NCAA – 2017 Big Ten Preview

Chris’ Big Ten Projections

1. Penn St
2. Michigan
3. Northwestern
4. Rutgers
5. Ohio St
6. Wisconsin
7. Minnesota
8. Nebraska

9. Indiana
10. Maryland
11. Michigan State
12. Iowa
13. Illinois
14. Purdue

Penn State probably knew they were going to take some lumps last season as they tried to defend their national title after a dream 2015. The Nittany Lions not only graduated Raquel Rodriguez but found themselves without a handful of players from that team due to redshirting for the U20 World Cup. Growing pains were evident as PSU still showed their quality when drawing with West Virginia in the season opener but also showed what they had lost with losses to BYU and UCLA. Penn State managed to begin league play with nine straight unbeaten and looked like claiming another league title for themselves but were then shocked in the penultimate fixture of the regular season by Michigan State, though they’d beat Ohio State to claim a share of the title. There wasn’t much joy to be had in the postseason. Rutgers would upset PSU in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal before the Nittany Lions would get clobbered by Virginia in the NCAA Tournament second round, as Erica Dambach’s side made it’s earliest exit since 2013.

The odds of such a similar exit in 2017 are exceedingly small. That’s because Penn State should be on the shortlist of NCAA title contenders given the depth of talent from returners from last year’s squad, returners from the U20 World Cup squad, and a handful of newcomers. The one loss in the attack is a rather big one though, as midfielder Nickolette Driesse graduates following a six assist season pulling the strings of the PSU attack.

However, these Nittany Lions have an absurd amount of firepower at their disposal this season. On the frontline, the cheetah-like Frannie Crouse will be looking to make it four straight seasons with at least ten goals. Last season, Crouse hit for twelve and on much better efficiency numbers than her sophomore season and is one of the top attackers in the nation. She’ll be joined by the enigmatic Megan Schafer, the senior a player who looked like breaking out as a sophomore with thirteen goals but who scored just six last year and was held without a shot on goal twelve times. There’s also the addition of Emma Thomson to the frontline, one of PSU’s fabulous class of rookie additions.

The middle of the park is just as loaded for the Nittany Lions in 2017 despite the loss of Driesse. Most eyes will be on Emily Ogle, a potential top five pick in the NWSL Draft in a few years and a player whose presence was desperately missed last season when she was with the U.S. U20 team. If Ogle’s a complete midfielder, Charlotte Williams is more of a gunner, as she led the team in shots last season but needs to do a more efficient job in front of goal with just six goals on sixty-two shots. German youth international Laura Freigang missed a chunk of time at the U.S. U20 World Cup but still showed a lot of potential in her time here. Veterans Marissa Sheva, Haleigh Echard, and Salina Williford will also return, but they could find starting minutes under threat from rookie phenoms Shea Moyer and Frankie Tagliaferri. Tagliaferri could be this rookie class’ #1 player when all is said and done and could be a major factor this season for PSU despite her youth.

As you might expect, Penn State has an absurdity of riches on defense as well, even with the transfer of rookie Grace Fisk to South Carolina. Opposite of the now open spot at center-back is likely to be Elizabeth Ball, who is a three-year starter and a great bulwark of consistency on the backline given the changes around her. There’s likely not going to be a problem filling that vacancy at center-back though as Kaleigh Riehl returns from international duty at the U20 World Cup and is another potential NWSL Draft first round pick down the line given her quality.

Fifth-year senior Brittany Basinger has perhaps not developed into a superstar as expected but is still a more than solid left-back for Penn State and is the favorite on that flank. Right-back is going to be a very interesting dilemma, as Dambach has Maddie Elliston and Ellie Jean, who both redshirted last season for the U20 World Cup, available with the pair splitting time there in 2015. Last year’s starter, Alina Ortega Jurado surely will fit somewhere, though it may be in a more attacking role, while another of this year’s great recruiting class, Kerry Abello would presumably find some role on the pitch given her talent and versatility as a utility player. Dambach’s biggest problem might be finding a way to keep everyone happy considering she has enough defenders to field two lineups of All-Big Ten contenders.

Goalkeeping might be the biggest question on the club, with Rose Chandler back from international duty but having played in just a handful of matches in three years despite coming into PSU with a ton of hype. There’s no guarantee she’ll be able to force her way into the starting job with last year’s starter Amanda Dennis back after a fine freshman campaign.

Penn State is a juggernaut, and likely an angry one after being unranked in the preseason coaches’ poll. If Dambach can juggle a squad of superstars and keep everyone happy, there’s no reason PSU can’t be the last team standing come December.

Michigan got a little bit of vindication for some NCAA Tournament snubs with a return engagement to the Big Dance in 2016. There were certainly a few questions early when the Wolverines drew in their opener to ACC doormat Pittsburgh, but Michigan promptly reeled off nine wins in their next ten to solidify their status. But Wolverines fans were still probably fearing the worst after a horrific late season swoon where Michigan won just one of six at the end of the regular season, needed penalties to advance beyond Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament, and then were taken out by Minnesota in the semi-finals. Thankfully for the sanity of all those involved with the program in Ann Arbor, Michigan drew an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and seemingly an agreeable matchup with Illinois State in the first round. However, Michigan were the ones left on the mat after the match, as the Wolverines went behind twice to ISU and then fell in a shootout to send them out as upset victims.

The bar has been set a little higher for 2017 though, as the Wolverines bring in one of the most promising recruiting classes in the history of the program under Greg Ryan. In addition to some big time freshmen coming to Ann Arbor, the club also returns veteran Taylor Timko (injury) and Sura Yekka (international duty), meaning this could be a Wolverines team infused with a good bit more talent coming into the new year. The attack will be looking to hum again but does get faced with a pretty big loss in the graduation of Nicky Waldeck, who signed off with eight goals to lead the club last year. It likely means a bigger role for Reilly Martin, who had a huge breakout season for the Wolverines with seven goals and eight assists, building greatly on decent rookie season totals. More will also likely be expected from Ani Sarkisian as a senior, with the New Jersey native attempting to add to the seventeen goals and twenty assists she’s racked up in three years here. Timko missed all of last season but was a big prospect in her first two seasons here, netting seven goals in 2015 and could be a big X-Factor for this attack, though she could slot in at full-back.

The Wolverines also have added some serious weapons through their freshman class. The highlight of which might be Canadian Sarah Stratigakis, who has been front and center with Canada’s youth national teams for years and who is being tipped to make the step up to the full WNT in the not too distant future. Also joining up is Martin’s sister, Alia Martin, a much coveted midfield prospect in her own right, and Nicki Hernandez, who should be a prized super sub at the very least. There’s no shortage of talent here, with Ryan spoilt for choice, especially in comparison to some Big Ten rivals.

Given the hype over the offense both through returning players and newcomers, it gets a little easy to forget that Michigan under Ryan has mostly been known for defense. However, last year, Michigan’s defense buckled more than usual, shipping a little more than a goal a game and was easily the worst defense of any team that finished in the top half of the league. It might be a bit of a rebuilding year on the backline, as the club sees standout center-back Anna Soccorsi and full-backs Madison Lewis and Rosalind Porritt, among others. There is some nice talent coming back though, as Jada Dayne will get the chance to show she’s ready to be the anchor of the backline after starting beside Soccorsi for her rookie season. Returning out wide is senior Rubina Veerakone at left-back, and she’ll probably be joined by Yekka, who returns to the mix after redshirting last year while competing in the U20 World Cup for Canada.

The biggest question might be in goal, as Ryan has become an infamous figure in women’s college soccer circles as a “Captain Hook” figure with his netminders. Such was the case last season when senior Megan Hinz, a two-year starter, was quickly displaced by Sarah Jackson, who ended up starting almost the entire season. They may find their positions under threat from newcomer Hillary Beall though. Beall is a much hyped goalkeeping prospect who could potentially be the U.S.’ starter at the U20 World Cup in 2018 and figures to be the #1 here sooner rather than later.

