NCAA Soccer – The First XI for October 28, 2011 – Santa Clara vs Pepperdine

Julie Johnston

Heart & Soul - Santa Clara's Julie Johnston Will Lead By Example Again Versus Pepperdine

(17) Santa Clara vs (10) Pepperdine – 8:00 PM EST [Last Year: Pepperdine 3 – 2 Santa Clara]

It’s the WCC match of the season, and for once, it doesn’t involve a certain team from the Pacific Northwest. Instead, the upstarts from Malibu will try to take a massive step towards claiming the WCC title by upending Santa Clara on Friday evening. History will be against the undefeated Waves though, as the visiting side in this series has enjoyed almost no success. You have to go back to 1999 to find the last time the home side lost in this fixture when Pepperdine was thumped 5-0 by their California rivals. Then again, this Waves side has had little use for history so far, shredding program record books with a seventeen match unbeaten run (eighteen if you count last season’s finale win against the Broncos). Title rivals have been waiting for the Waves to slip up, but it hasn’t happened, with the Malibu club winning their first five league contests to move to the brink of a league title. Pepperdine’s been doing it with defense in league play, having conceded just one from five league games so far. Considering some of the firepower they’ve come up against, it’s been a mighty impressive run indeed. But this is a much bigger challenge for the Waves. Santa Clara not only has home advantage, but an offense that may just be finding it’s groove. The Broncos have scored multiple goals in seven of their last eight and have scored eleven in their last three matches. With just one defeat to their name, the Broncos are looking like a club that could potentially make it to Kennesaw in December. But WCC silverware is the order of the day on Friday. A Pepperdine win all but sends the trophy back to Malibu. A Broncos triumph and the momentum swings back to Jerry Smith’s side for the final week of the season.

(8) Florida vs (33) South Carolina – 7:00 PM EST [Last Year: South Carolina 0 – 1 Florida]

These two SEC rivals will meet up in Gainesville with one looking to steal a share of the league title, while the other tries to put their stamp on an undisputed championship. It’s the role reversal that might have caught some off guard coming into Friday. On the precipice of glory for a few seasons now, South Carolina finally sealed the deal last Sunday with a 3-1 win over Arkansas, their seventh straight win and the victory that locked up at least a share of the SEC title. After looking dead and buried in the title race after a loss to Kentucky, Carolina has responded with an offense that has scored at least three goals in six of their last seven thanks to some Kayla Grimsley invention and a ruthless streak on set pieces. Part of the reason they were able to clinch their share of the silverware was because of Florida’s continued downward spiral. The Gators have now lost two of three and were stunned by LSU at home in their last match, marking the first time Florida had tasted defeat at home to a league opponent since 2006. UF has now gone behind in their last three matches and have been subject to 1-0 defeats in two of said contests. The verve and swagger Florida played with for much of the non-conference season and first half of the league season appears to have faded at a most inopportune time. If they don’t get it back, losing out on the SEC title might be the least of their woes this season.

(52) Texas vs (16) Texas A&M – 7:00 PM EST [Last Year: Texas 1 – 1 Texas A&M]

This one lost some of its luster when Oklahoma State took care of business on Thursday night and wrapped up the Big XII title with a win over Texas Tech in Stillwater. But just because the title race is settled doesn’t mean that these two bitter rivals won’t be trying to knock each other off on Friday night. Considering all of the realignment drama involving the Big XII, it’s safe to surmise the bad blood between the soccer programs is just as evident as in other sports between these two rivals. With A&M’s imminent move to the SEC, this might also be the last time these two square off for a long while, making it even more important for these sides to pick up a win. A&M will be playing to try and keep their national seed hopes alive as they sit delicately placed going into the postseason. A win here by the Aggies wouldn’t guarantee anything, but would seemingly give the visitors some breathing room heading into San Antonio. Texas is just playing to extend their season past the Big XII Tournament. The home side has fought injuries and eroding form to work their way onto the bubble but knows that their profile for the Selection Committee would look a whole lot better with A&M’s scalp on their mantle. That’ll depend on Texas finding a solution to stifling an Aggie offense that has ripped most of the conference asunder, though it was also notably kept off the board by Missouri and Oklahoma State.

