Santa Clara 1 (Miller 45′) – 0 Pepperdine
Santa Clara used an all-out assault on goal in the first half to take a lead that they’d hold through the second period as the Broncos took hold of their WCC title destiny against Pepperdine. Despite battering the Pepperdine goal for much of the opening half, it’d take until the last minute of the period for the home side to take the lead. A foul at midfield saw goalkeeper Bianca Henninger step up for Santa Clara and drive a ball into the area that Bridgett Miller got onto the end of, beating Roxanne Barker at last and delivering a real sucker punch to the visitors before the break. Truthfully, Pepperdine should have been thankful it was only 1-0 after Sophia Huerta hit the post in the twenty-second minute, while Barker saved the day late in the half with a kick save on Julie Johnston. After being outshot 14-3 in the first half, the Waves began to surge in the second half in search of an equalizer. Henninger was forced into a leaping save of Myriah Stockman’s effort early in the half, while Lynn Williams dragged a shot just wide later in the half. The Broncos would hold on to the advantage to take the lead in the WCC title race and end Pepperdine’s unbeaten mark. Santa Clara’s hitting their stride at a great time in the season. The month of September, where they went winless in five matches with four draws seems a long, long time ago, and it’s easy to forget that the Broncos have only lost to Stanford. Henninger was her brilliant self again, while Julie Johnston and Sophia Huerta were vibrant in the attack for the Broncos. A slumping Loyola Marymount side should be handled easily enough by a focused SCU side on Sunday before a showdown at San Diego next Friday.
It was always going to be difficult for anyone, much less a team that hadn’t been in a title race in years, to get through the perilous WCC schedule unscathed. Pepperdine came out slower than they should have and got caught, by a goal with just seconds remaining in the half, no less. They battled back valiantly though but just couldn’t find a way through. It’s going to be very interesting to see how this team responds on Sunday against a Portland team fighting for their postseason lives. Having not been defeated before Friday, nobody really knows how the Waves are going to respond to such a setback. The title certainly isn’t lost, and Pepperdine will be right back in the mix if SCU slips up in their final two matches.
Oregon State 1 (Richardson 4′) – 2 (Taylor 55′, 66′) Stanford
Oregon State took a shock lead early through Jenna Richardson but ultimately bowed to Stanford’s pressure as the Card won another Pac-12 title in rainy Corvallis on Friday. Stanford would find itself behind for most of the first half after Richardson caught the Cardinal cold in the fourth minutes with a shot from fifteen yards to the far post. Shaken into action by OSU’s early goal, Stanford would gradually find a foothold and begin to pressure for the equalizer. They were to be denied through the break though as the home side got some brilliant saves from senior keeper Colleen Boyd to keep the Beavers’ 1-0 advantage intact at the half. But there would be no way to keep the visitors off the board in the early stages of the second half as Lindsay Taylor scored twice in a little over eleven minutes with drives into the upper corner of the goal to turn the match on its head, with the two strikes putting her one short of fifty for her collegiate career. Despite a few opportunities late, the Card would hold on to lift its third straight Pac-12 title and come within touching distance of another unbeaten regular season. Stanford’s dominance over their opponents has been such that this is the first time they’ve had to overcome this kind of adversity since the Notre Dame game. It’s the sixth straight league match that Stanford has scored multiple goals, and the Card continue to look in great form as the regular season draws to a close. Lindsay Taylor’s heating up as Stanford’s weapon of choice up front, surely bad news for the Card’s opponents in November and beyond. With Oregon and Cal to finish up, Stanford should be able to wrap up another undefeated regular season and will be a #1 seed come Selection Monday barring something incredible.
Linus Rhode’s side got a lot closer than most against the #1 team in the country but ultimately couldn’t survive the Stanford pressure that has broken so many this season. Still, watching this OSU team, it’s unfathomable that they still aren’t locked into the Big Dance at this stage of the season. Richardson and Chelsea Buckland are a mean tandem up front when on form, while Boyd showed why she’s so highly thought of in keeping the Beavers in the match for so long despite facing heavy pressure. You’d fancy them to be able to overcome Cal and Oregon at home in Corvallis over the next week, which would likely lock them into the NCAA Tournament field. Once there, you’d be wise to watch these Beavers who just might be a dark horse to go a fair distance in the Big Dance.
Florida 1 (Annis 36′) – 2 (Grimsley 3′, Au 22′) South Carolina
Florida relinquished their SEC crown after another disappointing loss after conceding two early goals to new champions South Carolina. The Gators’ proved they hadn’t learned from their recent struggles when they went behind not three minutes into this final match of the regular season through Carolina’s Kayla Grimsley. The senior forward would take advantage from a Kourtney Rhoades pass to the top of the box, outmuscling Caroline Triglia to the ball and finishing to the far post. Danielle Au doubled the visitors’ advantage in the twenty-second minute with a high, lofting header from Christa Neary’s service that dropped behind freshman keeper Taylor Burke for a second Gamecock goal. Down by a pair of goals, Florida would claw one back before the half after Annie Bobbitt made a run to the endline before crossing into the area, letting Tahnai Annis head home from close range. The Gators would push on in the second half but ultimately find themselves unable to breach the South Carolina defense, forcing Sabrina D’Angelo into just one second half save. This win caps a remarkable rise for the Gamecocks from a squad that lost two of its first three league matches to undisputed league champions. Ironically, this SC team may most resemble the 2007 Florida team that lost its first two league matches before crushing everything in its path on the way to a double. Carolina certainly has a chance to make that happen in Orange Beach. The Gamecocks are in great form while many of their rivals are struggling for consistency. A big run in Orange Beach could also drag Carolina into the national seed picture, which would obviously be huge for their chances in the Big Dance.