The Wolverines could be one of the nation’s most interesting teams in 2017 thanks to their star-studded recruiting class. They probably won’t be able to take down Penn State at the top of the league, but they could get much closer than some might think if the rookies hit the ground running.

It hasn’t been quick or easy for Northwestern, but last season saw the Wildcats reach the top of the Big Ten mountain and claim a long desired share of a league title. This was a program that won two games in 2011 and three in 2013 but which has grown by leaps and bounds under Michael Moynihan. The Wildcats became a factor at a national level as they won their first nine matches, though the only RPI Top 50 team they played in that stretch was Marquette. They’d cool off a bit in league play, but the Wildcats’ defense frustrated opponents and allowed them to finish 4-0-2 in their final six, though those last two draws kept them from claiming the league title by themselves. Northwestern would top Nebraska on penalties in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal, but would bow out against their defensive doppelgänger, Rutgers, in the semi-final. Northwestern would smash Kent State in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament before getting past Cinderella story SIU Edwardsville in the second round. Their run would stop in the Sweet Sixteen against Duke, but few could argue that Northwestern isn’t a program with a bright future after last year’s success.

The bar is going to be set pretty high for Northwestern this season. While few probably consider them in the top tier of national title contenders, a lot of factors point towards the Wildcats being a side with the DNA like Rutgers’ College Cup team from a few years ago that dominated with defense. Northwestern gave up just seven goals last season, a ridiculously low number considering they played twenty-three matches. At the heart of Northwestern’s defense is perhaps the nation’s best pairing of center-backs, juniors Hannah Davison and Kayla Sharples. That Davison and Sharples played as two of the nation’s best central defenders despite being just sophomores was incredible, and that they have two more years in Evanston doesn’t seem fair for opposing attacks. Left-back Kassidy Gorman doesn’t quite get the same level of attention as the center-backs but is a stalwart in her own right and provides some nice senior leadership and scoring ability after being joint leading scorer here with six goals.. The club does have to replace right-back Kaitlin Moore, but you trust this program to get it right considering how well the defense has come together in the past few years.

Northwestern is also strong in goal, with All-American senior Lauren Clem back for a final season. Clem plays behind a fantastic backline but is a great keeper on her own merits and is surely on the shortlist of senior NWSL goalkeeping prospects for January’s draft. Northwestern’s defense is likely to be a fortress this season and could be one of the best in the nation.

The attack…is a work in progress. You don’t need many goals when you’re this good on defense, but Northwestern averaged just over a goal a game in the league last year. Nobody here had more than six goals last year, and nobody even netted more than thirty-four shots on the season. While many of the Wildcats’ offensive personnel return, the club does lose a valuable piece in central midfield in Nandi Mehta. Mehta’s graduation means Northwestern is likely to rely heavily on the talented junior Marisa Viggiano. Viggiano led the club with five assists and is easily one of the Big Ten’s best midfielders, but she also may have tried to do too much herself, leading the team in shots but scoring just once on thirty-four attempts.

The hope has to be that Brenna Lovera is the forward the club has been aching for, as she scored six goals to tie for the team lead despite missing twelve games. If Lovera can stay healthy for the whole season, she definitely has potential as a double digit scorer. As you might expect, Northwestern has gone pretty heavy on new blood in the attack. Up top, Mikayla Hampton could see major minutes early, while Kylie Fisher, Made Kennel, and Regan Steigleder have all been tipped for success in the midfield. Again, Northwestern won’t need many goals given their defense, but they still need some, especially in the crunch time of postseason.

The Wildcats figure to be one of the nation’s best defensively, but questions on offense might keep them out of the College Cup discussion. Still, it’d hardly be a shock if they end up in Orlando given the right draw, and they should still be one of the best in the Big Ten.

Rutgers was always going to have trouble following up on 2015’s trip to the College Cup, but they still put up a solid season. A win at UConn was the highlight of a solid non-conference season, while a win over Northwestern helped league play start out in fine fashion. But the Scarlet Knights’ form began to go a little haywire in the second half of the season, with a draw against Illinois seemingly the catalyst for some odd results that culminated with a five match winless streak to close out the regular season and push Rutgers all the way down in to seventh place in the Big Ten table. RU would make a run to the Big Ten Tournament final with wins over Penn State and Northwestern before being downed by Minnesota in the title game. Rutgers wouldn’t really last long in the NCAA Tournament though, trouncing Harvard in the first round but losing to Georgetown for the second time in 2016 to send them out in the second round after a twelve win campaign.

While Rutgers have probably done enough to warrant a permanent space in the upper tier of the Big Ten at this point, they have a challenge ahead of themselves after losing six starters from last year’s squad. For all that the Scarlet Knights lost though, they get one huge addition back to the roster with the return of junior goalkeeper Casey Murphy. Murphy missed all of last season while with the U.S. U20s at the U20 World Cup, and her return this season should give the Scarlet Knights a big advantage in goal as compared to their Big Ten competition. Rutgers have carved out space as a defensive powerhouse during Mike O’Neill’s tenure with the club as head coach, and Murphy should have another solid backline in front of her.

The backline does take a loss though, as full-back Erin Smith, a draft pick of the Houston Dash of the NWSL, departs after another brilliant season marauding up and down the line for the club. The rest of the first choice backline should return intact. Junior Kenie Wright is the relative veteran of the group at left-back and has a couple of years of starting experience here. Considering Rutgers used a rookie center-back pairing of Chantelle Swaby and Amanda Visco last season, they fared well enough, and the pair should only get better with more experience and Murphy organizing behind them. They need to find a right-back replacement for Smith, but this should still be one of the league’s best defenses.

With two of the club’s three leading scorers from last year graduating, the offense is probably more of a concern going into 2017. Madison Tiernan was a shameless gunner with a license to foul anything that moved, but she also saved her best for her senior season, with an eleven goal outburst to easily lead the team. With third leading scorer and super sub Erica Murphy also graduating, it means that the only player that returns with more than three goals scored last year is senior Colby Ciarrocca. Ciarrocca can be a bit of an enigma at times, and her scoring total dropped from nine goals to six, as she netted just one in the club’s final ten matches. With little else back in terms of proven scoring, Ciarrocca really needs a breakout season as a senior for Rutgers. Rookie Amirah Ali is a U.S. U19 international from the powerhouse PDA club and could get every chance to make her mark early here.

The midfield takes some hits as well, with Jennifer Andresen and Tori Prager both graduating. The one returning starter is a big one though, as sophomore Nicole Whitley looks like a star in the making after winning league Freshman of the Year honors last season. Who joins her in midfield is a massive question, with rookie Alexa Ferreira tipped as perhaps the next big star in Piscataway.

This might be a bit of transition year with Rutgers having lost so much in the offseason. But the Scarlet Knights still have a handful of the league’s best and a steady hand in O’Neill leading the club, meaning they could defy expectations again in the Big Ten.

After back-to-back finishes in the RPI Top 30, it might be time for a rebuilding season for an Ohio State side that loses a massive class of seniors to graduation. The Buckeyes opened up 2016 with five straight wins and six wins of seven, but they hit a poor patch of form at a bad time, beginning league play with just one win in five. OSU would recover somewhat to win three of their last six, but it still wasn’t enough for the Buckeyes to crack the top eight and qualify for the Big Ten Tournament, with the club finishing in a tie with Indiana but losing on a head-to-head tiebreaker for the final spot in the conference tourney. There wasn’t really a penalty for not making said tournament though, as OSU not only made the NCAA Tournament but even got to host Dayton in the opening round, a match which they won, 3-2, in a thrilling affair. Reality would intercede in the second round against West Virginia, but Ohio State made it a dramatic match, with WVU needing extra time to put the Buckeyes away.