(34) Georgia vs (28) Tennessee – 7:00 PM EST [Last Year: Tennessee 2 – 1 Georgia]

There’s less on the line in this one than either of these sides would’ve hoped a little earlier in the league season. Georgia could’ve been in line for a potential league title after title rivals were slipping left and right last week but instead had to settle for a pair of draws against Auburn and Alabama, the last one especially damaging, that put their title hopes to bed for another season at least. Tennessee looked to be in with a shout for silverware after crushing Florida on the first Sunday of the SEC season and winning four of their first six but has only gone 2-2-0 since and can go no better than third in the final table even with a victory in Athens on Friday night. The Lady Vols do not have good recent memories of their travels to their neighbors to the south, having lost both previous trips to Georgia including blowing the league title in spectacular fashion in 2007. Both sides would appear to be safely in the field for the NCAA Tournament but are likely out of the mix for a national seed, and with the forecast calling for cold temperatures, rain, and wind, it’s unknown what kind of match we’ll be privy to in Athens on Friday. Fans will be hoping for some fireworks though, with the home side’s Alexa Newfield enjoying a brilliant season in attack, while Tennessee’s Caroline Brown and Emily Dowd will both be looking to boost their ten goal hauls while also potentially writing themselves into the history books by getting into double digits in assists as well with Brown sitting on eight and Dowd sitting on seven coming into Friday’s match.

(58) Alabama vs (20) Auburn – 8:00 PM EST [Last Year: Auburn 2 – 1 Alabama]

The Iron Bowl of Soccer may have as much meaning as ever this season as Alabama’s postseason dreams hang in the balance. Then again, it was that way last season when Katy Frierson dragged Auburn back from the abyss very late in this fixture and knocked Alabama out of the postseason yet again. The equation is pretty simple for the home side: Win and Go to Orange Beach. A loss and it’s game over for the Crimson Tide who lose the head-to-head tiebreaker with Ole Miss and lose the goal differential tiebreaker against Mississippi State. A draw would only work in their favor if Ole Miss and Mississippi State draw as well. Alabama were handed a gift though when Auburn’s leading scorer, Ana Cate, was sent off in the dying stages of the Tigers’ loss to Tennessee last Sunday. Without Cate in the lineup, Auburn will be more dependent than ever on senior playmaker Katy Frierson for their offense. Morale and confidence will also be a key for the visitors in this one. After blowing their title hopes with just a single point last weekend, Auburn can only finish between fifth and seventh in the league and are seeing their national seed hopes fade. But this most passionate of college sports rivalries has a way of drawing the fire out of all involved, and it’s safe to say Friday’s encounter in Tuscaloosa will be another dramatic affair.

(38) Oregon State vs (2) Stanford – 10:00 PM EST [Last Year: Stanford 2 – 0 Oregon State]

Stanford’s march towards Kennesaw continues on Friday in what could be one of their biggest tests of the season in Corvallis. Last season, Oregon State emerged from the shadows to establish themselves as Pac-12 title contenders and came to Palo Alto in a title showdown with the Card but were soundly beaten. With home advantage this season and in second place again in the league, Oregon State will again look to undo Stanford’s unbeaten run. The Beavers need a near mathematical miracle to win the title this season, but they can at least give themselves a chance with the upset on Friday night. OSU has just clawed their way back into the NCAA Tournament picture with a pair of crucial wins over the Washington schools after a surprising defeat to Utah in Salt Lake City. Obviously, a win over Stanford would make all of OSU’s bubble problems disappear, but that’s a big ask considering the Cardinal’s form as of late. Paul Ratcliffe’s side has scored at least three goals in their last five matches and have looked positively indomitable for much of the season. But generally, Stanford’s shown a little more vulnerability on the road this season, which might give the home side a glimmer of hope. Also a positive sign for the Beavers is the recent form of forward duo Chelsea Buckland and Jenna Richardson, who may be rounding into form at just the right time for OSU.

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