NCAA Soccer – The First XI for September 30, 2011

Kate Schwindel

West Virginia's Kate Schwindel Will Aim to Keep the Mountaineers Ahead of The Big East Pack on Friday

(31) Georgetown vs (25) West Virginia – 3:00 PM EST [Last Year: West Virginia 3 – 0 Georgetown]

Georgetown’s certainly been all over the map this year. The Hoyas have gone from losing to William & Mary and Seton Hall to firing off three straight wins in Big East action to revive both their Big East title and NCAA Tournament at-large bid hopes. Georgetown may have logged their most important win of the year after that loss to Seton Hall, downing Rutgers back in Washington D.C. decisively two days later. Two wins on the road last weekend has the Hoyas back in the title hunt, and Georgetown could find themselves in a great position with a win against West Virginia. The Mountaineers, like last year, started out slowly, only to start heating up over the mont of September. Nikki Izzo-Brown’s team has reeled off six wins in a row to climb to the top of the Big East table, including a statement win over Marquette a few weeks ago. Georgetown’s the toughest team by a long way left on West Virginia’s schedule, meaning a win on Friday afternoon could put the Mountaineers on a clear path to the Big East title. Victory over Georgetown would also be a big boost to WVU as they seek to climb the ladder towards a national seed in November as well.

(70) Nebraska vs (53) Michigan State – 5:30 PM EST

Marlborough! Heyboer! Jackson! Stander! Need I say more?

OK, if all that offensive firepower wasn’t enough, this has the potential to be a critical battle in the fight for an at-large bid for both of those teams. Nebraska looked to be doing fine going into last Sunday after two straight hat tricks from Morgan Marlborough to lead Nebraska to two straight wins. And then the Huskers were hit with the dreaded “bad loss” to Indiana that put a severe dent in their RPI. With their next three at home, Nebraska has to start putting together some wins over their new conferencemates if they want to be dancing come November. Michigan State are basically where they have been on a seemingly annual basis: on the fringe of the bubble discussion. The Spartans don’t have any bad losses, but MSU also doesn’t have a quality win to speak of, though the pounding of Minnesota probably helps their cause a little bit. They need more though, and that starts this weekend with two big opportunities against Nebraska on Friday and then Iowa on the road again on Sunday.

(37) Kansas vs (63) Texas – 6:00 PM EST [Last Year: Kansas 1 – 0 Texas]

It may well be Last Chance Saloon for these two’s NCAA Tournament hopes in Lawrence on Friday evening as two reeling teams try to right the ship before it’s too late. Kansas look like the typical poor defending Big XII team, but have taken it to new extremes the past few weeks, shipping seven to Florida and five to Oklahoma State. At least the Jayhawks have been responding in kind with an energetic offense that hasn’t been shut out once this year. Kansas has been notably vulnerable to elite teams, of which Texas is most definitely not. The Horns slumped to a 1-0 defeat against Baylor in their league opener before topping Iowa State last Sunday. Even with that bit of damage control done, the Horns’ RPI is lagging behind their Big XII rivals at the moment. Though the Horns haven’t been consistent in the least over the past few weeks, trading wins and losses, they still have some potent offensive weapons like Taylor Knaack and Kylie Doniak. That should be enough to ensure the Horns have more than a decent shot of winning this one on the road. Texas’ defense has to beware though. Kansas may find a defense that hasn’t kept a clean sheet in four matches the perfect tonic to their struggling ways.

(52) South Carolina vs (12) Kentucky – 6:00 PM EST [Last Year: Kentucky 1 – 5 South Carolina]

A young Kentucky team was given a harsh lesson in SEC efficiency last season as South Carolina took advantage of a second half meltdown to emerge as decisive winners in Lexington in 2010. It was much closer in the SEC Tournament a few months later, and fans at The Graveyard can probably expect more of the same on Friday evening. Except this time, South Carolina are the ones desperate for the win as their RPI continues to sit below that of their SEC rivals. The Gamecocks got a split on the road last season, getting themselves back in the bubble picture with an extra time win against Tennessee on Friday night but paid the price after exerting a ton of energy in Knoxville, running out of gas and losing in extra time to Georgia on Sunday. Kentucky also had a very contrasting split on the road last week, getting pummeled by Auburn on Friday night before dishing out some punishment of their own against Alabama a few days later. Kentucky will be desperate for the points with a trip to Gainesville in the cards on Sunday. South Carolina will just be desperate for everything they can get, knowing they need every win they can get in SEC play to stand a chance of being one of the teams called out on Selection Monday.

(64) Washington State vs (8) Stanford – 6:00 PM EST [Last Year: Stanford 5 – 0 Washington State]

As Stanford’s regular season unbeaten streak continues to reach obscene proportions, it’s easy to forget that one of their closest calls came in 2009 on the Palouse against this very Washington State team. On that day, Washington State led the Card, 1-0, heading into the eighty-seventh minute, only to see Christen Press equalize, followed by Kelley O’Hara winning it for the visitors in extra time. Last season’s encounter wasn’t quite as dramatic, and Washington State will be hoping to erase the memories of that 5-0 loss with Friday’s performance. Wazzu’s been having a much better season this year but really needs a marquee win to feel good about their at-large chances. Obviously, topping Stanford would be just fine for those purposes. That’s going to be a hell of an ask though considering this Stanford team has been slicing through everyone in its path as of late. The only teams to get within a goal of the unbeaten Stanford team have been Maryland in the scoreless draw in the second week of the season and Notre Dame, who were of course felled in that stirring come from behind win in Palo Alto. Pullman’s never an easy place to play at though, and Stanford can’t take a motivated Washington State team lightly.