It’s going to be a tough task to repeat 2016’s performance, with the Buckeyes losing six starters. It’s not just OSU losing any six starters either, as they lose some of the conference’s top talents, including NWSL Draft picks Nichelle Prince and Lindsay Agnew. Prince departs after a five goal and four assist season, which is a bit disappointing at first glance, but the Canadian provided much more to the offense than just box score stats with her workrate. Agnew had a breakout season in front of goal as a senior, with ten goals and eight assists to her name, which meant the Canadian youth international had a hand in over half of OSU’s goals in 2016.

With that in mind, the Buckeyes will be wondering where the goals are going to come from in 2017. The top option could be senior Nikki Walts, OSU’s returning leading shot taker last season, though she still netted just four goals and isn’t an out and out forward. A player who is a forward and is going to need to continue to develop is Sammy Edwards, who is the club’s returning scorer with six goals despite starting just about half of the club’s games last year. A score of newcomers also make their way to Columbus with midfielder Riley Bowers and forward Courtney Walker perhaps most likely to make an immediate impact in the attack.

Naturally, the defense has some major losses to compensate for as well. The rearguard was roughly average last season but does return a key figure in sixth-year senior Morgan Wolcott. Wolcott stayed healthy last season, and her presence was invaluable at the heart of the defense for OSU, though she could also see time on the frontline if the Buckeye attack needs it and the defense can do without her. The Buckeyes definitely take some hits out wide, with Bridget Skinner and Nicole Miyashiro both graduating. Junior Kylie Knight, a utility defender capable of playing wide or central, and sophomore center-back Haley Walker-Robinson look likely to reprise starting roles on the backline this season. The player to watch though might be newcomer Izzy Rodriguez, an elite recruit for this class and a U.S. U20 international who could go a long way in replacing some of the star power lost, albeit on the defense instead of the attack.

In goal, it’s make or break time for junior Devon Kerr, a player with a lot of tools but who hasn’t been able to claim the #1 job for herself in two seasons despite being given every opportunity to do so. With just two true freshmen behind Kerr this season though, OSU almost have to lean on Kerr to put it together.

My projections are pretty high on Ohio State this year despite all that they lost, mostly down to a strong recruiting class. There could be some growing pains, but mid-table and another NCAA Tournament trip looks doable.

How do you replace the irreplaceable? It’s a question Wisconsin’s going to have to confront in 2017 after the graduation of club legend and overall #1 pick in the NWSL Draft, Rose Lavelle. Unfortunately, there really wasn’t a story book ending to Lavelle’s college career, with the Badgers slumping to just nine wins last season, the lowest mark here since 2008. After 2015’s high profile snub, Wisconsin had a point to prove but staggered out of the gates with just one win in six and draws against Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Drake to blot their copy. League play didn’t start out swimmingly either, with the Badgers winning just one of their first four and losing to league strugglers Indiana. The Badgers would go on a bizarre stretch of alternating wins and draws over their final seven, with wins over Minnesota and Rutgers helping the club into fifth in the table. A shootout loss to Michigan in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament likely produced a few nervy moments on Selection Monday, but the Badgers still made the cut. Beating state rivals Marquette in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament was nice, and UW so nearly pulled off an upset against Florida in the next round before bowing out in extra time.

The Badgers lose not just Lavelle but three other starters as well, though UW still has an impressive level of talent. Wisconsin weren’t great in either offense or defense as compared to their Big Ten peers, but they were still roughly above average in that respect in goals scored and conceded in league matches. Lavelle was iconic here, but UW was entirely too dependent on her in the attack, even in a deeper midfield role last season. She took a whopping seventy-three shots but netted just six goals, though that also still made her the club’s top scorer. Also gone is winger Micaela Powers, the club’s assist leader last year with six and third leading scorer with four goals.

The club’s leading returning scorer is junior Emily Borgmann, who netted five goals last year, including three in the league. Senior Sydney McGinnis also could be someone to look at given her finishing second on the team in shots last season, though she only netted a pair of goals. UW is likely going to be looking to youth for offense this season though, with sophomore forward Dani Rhodes and midfielder Allie Winterfield returning after promising but not necessarily prolific rookie seasons. The biggest and best news might be the return of Canadian Victoria Pickett to the lineup after she redshirted last season while on U20 World Cup international duty. Pickett was Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2015 and could be in line for a big season for Wisconsin. The Badgers also add some nice rookies, with U.S. U18 international Lauren Rice joining the frontline, while midfielder Gabby Lawlor could be the playmaker heiress apparent to Lavelle if she lives up to expectations.

With the offense still likely finding its feet without Lavelle, it’s going to be important for Wisconsin to be stout defensively, as they’ve been so so many times in the past under Paula Wilkins. For the Badgers, it all begins in goal with senior Caitlyn Clem, who’s surely on the shortlist of best senior goalkeepers in Division I. Clem had big shoes to fill when Genevieve Richard graduated, but she’s done very well to develop into a top calibre keeper in Madison.

The backline alongside her is looking for someone to step up and turn into a star this year. Wisconsin will be on the lookout for a left-back and a center-back after the graduation of the trio of Holly Heckendorf, Morgan Taylor, and Kylie Schwarz. The Badgers do return sophomore Camryn Biegalski at right-back and Jamie Donohue in the middle, but Wilkins and UW are still going to need some new faces to step up. Michigan native Sammy Kleedtke, a freshman, could be one of those new faces, likely in the middle given her size.

The Badgers were much more than Lavelle, of course, over the past four seasons, and they’ll probably get a chance to show that this season. They probably aren’t going to bother the upper crust of the Big Ten, but anyone expecting them to drop from sight and out of NCAA Tournament contention will probably be disappointed.

Most were tipping Minnesota to have a good 2016 season, but I suspect few believed the Golden Gophers were going to be quite as good as they turned out to be. All Minnesota did was win a share of the Big Ten title and then prove they were the league’s best team by winning the Big Ten Tournament. Wins over Utah and Santa Clara were early statements in non-conference play, and Minnesota would at one point win six of seven in the Big Ten to state their title credentials. A couple of scoreless draws at Michigan and Northwestern prevented the club from claiming the league title all by theirselves, but Stefanie Golan’s club with sweep Indiana, Michigan, and Rutgers aside in the Big Ten Tournament to do the double. Minnesota were surely on the shortlist of sides that were potential College Cup sleepers going into the NCAA Tournament, but a first round matchup against ACC side NC State was harsh and ominous. In the end, Minnesota would be frustrated by the Wolfpack, and fell in a shootout on home turf after a scoreless draw. It was a bitter end to a brilliant season.

That defeat was especially frustrating, as Minnesota had everything seemingly aligned for a run and now has to replace many talented seniors. While the Gophers lose four starters overall, the offense takes the biggest blows. The biggest task ahead of Minnesota may be finding a replacement for forward Simone Kolander, who led the team in scoring with eleven goals and picked up the Big Ten Forward of the Year award for her efforts. The frontline still has some firepower, with senior Sydney Squires the likely focal point. Squires won Big Ten Tournament Offensive Player of the Tournament honors last season as a super sub and could slot into Kolander’s vacated starting spot after scoring eight goals last season. April Bockin is another one to watch on the frontline after netting seven goals despite missing a handful of games, while Julianna Gernes and Kellie McGahn also saw starting minutes at times last season on the frontline.

Another big talent departs from the middle of the park with Josie Stiever’s graduation. Stiever was a two-way stud last year, scoring eight goals and also leading the team with ten assists. Molly Fielder is likely the new leader of the offense after finishing with seven assists and starting every match, while Emily Heslin also started every match in the middle of the park for Minnesota. The Gophers don’t quite have the star power on offense as last season, but they still look dangerous.

