increasingly desperate Ohio State side in their last match, Nebraska got a goal from Mayme Conroy in the first half before holding shots on goal to a minimum and riding their luck with the woodwork a bit throughout. The big story though may have been goalkeeper Emma Stevens being forced off through injury in the second half. Kelly Schatz was called upon and performed admirably in making a couple of saves in the final twenty minutes. While Schatz proved to be up to the task, one wonders how Nebraska will cope if Stevens is to miss any extended length of time. Penn State is not the opponent you want a trial by fire against either. The Nebraska defense has conceded just one goal in the four games since the Michigan loss but will face its toughest test against Penn State’s electrifying offense. Shut that down, and we might well be talking about Nebraska as a contender for a top two seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Penn State have had some close shaves with losing their Big Ten title streak, but at this point, this may be the year their unthinkable streak of league crowns comes to an end. The Nittany Lions had very little in the way of margin of error after their earlier losses to Minnesota and Michigan, though most felt that Iowa on Friday was just a mere appetizer before Sunday’s main course against high-flying Nebraska. Instead, PSU was what was for dinner, the club being pounced on early and having a real off day in front of goal, creating just four shots on goal, two of those coming from Tani Costa, one from the penalty spot. Maya Hayes was kept quiet for much of the match, putting up just a single shot on goal in sixty-eight minutes, while the defense had some serious issues against a pumped up Hawkeyes side. It was hardly the most reassuring performance in goal from keeper Britt Eckerstrom either, while the overall depth of the Nittany Lions has to raise some questions, as just Costa off the bench played more than twelve minutes ahead of what’s likely to be a grueling Sunday afternoon encounter on the road. PSU’s now conceded multiple goals in seven of their seventeen games and have just one clean sheet in eleven games, which has to send alarm bells ringing against a Nebraska side with plenty of goals in them. The Huskers’ goalkeeping situation is up in the air though, something you can be sure Erica Walsh and co. have taken note of before the Sunday showdown. PSU’s best hope of a win might be to outgun the Huskers, and on most days, these Nittany Lions still have enough firepower to shoot anyone down.

(16) Florida vs (29) Texas A&M – 3:00 PM

Texas A&M’s destiny is in its own hands. Win in Gainesville, and the SEC title is theirs. Anything else, and at least part of the crown likely stays with the Gators, though it’d also open up no shortage of other weird scenarios involving South Carolina and Kentucky. The Aggies have been the form side of the SEC, losing their league opener to Tennessee but having since reeled off eight straight wins to move themselves above the bubble and into the catbird’s seat for the title. After shooting down a litany of the league’s lesser lights, A&M would be pushed to the limit by Ole Miss in a high stakes showdown on Friday in College Station. The Aggies were up against it in the first half, going into the break down a goal after Olivia Harrison put the visitors up at the half-hour mark. A&M would slowly start to turn the screws in the second half though, getting a brilliant individually effort from Bianca Brinson before running out with three points following a handball in the box, with Shea Groom scoring from the spot. A&M did about as well as could be expected against one of the league’s best offenses, while Kelley Monogue was a threat all night as one of the team’s attacking midfielders along with Groom. Typically a frontline player, Monogue (and Groom for that matter) have added an extra dimension to the Aggie attack after making the move into midfield. At any rate, A&M was pushed to the limit, basically playing with just twelve players in the rotation. That could be ominous against a Florida seed known for its depth, with A&M having to travel after Friday’s home match. If the Aggies get behind early, it could be a bad day at the office. The longer they stay in it though, the more you figure the SEC leaders have a chance to walk away with maximum points and a league title.

It hasn’t exactly been an easy ride for Florida at times in the SEC. Those times seem a long, long time ago though, as the defeats to the likes of Missouri and South Carolina certainly seem like they happened ages ago. Since that 2-1 defeat in Gainesville to the Gamecocks, UF has looked indomitable, winning five in a row and conceding zero goals in four 3-0 wins and an odd 1-0 win over Mississippi State (that should have been much, much more). Florida hasn’t shut down an offense anywhere near as good as Texas A&M’s though, and the defensive showing against Florida State earlier in the season was an indicator of some of the vulnerability the rearguard has shown against elite teams. You could probably debate whether A&M belongs in that category going forward, but it’s still going to be a massive test for the Gator defense if they want to keep their title hopes alive on Sunday. They certainly didn’t have to work as hard as A&M did for a win on Friday, as they breezed past Tennessee in Knoxville. Florida were unfortunate to be level at the break but scored through Havana Solaun from the spot early in the second half. The shots may have been even in the second frame, but Florida did more with their opportunities, with Solaun scoring directly from a corner before Savannah Jordan added a coup de grace late. Considering how much trouble Florida had had in Knoxville before this meeting, it was quite the statement. UF isn’t just playing to keep their title hopes alive, they’re jockeying for a potential national seed. Their odds will increase considerably with three points against their title rivals on Sunday.