(33) Notre Dame vs (56) UConn – 7:30 PM EST [Last Year: UConn 1 – 1 Notre Dame]

The meeting between these two teams in last year’s Big East Tournament has been discussed to death, but it looks like this year’s regular season showdown could end up being almost as important in the grand scheme of things this year for both teams. Notre Dame currently sits at a game under .500 and still has matches against Rutgers and Georgetown on the slate. The Irish’s RPI is hardly anything to brag about either, and Notre Dame’s hopes for a national seed are fading fast after a run that has seen them win just one of their last six. Notre Dame will be desperately hoping that Courtney Barg is back from injury after the senior’s missed multiple matches recently. UConn’s not exactly doing much better at the moment. The Huskies are at .500 after winning just one of their last five and are also finding their status as NCAA Tournament at-large bid hopefuls in peril as well. UConn’s been infamous for their inconsistency in recent years and have been all over the place this season as well. The visitors have only one win in four Big East matches thus far, meaning their presence in the Big East Tournament isn’t even guaranteed at this point. UConn also has matches against Marquette and West Virginia still on the slate, meaning the Huskies certainly don’t have an easy road ahead of them. Anything they can get in South Bend against an increasingly desperate Notre Dame team would help them out immensely.

(35) Baylor vs (65) Texas Tech – 8:00 PM EST [Last Year: Baylor 1 – 0 Texas Tech]

Marci Jobson’s Baylor side probably hasn’t been this relevant in the pursuit of an at-large bid for quite some time. After putting in a decent challenge last year, Jobson’s side is looking to take the final step this season and are in pretty decent shape heading into the meat of the Big XII schedule. The Bears shocked Texas in Austin after falling to Texas A&M a week earlier, a win that could be a big ace in the hole for Baylor if they’re on the bubble with Texas in November. That’s going to take a few more wins in Big XII play though. The Bears could go some way in improving their standing even more if they can deal Texas Tech’s at-large hopes a major blow in Waco. The Red Raiders have been flirting with falling out of the bubble picture for almost the entire season with losses to the likes of Ole Miss and Hofstra, coupled with an unfathomable draw with Arizona that should have put their hopes six feet under. But the early win over Rice is holding up nicely, and wins over Arizona State and then Missouri last weekend are keeping Tom Stone’s side above water for the moment. They’re going to need a lot of Big XII wins to give themselves a shot though. Robbing Baylor of some of their momentum on the road on Friday would be a good start for the Red Raiders, though a weekend sweep of Tech and Oklahoma would work even better.

(34) LSU vs (23) Tennessee – 8:00 PM EST [Last Year: Tennessee 1 – 1 LSU]

Talk about stepping back from the abyss. LSU was staring right into it after three losses in four to open up the new season. Forced into five matches on the road as their stadium’s renovations were completed, the road weary Tigers battled to a 2-3-0 mark before getting back to Baton Rouge for an eight match homestand. LSU’s clearly shaken off those early season woes, now unbeaten in seven with four wins in a row. After a draw with WCC high flyers Pepperdine, LSU opened up league play with two high scoring wins against the Mississippi schools. With the Tigers’ RPI beginning to climb, they’ve got yet another important weekend ahead of them as they have two more matches at home before finishing up with six of their last seven on the road. Tennessee faced a little bit of a battle of their own last week after losing to South Carolina in extra time. With the Lady Vols’ RPI beginning to sink, UT made a massive statement as Alexis Owens went nuclear with a hat trick in a 4-2 upset win over Florida. With momentum restored in Knoxville, Angela Kelly’s side will want to keep things rolling along on the road. Tennessee’s RPI is a lot more solid with the win over the Gators in the books, but they also know that defeat on the road to the Tigers would likely see them sink below the home side in the rankings once more.

(51) Washington vs (17) Cal – 10:00 PM EST [Last Year: Cal 3 – 2 Washington]

Cal comes into this one in the unenviable position of having to regroup and refocus after the traumatic loss of explosive scorer Katie Benz to a broken leg against Santa Clara last Sunday. The Golden Bears aren’t totally absent of offensive talent though, and they’re probably going to need it to beat Washington’s goalkeeper supremo, Jorde Lafontaine-Kussmann. The Washington keeper has been in splendid form for much of 2011 and will be looking for another brilliant performance after stifling Portland earlier in the season. Washington’s defense has to do much, much better though as Pac-12 play hits its stride. The Huskies have kept ZERO clean sheets through ten matches of the season which is a big worry considering some of the offenses they’re going to be coming up against. Washington’s offense wasn’t exactly humming against UCLA last weekend either as they were essentially completely shut down by the Bruins. Washington needs to pick up some wins in league play though as they sit on the outer edge of the bubble with little in the way of quality wins to tout. Cal will also be full of motivation as they try to show they’re worthy of a national seed with Benz out for the season. These two haven’t played a match against each other decided by multiple goals since 2006, meaning we’re likely headed for another thriller in Seattle on Friday night.

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