The offense has to be dangerous, because the defense takes some major hits as well. The backline will have to do now without Rashida Beal, and All-American, the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year, and one of the fastest center-backs in the nation as a senior. The rest of the starting backline should return intact for Minnesota this season though. Beal’s center-back partner from last year, Tori Burnett returns and may need to lead the group as a senior anchor. Out wide, Maddie Gaffney, another senior, should start again, while left-back Nikki Albrecht might have the most star potential of the group after impressing last season as a rookie, chipping in with three goals and two assists.

Perhaps the biggest question for Minnesota this year is who starts in goal after the graduation of long-time stalwart Tarah Hobbs. Last year’s backup, Mara Dougherty, was also a senior, meaning it’s largely a dive into the unknown for Golan’s Gophers. Maddie Nielsen is a true freshman, while junior Kailee Sharp hasn’t played in her two seasons here thus far. Minnesota probably doesn’t need a keeper to stand on her head all the time to bail out the defense, but they still need a viable option in between the pipes.

This Minnesota side will probably head back into mid-table after losing their top stars from last year. But Golan’s sides almost always overachieve, meaning a run in the Big Ten Tournament or the NCAA Tournament shouldn’t be ruled out.

Nebraska desperately needed a season like 2016 after a couple of disappointing campaigns. The Huskers had pulled one of the most shocking seasons for a major conference team this decade in 2013 when they won a Big Ten double, but a couple of eight win seasons had took some of the air out of the balloon in Lincoln. It didn’t take long for the public to see that Nebraska was a serious force to be reckoned with last year when they beat Marquette at home and then traveled to Provo and shocked BYU on their home turf. A further win over Kansas added to the Huskers’ resume, but their league form was spotty. Nebraska failed to string together back-to-back wins at any point in Big Ten play, though they still racked up enough points to bring home a sixth place finish. Nebraska would die by the penalty in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal against Northwestern but used spot kicks to save face against South Dakota State in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. UCLA overpowered them in the second round, but the Huskers could still take solace in a fine season.

Nebraska loses just four starters this season, but among the departures are some of the best players in the league. The biggest blow comes on offense, where All-American Jaycie Johnson departs after an eleven goal senior season. Johnson wasn’t consistent in front of goal for all of last season, but when she was in a groove, as she was against Ohio State, she was nearly unstoppable. The Huskers also lose midfielder Caroline Flynn, who was never a big presence on the stat sheet but was a versatile player who still stood out as one of the Big Ten’s best midfielders. Scoring is a serious concern for Nebraska, not just with the loss of Johnson in the attack, but also because there just weren’t a lot of sources of goals for Nebraska last season. Senior midfielder Haley Hanson is the only player returning that had more than two goals last year, netting seven last season. Hanson’s not an out-and-out forward though, meaning the Huskers really need to find a true center-forward to rely on. While Nebraska doesn’t really add a top notch forward in this freshman class, they do add junior transfer Faith Carter, who scored seven goals with TCU last season. Her signing could be a masterstroke if she adapts quickly, and Nebraska needs her or someone else to step up and provide some goals.

The Huskers take a big hit on defense as well, with the excellent Sydney Miramontez, now of the NWSL’s FC Kansas City, graduating after another fine season as the rock at the heart of the defense for Nebraska. She often played alongside sister Sinclaire Miramontez at center-back, and the younger Miramontez should now move into the role of defensive leader vacated by her departed sister. The younger Miramontez may have been overshadowed, but she still was quite impressive as a rookie and could develop into one of the league’s elite defenders. Out wide, Nebraska should be solid shape with junior Caroline Buelt and senior Alli Peterson among the favorites to start at full-back after featuring there for much of last season.

Nebraska’s backline has often played in a hyper-aggressive fashion in terms of keeping a high line, which means goalkeepers in Lincoln always need to be on their toes to come out and sweep away. Sophomore Aubrei Corder has ideal size for the position and is a former U.S. U19 international and did well to win the job full-time as a rookie but will be under as much pressure as ever with Sydney Miramontez’s departure from the backline.

Losing the star core of last year’s side is probably going to send the Huskers back down the Big Ten table, though how far is up in the air. My projections see them as a mid-table side who might be able to grasp onto the NCAA Tournament bubble if some of their players have breakout years.

Indiana has been a frustrating program for much of its history, but 2016 was perhaps the zenith of frustration for the Hoosiers’ fanbase. It wasn’t because IU was plainly awful, which, ironically, may have been easier to take. Instead, the Hoosiers mixed spurts of staggering competence such as in wins over Wisconsin and Ohio State or draws against Penn State and Rutgers, with bouts of baffling ineptitude, as in losses to LSU and Western Michigan or a draw with Purdue. As is, the Hoosiers were able to squeeze into the Big Ten Tournament based on the aforementioned win against Ohio State but caused little trouble for Minnesota in the quarterfinal. Getting back to the postseason was great for IU, but the reality is, it was still a third straight losing season for the Hoosiers after Amy Berbary’s fantastic debut in 2013.

Relatively speaking, the Hoosier offense was probably better than their defense based on league performance, so IU will probably try to build on a decent attack this year. However, IU was largely scorer by committee with one big exception, as beyond their leading scorer, nobody else netted more than two goals, though a whopping six players netted a pair. Said leading scorer is junior Mykayla Brown, who went from scoring just once as a freshman to eight goals last year. Brown netted the winner in extra time against Illinois and both goals in the draw with Purdue, meaning you could argue she was the difference between the Big Ten Tournament and missing out. The problem for Indiana is that there’s pretty much nothing else assured on the attack after Brown. Maya Piper and Cassidy Blacha were the most willing shooters among the non-Brown sources of offense, but neither were particularly prolific in front of goal. Sophomore Macy Miller might also be one to watch after a solid rookie season. There’s not much in the way of big time freshmen coming on offense either, so if Brown suffers a downturn in form, the attack could be in trouble.

The Hoosiers gave up more than a goal and a half a game in league play, so IU leaning on their defense to make the postseason looks like a bad idea on paper. The club could also face a leadership void in central defense with the graduation of the club’s best defender, Marissa Borschke, who was a solid anchor for the Hoosiers. Sophomore full-back Meghan Scott may be the one to watch this year, as she led the club in assists last year with seven and may be needed to help the attack again this year. An interesting addition to watch on the backline might be Hungarian youth international Hanna Nemeth, who brings size and experience in international competition to the Hoosiers this season. In goal, sophomore Sarah L’Hommedieu started almost every match last year but showed her youth in establishing a presence and dominating the box. That could put her position under threat from the gem of this recruiting class, Michigan native Bethany Kopel.

The Hoosiers have a couple of solid pieces, but they look far from a complete unit, with a one-dimensional offense and a middling defense. It probably equals a season like 2016, with IU having scrap to make the postseason.

I mentioned in previewing Maryland in 2016 that the club was probably as close to rock bottom as any in the history of a Power Five conference. A protracted coaching search and mass defections from the program meant that former Harvard boss Ray Leone was inheriting a bare bones squad that was adding transfers deep into the offseason just to fill out the numbers. And sadly, there wasn’t a miraculous ending to what looked on paper to be a potentially horrifying season. There was the indignities of results like drawing with Gardner-Webb and losing to Appalachian State. And there was the crushing succession of league defeats, including losing the season finale to Minnesota, 6-0. The Terps didn’t go winless in Big Ten play, beating Illinois early on, but that was realistically the only solace in a lost season in College Park.