(53) Arizona State vs (37) Washington State – 4:00 PM

Mid-table in the Pac-12 they may be, both Arizona State and Washington State are still staring into the abyss as the games count down and the pressure ramps up. The Sun Devils have hit the skids at a particularly bad time as their sinking RPI can attest to. After opening up league play with three wins in four, including a big win at Stanford, ASU has gone winless in three, including a loss to Oregon State and draw with Washington in Tempe on Friday that has the Sun Devils scrambling for traction. The Sun Devils will have been especially frustrated by their inability to come up with more than a point against the Huskies having battered the UW goal for much of the match. Twelve shots on goal and two against the bar but none in the goal made for another maddening night for ASU when all was said and done. Devin Marshall ran riot with eleven shots and four shots on goal, but the club just couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net, thanks in large part to a dazzling display from UW keeper Megan Kufeld. ASU’s offense, so deadly on paper, has sputtered somewhat unexplainably in the league, with just four goals in seven league games thus far and zero in the past three. The defense has kept the Sun Devils in games, but as shipping three to UCLA shows, it’s not perfect by any means. Considering the offense’s recent struggles, that defense will have to look to shut down Micaela Castain and co. if the attack has another off day. With Marshall and Cali Farquharson in the lineup though, you get the feeling a big offensive display has to come sooner rather than later. Right?

Washington State’s form has been really erratic over the past few weeks. The 4-3 defeat to Utah was probably nauseating enough for WSU fans, with the club clawing back from a 3-0 deficit, only to fall in extra time. The defeat to Oregon State that followed was the real killer though, as the Cougars’ RPI was sent in a tailspin with the defeat to one of the league’s real RPI anchors. A response was needed against Arizona on Friday if WSU wasn’t to sink further in the mire, and to their credit, the Pullman side responded. 4-0 did not flatter the Cougars, as they steamrolled a fading Arizona side. Cara Wegner’s early goal set the tone, and Nicole Setterlund’s double in the second half set WSU well on their way to a dominant win that saw them put thirteen efforts on frame and conceding just four shots on goal in turn, with three of those coming in the second half when it was apparent it was going to be a rout. It was a lot more like the side that had flattened Colorado earlier in the league season and a lot less like the side that lost to Oregon State and drew with Oregon. WSU has scored multiple goals in four of five with the likes of Castain leading the charge. The defense has helped up pretty well all season also, keeping eleven clean sheets in sixteen matches, though they have been vulnerable to the occasional defensive clunkier as the Utah loss shows. Fireworks should be the order of the day on Sunday though. Both of these sides are desperate for three points, and both have the firepower to make this clash one of the day’s most entertaining.

(44) Texas Tech vs (19) West Virginia – 7:00 PM

It might come down to a one game season for Texas Tech, whose atypically odd profile has seen them not face a single opponent ranked in the uRPI Top 50 going into Sunday’s action. Part of that might be down to some bad fortune with the likes of Long Beach State having a down season, while Arizona State was once in the Top 50. The Red Raiders haven’t been helped by the generally dismal Big XII this season, though they’ve also contributed to their own bubble misery by scheduling the likes of Colorado State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. To their credit, TTU’s generally done what’s been expected of them, with their lone loss coming to Long Beach State in a miraculous come from behind effort late by the Big West club. But draws against Oklahoma State and Baylor have eaten up TTU’s cushion, and with no significant results to their name, the Red Raiders really need to get a result against West Virginia to avoid a stressful Big XII Tournament. Friday was probably stressful enough, as the Red Raiders endured a closer match than they would have liked against league strugglers Kansas, scoring early through Janine Beckie but finding themselves unable to pull away from the Jayhawks, having to settle a 1-0 win. At this point, pragmatism is probably more important than aesthetics, and getting the three points any way they can has to be paramount for Tom Stone’s side. West Virginia’s the best side TTU’s faced all season, and the Red Raiders are still a bit of a mystery despite it being the end of October. A win on Sunday night, and Stone’s side might come back towards the front of the national consciousness at a pretty opportune time.

West Virginia might struggle for motivation a bit in this one. The Mountaineers already wrapped up the league title against Oklahoma on Friday and are safely in the field for the NCAA Tournament. Nikki Izzo-Brown’s side have now won nine in a row and will be looking for a perfect league season by downing the Red Raiders on Sunday night. The real motivation might be national seeding, with the Mountaineers’ long winning streak finally beginning to get them in the conversation, though hopping up to the top few lines looks like a longshot at best, even if WVU runs the table down the stretch. WVU wouldn’t have that chance had they not overcome an Oklahoma side that proved to be very stubborn, scoring first and forcing the Mountaineers to net an equalizer from Frances Silva with ten minutes left in regulation. WVU would then win it through Kate Schwindel in extra time, but you have to wonder how much the effort took out of the league champs. They played just one player, Annalika Steyn, off the bench, and that was for just five minutes. Against a very tough opponent on Sunday night, a war of attrition could prove to be WVU’s undoing. But the Mountaineers still possess the league’s deadliest scoring duo in Silva and Schwindel, with Kadeisha Buchanan running the show in defense despite her youth. There’s no question WVU would like to keep their perfect league season intact, but given how the club flamed out in the postseason last year, it’d hardly be a shock for some squad rotation through this one either.

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