1:00 PM – (2) North Carolina vs (3) South Carolina
Credit to South Carolina for battling against adversity. With Sabrina D’Angelo limited to deep rotation field player duty due to an arm injury, the Gamecocks put their faith in rookie Abbey Crider, and the stand-in for the All-American more than repaid that trust with a solid display in goal before a confident showing in between the pipes for the shootout against Seattle. But Crider and South Carolina figure to be in deep against North Carolina on Sunday, especially with center-back Taylor Leach banned after being sent off late in Friday’s match. Perhaps just as worrying is the club’s stagnant offense, without a goal in three matches. Odds are, they’ll need at least one against the Tar Heels.
UNC bossed their match against Colorado, with the defense keeping Buffs chances to a minimum through regulation and the first few minutes of extra time. The big problem though was with the offense, which showed a startling lack of cutting edge against their Pac-12 opponents. Summer Green continues to misfire, with five off-target shots for the club. The only starting forward with a shot on goal was Amber Muerlyn, who put two of the club’s seven on-target shots up. In the end, North Carolina’s depth won out, with the unheralded Maya Worth putting back a deflected header in extra time. UNC’s defense is keeping them in every game, but better finishing is a must if Carolina wants to be still playing in a few weeks.
CB – Andie Romness (SC) vs CF – Emily Bruder (UNC)
South Carolina’s hopes of an upset diminished considerably late in Friday’s match against Seattle when Taylor Leach was shown her second yellow card and sent off. Considering that the Gamecocks are almost certain to be without Sabrina D’Angelo in goal again, losing the club’s leader of the backline is another huge blow to the SEC side’s defensive setup. There’s no telling who Carolina will stick back on the backline considering they used the same eleven players for virtually the entire season, meaning the absolute the can be counted on is Andie Romness becoming the new leader at center-back. Her veteran presence will be more important than ever in organizing the backline against UNC’s frontrunners, but her biggest challenge may be against the Heels’ bull in a china shop, Emily Bruder. The physical clashes between Bruder and the SC backline will undoubtedly set a tone for this Sweet Sixteen clash, and if she can run riot, the SEC side will be in for a long day.
GK – Abbey Crider (SC) vs Rookie Mistakes
The second round of the NCAA Tournament isn’t exactly the most ideal time to make your first start at the collegiate level, but an injury to Sabrina D’Angelo forced Crider into just that situation on Friday. All things considered, Crider held up well enough under pressure and did just enough in the shootout against the Redhawks to carry SC into the Sweet Sixteen. I suspect D’Angelo won’t be back healthy enough to start less than forty-eight hours after Friday’s match, which means Crider is likely to be called into duty again. Not having Leach in front of her directing traffic is going to add more pressure on the rookie, even though SC has been strong defensively through the whole lineup. Crider’s probably going to have to come up big for the Gamecocks to advance, but she certainly didn’t buckle under the pressure in her first start.
CF – Savannah McCaskill (SC) vs CB – Jessie Scarpa (UNC)
Well, considering South Carolina has scored a grand total of zero goals in two hundred twenty minutes of NCAA Tournament action thus far, it doesn’t seem fair to single out just one attacker to focus on considering the entire team has been anemic going forward. But McCaskill is by far the most promising player offensively for the Gamecocks, even if it’s just in terms of getting the rest of her teammates involved in the club’s offense. It doesn’t seem too likely that UNC will be spending too much time in the 4-2-3-1 given SC’s toothless attack, so that likely means the ACC side will leave the center-back duties to Jessie Scarpa, with Katie Bowen and Satara Murray flanking her. Scarpa’s gained strength as the season’s gone on as she’s shaken off injuries, the rookie turning into one of the club’s most promising young players. Helping shut down the Gamecocks’ top offensive weapon would be another feather in her burgeoning cap.