Supporters expecting some kind of “worst-to-first” miracle for the Terps in 2017 are likely to be disappointed. Maryland does get to return nine starters, tied for second most in the league, but that may have a marginal impact on the club’s fortunes considering how far behind the pack they were last year. There may be a couple of goals in the Terps in 2017 though. Junior Jarena Harmon was tipped as one to watch after transferring from Pittsburgh and was as good as advertised against smaller opposition, netting eight goals, including a brace against Illinois but also faltered down the stretch. Senior Chelsea Jackson netted nine, including four in the league, so you would figure she has the chance to contribute against any foe. However, the Terps will more than likely be counting on some of their newcomers, with Florida forward Maddison Krstec highly rated, and midfielder Alyssa Poarch the Delaware Gatorade State POTY and a former U17 international for the U.S.

But Maryland was an absolute horror show defensively, and few of the additions to the squad seem to be dedicated to that side of the ball. Cal transfer Zoe Clark is a low-risk gamble for a season, but isn’t likely to revolutionize a defense that gave up almost three goals a game in league play. Leone may have to settle on a starting goalkeeper having played musical chairs last year. Fifth-year senior Rachel Egyed seemed to be in favor over Katelyn Jensen at season’s end though and might have a leg up entering the new season, though it’d hardly be a surprise to see both again this year.

Maryland brings in a ton of new faces, but there’s not a blue-chip prospect that’s going to bring back the glory days overnight from this class. The Terps have a little punch going forward, but an overall lack of strength in depth and major defensive worries mean it’s probably going to be another year before challenge for a postseason spot.

A everlong slumber has seemingly descended upon the Michigan State women’s soccer program, as the Spartans have now missed the postseason in five straight seasons and not graced the NCAA Tournament with their presence since 2009. Last year, the Spartans played an atypically difficult non-conference schedule and actually racked up some big wins, topping Baylor and then going on the road to beat Colorado. League play started out in middling fashion, but the Spartans buckled in early October, losing five straight to all but kill their postseason hopes. The Spartans would stun Penn State and beat Purdue, but it still left them in tenth in the league, three points off the playoff places. The disappointing campaign also marked the Spartans’ first losing season since 2012.

The question now is if longtime head coach Tom Saxton can repay the faith shown in him by a very patient administration and get the Spartans back to Big Ten glory. While it doesn’t exactly look like the Spartans are going to be contending for honors in the league this year, at least getting to the postseason isn’t out of the question. MSU wasn’t great really in any area last season, but the offense is probably further along than the defense going into 2017. Netting a little over a goal a game in the league isn’t great though, and the Spartans’ attack needs to find an extra gear if they’re to return to the postseason. Senior Jamie Cheslik is likely the best hope for goals, scoring five last season as the club’s scorer and having netted eight as a rookie in 2014. Hannah Jones had a hat trick against Maryland last year and could see more chances, while Lexy Warner also might see an increased role in attack. Saxton has also added a pair of impressive rookie midfielders in Gabriala Jodzis and Danielle Stephan, and odds are, both may need to hit the ground running to get this offense firing.

Even if Michigan State does make strides on offense, their defense has to get better in turn. MSU gave up a goal and a half a game in conference play, something that when mixed with a middling attack made postseason qualification almost impossible. The Spartans used a time share in goal last season, splitting minutes between the graduated Kaitlyn Collin and returning senior Savanna Wojtanowski. The latter took over as starter for the second half of the season when Collin suffered a season ending injury and should again be the #1 this year. The backline has some work to do, with full-back Marisa Oleksiak, who netted four goals last year, and center-back Jessica Kjellstrom both graduating. Two other starters, Michaela Kovacs and Madison Duncan, return, while MSU also adds in rookie center-back Devin Jaqua to the likely core of the defense. I don’t think the Spartans will make a miracle run up the table, but if some of the freshmen pay off immediately, they have an outside shot at a Big Ten Tournament berth and perhaps an NCAA at-large bid.

Though Iowa head coach Dave Dilanni came to the club with a glittering reputation from his work a Division II Grand Valley State, his endeavors with the Hawkeyes have borne limited fruit in three seasons. After a very promising fourteen win year in 2014, the Hawkeyes have slid back to mediocrity the past two seasons. A 5-3 loss on opening night last season to Creighton was ominous, even if the club rebounded right away by winning at Missouri. A run of wins against weak non-conference opposition was not an indicator of the struggles to follow, as Iowa lost its first four in the league, getting shut out in each defeat. The Hawkeyes would finish with two wins in their final seven matches, leaving them in an unflattering thirteenth place in the Big Ten at season’s end. Iowa’s not an easy place to win at, but Hawkeye supporters must surely be hoping for an upward trend going into Dilanni’s fourth season.

Unfortunately, a rapid climb up the table does not appear to be in the cards for Iowa this year. It’s difficult to see where a big jump is going to come from, as the Hawkeyes are bringing in neither a great recruiting class or an ace recruit that could turn the tide in an instant. The biggest concern has to be on offense, where despite scoring at a solid clip against non-conference foes, Iowa found themselves shooting blanks in Big Ten matches, with just four goals in eleven league games. There’s not exactly great news going into the new season, as Iowa loses leading scorer Bri Toelle, who netted six goals on fifty-one shots. Where are the goals going to come from this season? There aren’t any clear answers, though second leading scorer Karly Stuenkel probably will get a crack at leading the charge, though she’s more of an attacking midfielder. Rose Ripslinger and Devin Burns also figure to get chances up top. The Hawkeyes appear to have a gem in U.S. U20 international Natalie Winters in central midfield, but she’s not a prolific scorer and figures to get swarmed if Iowa can’t find other players to step up in the attack.

Iowa wasn’t appalling on defense, but they weren’t nearly good enough last season to mask the club’s absent offense. There is the potential to improve this season though. First-choice center-back pairing Morgan Kemerling and Rachele Armand return this season after opening most of last season anchoring the backline. The club will have to make a change at left-back to replace departed senior Amanda Lulek, with Leah Moss and Hannah Drkulec among the contenders. The latter could also feature at right-back for the Hawkeyes. Sophomore Claire Graves got tossed into the fire straight away last season in her rookie campaign in between the pipes. There’s little reason to think she’ll lose her grip on the starting job this year.

It’s tough envisioning a side with so many offensive questions climbing into postseason contention. My projections give them an outside shot at the top eight, but Iowa looks destined for another season of Big Ten struggle.

Now entering the third year of Drew Roff’s tenure at Purdue, it’s clear that progress needs to be made after two tepid years of stewardship thus far. The gloom was palpable right away last year as the Boilermakers lost to Montana on the opening weekend of the season before getting pasted by Baylor a week later. Purdue would win their league opener against fellow strugglers Illinois but then weren’t on a season killing six match losing streak that made the final four matches academic, even if they did improve a bit in a 1-2-1 stretch. The end result was a twelfth place finish in the league table with the club a whopping eight points out of the postseason places. Roff came into West Lafayette with a big reputation after dominating at Illinois State but has found going much harder so far in the Big Ten.

Unfortunately, it’d take a very brave person to pick the Boilermakers to make a sudden move up the Big Ten table this year. The Boilermakers have to deal with some major losses in personnel, in numbers if nothing else. Purdue loses six starters, tied for second most in the league, which means some serious upheaval in the starting lineup. Chief amongst the worries here is who is going to be scoring the goals. Purdue netted just nine goals in eleven league games last year, with nobody scoring more than four on the season. That player, Andrea Petrina, does return, but the next two leading shot takers on the Boilermakers, Erika Arkans and Hannah Leinert are both gone. The wild card for Purdue’s attack is fifth-year senior Maddy Williams, who missed all of last season after being hurt in the Spring. Williams netted twenty-four goals in three years before getting hurt and probably had her best season in 2015, but it’s a lot to ask a player to come in after a year out and carry an offense, meaning Purdue really needs to find more than one source of goals.