Florida’s stunning collapse down the stretch is complete after their third loss in four matches, with the Gators ending up with their worst ever league record in the SEC. UF seemingly was destined for a national seed and potential second weekend hosting rights in the NCAA Tournament but are doing everything in their power to muck it up in these final weeks. These Gators have been guilty of the the same fatal lack of focus that has done in so many of their title rivals in the SEC over the years. The defense is leaking goals, the offense is sputtering badly, and the dethroned champs are, in general, just a complete mess at the moment. They may have caught a small break getting an equally out of form Georgia side in the first round of the SEC Tournament, but very little about this team right now inspires confidence of any kind of postseason run. If they don’t get their act together, and quickly, it’s going to be a short couple of postseason tournament run for these Gators.
Alabama 3 (Diederich PK 41′, Khanna 62′, Willis 88′) – 2 (King 77′, Frierson PK 85′) Auburn
Ashley Willis scored in the eighty eighth minute to break a 2-2 deadlock and send Alabama through to the SEC Tournament in Orange Beach in a wildly thrilling match from Tuscaloosa. Two and a half minutes after Katy Frierson had seemingly broken Alabama hearts again with an equalizer from the penalty spot, Willis would fire in a goal that will surely go down in Crimson Tide lore, a thirty-yard bomb into the upper corner of the goal from the sideline. The Alabama blockbuster ended an Auburn fightback that had seen the visitors come from two behind in the final fifteen minutes to equalize and surely had home supporters reliving memories of last season’s astonishing defeat on The Plains. Auburn had kicked off the comeback attempt in the seventy-seventh minute when senior Julie King latched onto Frierson’s through ball to halve Alabama’s lead. Auburn were threatened with being overrun in the first half, giving up an astonishing twenty shots, though it would take a forty-first minute penalty from Theresa Diederich to finally put the home side ahead after the first half dominance. After the break, Alabama appeared to home and dry after Kendall Khanna had knocked home Molly Atherton’s blocked effort, but it’d take Willis’ heroics to seal Alabama’s postseason place. Nobody’s going to accuse this Alabama time of a lack of fight. After going five without a win and looking dead and buried, Todd Bramble’s side promptly went 3-1-1 down the stretch to seal the club’s first postseason appearance since 2008. They’ll be heavy underdogs in Orange Beach against South Carolina but know that if they can achieve the unthinkable, an NCAA Tournament spot will be on the table as well. Even a defeat may have the Crimson Tide in the mix though, as the wins over Tennessee and Auburn have helped their cause immeasurably.
Auburn has the look of a team not long for the postseason. The Tigers have won just two of their last eight matches after starting the season so brightly and ended up as SEC underachievers, finishing in seventh place after harboring hopes of a title challenge early. Auburn’s woes can be traced to a brutally bad road record, having gone 1-5-0 in their league travels this season while giving up fifteen goals in those six matches. The Tigers plainly missed the offense of the suspended Ana Cate in this one, forcing them to play Julie King in an advanced role up the pitch and possibly destabilizing the defense in the process. The good news for Auburn is that Cate should be back for the SEC Tournament match against LSU on Wednesday. Whether she and the rest of her Tiger teammates have more games in Orange Beach in their immediate future though may depend on whether the AU defense can transfer some of their home form to the Gulf Coast on Wednesday afternoon.
Texas 0 – 3 (Young 39′, Monogue 50′, Mathias 74′) Texas A&M
Texas saw their NCAA Tournament hopes dim after their fierce rivals at Texas A&M put them to the sword with three goals in Austin. The visitors threatened to open their account early as Merritt Mathias’ free kick shook the bar within ten minutes of the opening kick. After a period of dominance, the Aggies would go close again as Meghan Streight hit the bar from Annie Kunz’s pass. The away side would finally be rewarded for their play a handful of minute from the break when Bri Young spotted Alexa Gaul off her line and launched a shot from twenty-five yards that sailed over the Texas keeper and into the back of the net. The lead became two five minutes after the break when Lucy Keith’s intended sliding clearance instead rebounded off of Kelley Monogue’s chest, the lucky bounce set the freshmen away on a 1v1 against Gaul. The Texas keeper came off her line and tried to make a sliding save, but Monogue kept her feet as she rounded the keeper and was left an easy tap-in for 2-0. Mathias completed the rout after dribbling down the right side and unleashing a cross/shot to the far post that again left Gaul little chance, sailing over her head and inside the post for the Aggies’ third. Other than a Kylie Doniak shot that went off the post inside of the first hour, chances for the home side were and far between, with A&M keeper Jordan Day called upon to just make two saves. The Aggie offense remains lethal to almost all but the top tier of teams in the nation and could carry this side a long way if some of A&M’s youth and occasional inconsistency doesn’t catch up to it first. Despite losing out on silverware in the Big XII regular season, it’d hardly be a surprise if the Aggies go on to lift the Big XII Tournament trophy and lock down a national seed while they’re at it.
The Longhorns needed a win in the worst way in the Lone Star Showdown but weren’t close for the most part against their heated rivals. Though the offense, sapped by injuries and ineffectual play, has hampered the Horns to a certain extent, you could also look towards the defense and goalkeeper Alexa Gaul in this one, as neither had their finest hour against the Aggies. Texas comes into the Big XII Tournament having won just one of five, and that was against DI Independent side Seattle. The Horns have shown an ability to be a league opposition though, having won three of four against Big XII foes at one point this season. They’ll have to channel some of that form on Wednesday against Texas Tech in the opening round of the Big XII Tournament. If the Horns lose that one, the season’s almost assuredly over.