Purdue wasn’t exactly a brick wall on defense either, giving up just a shade under two goals a game in the league and keeping just a pair of clean sheets in the Big Ten. Roff juggled defenders constantly, meaning it’s not exactly going to be predictable to pick out how Purdue will line up in the back going into 2017, but center-back Vanessa Korolas and junior full-back Hannah Mussallem are likely in the mix, though the team does have to replace graduated center-back Megan Kaser. Freshman Sarah Clark, the pick from this recruiting class will likely also feature early. Goalkeeping is also a question mark, with last year’s top netminder Jordan Ginther graduating. Erika Yohn has starting experience but figures to be challenged by junior Maddy Olsen and rookie Katie Luce. There are questions everywhere for Purdue, and the answers probably aren’t going to conducive to a comeback season in 2017.

It’s hard to classify Illinois’ 2016 season as anything but a total disaster. It wasn’t just that Illinois suffered their first losing season since 2009. It wasn’t just the eleventh place finish in the Big Ten, leaving the club four points out of the postseason. It was more the fact that after missing the NCAA Tournament for two straight seasons coming into last year and with a veteran squad, the Illini were finally supposed to put it all together. Injuries to talented starters like Kara Marbury and Sarah Warren, sure starters if healthy didn’t help, but Illinois still started seven seniors, a league high. The Illini didn’t beat anybody with a pulse in non-conference play, and their paper tiger status showed in the league, as they failed to win in any of their first five, a string which included home losses to Purdue and Indiana and a galling 3-1 loss at Maryland. A late run of form including a win over Michigan and draw with Wisconsin helped, but it only blunted the overall disappointment of the season just a bit.

Losing seven starters is bad, but losing seven starters from a side that already was short on top line talent for this level could be catastrophic. The problems are many for Illinois, but they desperately need to solve their woes on offense. Illinois once had All-American forward Jannelle Flaws to do their scoring, and they’ve never really recovered from her loss, scoring under a goal a game in the league and overall in 2016. Marbury’s return could be big, as she netted seven in 2015, but Flaws was still around then, so there’s no telling how well the senior will respond to being a top option. But frighteningly, Marbury still tied for the team lead in goals with three despite missing half the season. Perhaps even more disconcerting, only two other returnees scored last season, and they combined for just four goals. Fortunately, a little help might be on the way from this recruiting class. Midfielders Hope Breslin and Madi Wolfbauer both come in with a fair degree of expectation, and Illinois is probably going to need some immediate contributions considering the utter lack of proven scoring returning.

The defense wasn’t brutally bad last year, but it also wasn’t good enough to compensate for the aforementioned attacking woes. Warren’s return from injury should help, while Morgan Maroney and Alicia Barker also will be back after starting most of last season. Whether that’s enough is up for debate, and there’s not a rookie savior likely to emerge, unlike further up the field. And that could be a big issue, as both of last year’s starting keepers, Claire Wheatley and Michelle Denley, are gone. Sophomore Jaelyn Cunningham will likely battle rookies Sami Sample and Elizabeth Cablk for the gloves, but with the lack of experience here, the worries are very real.

It’s easy to be pessimistic about Illinois for 2017. They lose a ton of starters, lack talent as compared to league rivals, and don’t bring in a lights out recruiting class. They could scrape their way into the postseason if the injury returnees and youngsters catch fire, but it seems more likely Illinois will flirt with the Big Ten basement in 2017.

NCAA – 2017 Ivy League Preview

Chris’ Ivy League Projections

1. Princeton
2. Columbia
3. Brown
4. Yale
5. Harvard
6. Dartmouth
7. Penn
8. Cornell

The numbers lied for Princeton in 2016. If you judged Princeton’s season by RPI finish, you would consider last season a rousing success for the Tigers, who finished a heady #33 overall at season’s end. By any other measure, 2016 was a bust for a fancied Tigers side that finished without a win against an RPI Top 75 team and which languished in fifth in the final Ivy League table after winning just one of its final five league matches and just two overall in the conference last season. Thus, it was hardly a shock that the Tigers found themselves out of the NCAA Tournament mix despite their lofty RPI.

A little more humble, Princeton will enter a new season, likely with high expectations again. Scoring wasn’t a problem here last year, but the departure of Tyler Lussi after a ten goal senior season could create some problems. Princeton does still have a big weapon to draw on in the form of junior Mimi Asom, who scored nine goals to follow up a twelve goal rookie campaign. Asom’s talented, without question, but Princeton also needs more sources of goals to take the heat off of her. No other returner netted more than three goals, so there’s some serious concerns if players like Natalie Larkin or Vanessa Gregoire can’t pick up some of the slack. Also keep an eye on sophomore Abby Givens, who didn’t have big numbers but did have three goals and three assists in scattered time.

The Tigers’ offense captured most of the attention, but the defense simply wasn’t good enough for a league title push last year. It’s a situation that might not necessarily get better, as the Tigers lose the best defender from that backline, with Jesse McDonough graduating. It’s not a surprise then that a big emphasis in recruiting was on the backline, with Lucy Rickerson and Julia Simkus both tipped to play a big role as rookies. Canadian Natalie Grossi won the starting job in goal as a rookie and is probably going to fulfill that role here for the next three seasons. The Tigers should have enough to be considered Ivy League favorites, though they certainly aren’t miles above the fray. Finding help for Asom in front of goal and tightening up on defense is key, but if it happens, the Tigers should collect another league crown.

The Wizard of New York almost conjured up another unlikely miracle in 2016 at Columbia. Looking for their first league title since 2006, Tracey Bartholomew’s Columbia overcame a rocky non-conference slate to shock the Ivy League by winning their first four in the conference, including a victory over title favorites Princeton that put them on the doorstep of glory. In the end, the Lions just ran out of steam, going 0-2-1 in their final three, though both losses were on the road and by a single goal. In the end, Columbia finished third but with a whole lot of optimism going forward given their relative youth.

The Lions get ten starters back from last year’s side, and the one starter that departs is goalkeeper Allison Spencer, who split time in the goal. Junior Sophie Whitehouse will likely be the favorite to take the gloves, but she could be challenged by freshman Juliet Allen. As you might expect with a Bartholomew defense, the Lions backline was great last year and returns three All-Conference performers in Natalie Ambrose, Amalya Johnson, and Kerry Mannion. While defense shouldn’t be a problem, the big question is if Columbia can score enough goals to challenge for a title. The leading scorer here last year was Emma Anderson with five, but all but one of her goals came in non-conference play. Other returnees Natalie Nest and Amaris Hemmings have scoring potential, but Bartholomew will probably be looking for a pick me up from newcomers Jordyn Geller and Grace Wall. I’m not sure Columbia has a star to put them over the top, with scoring another concern, but they still look an intriguing pick for a potential title push.
Continue reading

NCAA – 2017 Sun Belt Projections

Chris’ Sun Belt Projections

1. South Alabama
2. Coastal Carolina
3. Arkansas-Little Rock
4. Troy
5. Texas St
6. Louisiana-Monroe
7. Georgia Southern
8. Arkansas State

9. Appalachian State
10. Georgia State
11. Louisiana-Lafayette

The question for South Alabama going into 2017 is what happens when the magical voyage ends? Or at least threatens to end. Graham Winkworth, who brought home countless pieces of silverware, crushed LSU in the NCAA Tournament in 2015, and beat #1 ranked Florida State in Mobile last year. USA would win another league title last year, but barely, after losing three games in the league. The Jags would come good in winning another Sun Belt Tournament title, but there was no NCAA Tournament triumph in 2016, as Auburn beat them handily in the opening round. Winkworth departed for Arizona State in the offseason, and Carson-Newman’s Richard Moodie was tabbed as his replacement.

Winkworth leaving is one problem, but perhaps the bigger problem is all the talent that left in his wake as well. The biggest loss is of Jemma Purfield, a mid-major wrecking ball who managed to lead the team in goals and assists despite being a full-back. Also gone on defense are reigning Freshman of the Year Alexis Jordan and fellow rookie Jana Loeber, creating a big void on the backline. It will largely be up to returning junior Hannah Godfrey, who was more than solid last year, to lead a new look unit. Fellow Brit Steffi Hardy is also likely to get major minutes, while European newcomers Sonja Reichel (Germany) and Anita Agustsdottir (Iceland) could also factor in. In goal, sophomore Justice Stanford won the starting job early in her rookie season and should be first choice here going forward.

On the other side of the ball, losing Purfield definitely isn’t going to help, but USA still has some firepower to work with. Senior Rio Hardy is the leading returning scorer with eight goals and will likely need to have a career year for the Jags to keep flying. With third leading scorer Ashlynn Jones also gone, the Jags are probably going to need the combo of Danielle Henley and Charde Hannah to step it up after the pair combined for seven goals on a whopping ninety-one shots. Hannah in particular has been an enigma as a collegian, netting twenty goals as a rookie but seeing her scoring decline markedly since, leading up to last year’s four goal season. Moodie’s also kept the international flavor coming in the attack, with Iceland’s Selma Bjorgvinsdottir and England’s Abi Mills joining in midfield. There’s reason to be wary going into 2017 for USA as there’s been a lot of change, but even with all the departures, there’s still enough here to make them league title favorites once more.

So much for the jump from the Big South to the Sun Belt being a big challenge for Coastal Carolina. Some felt that the potential step up in class might catch the Chants out, but they flourished instead. CCU won five of their first six before running out of gas a little bit down the stretch in the Sun Belt. Despite that, the Chants had a chance to win the league title on the final day with a victory but were held to a draw by Louisiana-Lafayette. CCU would get another shot at a trophy in the Sun Belt Tournament final but would fall to league champs South Alabama for the second time in 2016.

The second time might by the charm for Coastal and the Sun Belt though, as they look to have a great shot of continued success this year. They do have to replace five starters from last year’s runner-up squad. The Chants had one of the Sun Belt’s best offenses last year but has to deal with the loss of key forward Amber Adams, who netted five goals and tied for the team lead in assists with four. Swedish senior Daniella Famili was CCU’s leading scorer last year with nine goals and is going to have to pick up some of the scoring burden this year. CCU will also surely be hoping Kayla Christian gets back to her freshman form, when she scored nine goals, and they’ll also likely bank on top recruit Brianna Oliver to hit the ground running as well.

Defensively, Coastal wasn’t the best in the league but still pretty good. They face a challenge in goal though, with senior stalwart Becca Austin graduating. Junior Morgan Divine started a few matches last season and will likely be challenged by rookie Rylee Atteberry for the starting job. I’m probably a little more conservative on the Chants than my projections, but they still look like one of the Sun Belt’s best teams. Continue reading

NCAA – 2017 MAC Preview

Chris’ MAC Projections

1. Kent St
2. Buffalo
3. Ball St
4. Central Michigan
5. Western Michigan
6. Northern Illinois
7. Toledo
8. Bowling Green

9. Miami (OH)
10. Eastern Michigan
11. Ohio
12. Akron

Kent State were second best to Ball State in the MAC table at regular season’s end, but they were second to none when it counted, winning the MAC Tournament to claim an NCAA Tournament berth. KSU dropped their season opener to Ohio State but then reeled off ten wins in a row en route to a thirteen match unbeaten run to put them in a great spot for the MAC title. A loss to Ball State ended those hopes, but with BSU upset in the MAC Tournament quarterfinal, KSU had an easy path to a tournament title which they took with delight. Northwestern clobbered them in the NCAA Tournament, but KSU had still enjoyed a great campaign.

A follow-up will have to be done without some key pieces, including All-American and MAC Offensive Player of the Year Jenna Hellstrom. The Canadian was a dynamo on offense last year, scoring fourteen and assisting on ten more to reveal herself as one of the nation’s best forwards. Another big piece that goes is midfielder Abbie Lawson, who wasn’t a big presence on the stat sheet but still a major talent. Much on offense depends on how Donavan Capehart responds to being the #1 threat, after six goals and four assists last year. There are big things expected though of Canadian newcomer Vital Kats, a long-time member of her nation’s youth international setup who was on the most current U20 World Cup roster for her country. Kats has flown under the radar a bit compared to some bigger Canadian names but could have a huge impact in the MAC.

KSU looks like a side that could win through their defense this year, even with the loss of senior leader Brittany Maisano. Junior Paige Culver is one of the league’s best defenders, while sophomore Sierra Henderson-Muschett could be on her way to joining her in that rarefied air. The Golden Flashes are great in goal as well, with junior Ashleah McDonald impressive last season, while they also add Canadian youth international Faith O’Neal. KSU’s losses shouldn’t be minimized, but they still look like the best side in the MAC by some distance. A league title looks likely for last year’s conference tournament champs.

Shawn Burke produced one of the most memorable debut seasons for a MAC coach imaginable in 2014 at Buffalo and has been trying to match that standard ever since. The Bulls were decent in non-conference play, with their losses coming against bigger clubs, but their league form was fairly erratic in the first half of MAC action. A five match winless streak threatened their postseason hopes, but UB still managed a sixth place finish before being beaten in the MAC Tournament quarterfinal by Central Michigan.

Though 2016 was a bit disappointing, Buffalo does enter the new season with renewed hopes of being one of the league’s top clubs. The Bulls were stout defensively last season and should be again if they can replace their top defender, Angel Hart. Buffalo does return a promising sophomore in Gurjeena Jandu and should again be solid in goal with underrated Canadian senior Laura Dougall manning the gloves. The Bulls were a bit of a paradox on offense, as they had one of the league’s best forwards but little else. Carissima Cutrona netted ten goals for the Bulls or more than half of their total overall, with nobody else on the team netting more than two. The Bulls definitely created chances, with four other players besides Cutrona having over twenty-five shots, but those players also combined for just eight goals, indicating a blunt edge in front of goal. The Bulls look a well-rounded side who might be a dark horse in the MAC if they can find a little more offense to partner with Cutrona.

Ball State have been heroes in the regular season and zeroes in the postseason the past two seasons in the MAC. The Cardinals have won consecutive league titles in 2015 and 2016, only to be knocked out in the opening round of the MAC Tournament on penalties by the #8 seed each time. Last year, Ball State put together a solid non-conference season, capped off by a 1-0 win at Louisville. They’d take command of the MAC with three wins out of the gate and had all but wrapped up the title with an eight game unbeaten run before their lone league loss to Ohio. The shootout loss to Northern Illinois was a sucker punch for a BSU side that had again been dominant in the regular season but still fell some way short of having a resume fit for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Not taking advantage in the postseason the past two years could come back to haunt the Cardinals, as they take some big hits going into 2017. The MAC’s best defense in 2016 loses its two best players, with reigning league Defensive Player of the Year Lorina White graduating, along with fellow stalwart Leah Mattingly. The most promising pieces on the backline now might be very young, as Swiss sophomore Yela Ziswiler tries to build on a nice rookie year, with rookie Ali Martin also likely to see major minutes early here. The Cardinals will likely be banking on senior goalkeeper Alyssa Heintschel, who herself had a very good 2016, to keep things steady on the backline as they find their feet.

It might mean BSU needs to lean more on their offense, which used the “death by a thousand cuts” formula instead of riding one or two big time scorers. Sweden’s Julia Elvbo was as good as advertised with three goals and two assists and should get better with more experience at this level. The leading scorer for BSU (and joint leading shot taker) was Sam Kambol, who was actually a super sub for most of the season and could be a threat for double digits if she sees more minutes. The club does lose midfielder Chay McNitt, but the addition of Nicky Potts, an English youth international, could help ease that departure and add another weapon on offense. BSU should still be one of the MAC’s best, but given all they lost on defense, a three-peat of MAC titles may be difficult. Continue reading

NCAA – 2017 Southern Conference Preview

Chris’ SoCon Projections

1. Samford
2. Furman
3. UNC Greensboro
4. East Tennessee St
5. Wofford
6. Mercer
7. Western Carolina
8. Chattanooga
9. VMI
10. The Citadel

Not many expected SoCon opponents to be able to stand up to the might of a stacked Samford team in 2016, and expectations were not bucked in a dominant title winning season for the Bulldogs. This was a Samford team that played Auburn close in August and beat Baylor and Alabama a few weeks later. Furman would shock the Bulldogs in their second league match, but Samford promptly won their next seven to win the league title and three more matches to claim a double. Samford were perhaps unfortunate to get sent to Florida State in the NCAA Tournament, but despite the defeat, it had still been a fabulous season.

The Bulldogs could be in for a challenging title defense in 2017 though, as they lose a whopping five starters from last year’s squad, including many of the league’s best players. But the fact that that number is five instead of six could be big, as the Bulldogs get Jermaine Seoposenwe for one more season. The South African international had a revelatory season with sixteen goals and six assists, scoring ten in eight games at one stretch in the league season. The problem for Samford is that they could struggle to find anyone else to provide goals with the club’s next three leading scorers, including the brilliant Malcanisha Kelley all graduating. Kelley, Taylor Borman, and SoCon Tournament MVP Anna Allen are all among those gone, leaving a big gap for the Bulldogs to fill. Some unsung heroes like Virginia McNeill, Korrie Sauder, and Taylor Meneide are going to need to step up on offense for Samford to keep rolling.

Samford had the SoCon’s best defense in 2016 as well, but this unit takes hits also, with league Defensive Player of the Year Olivia Cole and Emily Jones both graduating. The hope has to be that the reigning SoCon Freshman of the Year Allie Lourie can avoid a sophomore slump and lead a new look defense. Senior keeper Anna Maddox is a big asset for the Bulldogs though and could be needed much more than in 2016 given the changes on the backline. Samford didn’t look like favorites to retain their title before the news that Seoposenwe was getting an extra year of eligibility, but the South African’s return changes much. There are still worries given the upheaval around her, but the Bulldogs still look to have enough to be title favorites this year.

It was a good but not great season for Furman in 2016. Then again, the bar is higher for the Paladins than most SoCon programs thanks to a winning and successful history. After dominating a pretty weak non-conference slate, Furman won their first three in the league, including beating eventual league champs Samford, but went just 3-3-0 in their final six to limp home in fourth in the table. The Paladins would vanquish UNC Greensboro in the conference tournament quarterfinals before falling to Samford in the semi-final, 2-1.

This year though, the Paladins will likely be aiming much higher, as they appear to have a title contending team on paper. Furman looks like returning nine starters this season and brings back most of the key players from last year’s squad. A big exception though is Carlie Couch, who was joint leading scorer with ten goals last year and who finished with thirty-seven on her career. Fortunately for the Paladins, they still have three other players coming back who netted more than five goals last year. Molly Dwyer netted ten goals, Treva Aycock led the team with eight assists, but the top returnee might be the understated senior midfielder Rachel Shah. Add in highly touted midfield recruit Josie Gillespie, and Furman shouldn’t struggle to score this year.

Furman were about average in the SoCon defensively and should got most of the principals back from last year’s squad, including their top backline member, senior Quinn Lombard. Starting keeper Rose Hull departs, but sophomore Kellsey Weaver got a lot of time last year and should slide right into the #1 role. Furman looks like the SoCon’s best time this year and have a good shot at at least one league trophy in 2017. Continue reading

NCAA – 2017 Atlantic 10 Preview

Chris’ Atlantic 10 Projections

1. Dayton
2. St. Joseph’s
3. Duquesne
4. George Washington
5. St. Louis
6. La Salle
7. George Mason
8. Richmond

9. VCU
10. Fordham
11. St. Bonaventure
12. Rhode Island
13. Davidson
14. UMass

Dayton’s 2016 season was the stuff of fairytales. With long serving head coach Mike Tucker having announced his retirement before the end of the season, the Flyers knew the stakes of the season and wanting to send a club legend out a winner. After a poor non-conference season and slow start to A10 play, that looked impossible, as the Flyers won just one of their first six in the league. But Dayton rallied to win three of tier last four conference matches and then put together an unbelievable A10 Tournament run, with a 7-0 win over Saint Joseph’s in the final the stuff of Dayton legend.

He leaves behind a huge set of shoes to fill for new boss Eric Golz, most recently head coach at Illinois State and a former assistant here. The Flyers look absolutely loaded for 2017 though, bringing back eight starters and most of their top players from last year’s A10 Tournament winners. Dayton’s been known for its attack through the years, and the club does have to replace a key cog in Libby Leedom, who netted ten goals and six assists last year. However, UD does return Alexis Kiehl, she of twenty-one goals last season, including an absurd nine in the team’s final five in 2016. The question of developing a second source of goals is a big one, as nobody returning other than Kiehl had more than two goals. Sophomores Micayla Livingston and Caroline Mink showed flashes as rookies, while promising rookies Olivia Brown, Morgan Henderson, and Emma Thomas could be factors right away.

Dayton were solid on defense last season, with Nicolette Griesinger and Nadia Pestell getting top billing, but the Flyers aren’t going to be confused with a brick wall. Dayton may have a new boss, but the old expectations are still here, with the Flyers looking like the A10’s top side in 2017.

2016 represented the highest of highs and lowest of lows for Saint Joseph’s. This was an SJU side that won the A10 title going away, finishing with a 9-0-1 record that saw them win the title by a whopping five points. But this was also an Hawks team that suffered one of the most traumatic postseason losses in recent memory, losing 7-0 to Dayton in the A10 Tournament final. It had been a serene dream for the Hawks up to that point, as they had lost just one game (albeit playing a schedule that saw them face just one RPI Top 50 team all season). It’s not just that the Hawks were winning, but they were doing it in style, scoring an absurd twenty-six goals in ten league games and fifty-one goals overall.

Most of those goals came from two sources, and the Hawks have to replace Emily Gingrich, a club legend, who finished out her career with eleven goals and four assists in 2016. The Hawks do return junior Dakota Mills though, the forward finishing last season with eighteen goals a season after scoring ten as a rookie. The big question for SJU though is who steps up to replace the lost scoring and influence of Gingrich. SJU could look towards reigning league Rookie of the Year, Gabrielle Vagnozzi, who had three goals and eleven assists her last season and could be poised for a big sophomore season.

SJU’s defense wasn’t great last season, but their offense made up for those deficiencies in large part. Paige Bergman is the pick of the returning defenders and, naturally, also pitched in on the offensive spectrum with six assists. The club also adds in a solid recruit in Kasia Kwitneiski, who might go in the middle of defense given her size. The situation in goal could also bear watching as Cameron Perrott started most of the season but ceded way to Grace Bendon late in the year, with both returning for 2017. From a talent perspective, Saint Joseph’s should again be a prime contender for the A10 title. But there’s no telling how this group will react after the defeat to Dayton in the A10 Tournament final, so it might be a case of buyer beware with these Hawks. Continue reading

NCAA – 2017 Big West Preview

Chris’ Big West Projections

1. Long Beach State
2. UC Irvine
3. UC Santa Barbara
4. Cal State Fullerton

5. Cal State Northridge
6. UC Davis
7. Cal Poly
8. Hawaii
9. UC Riverside

Long Beach State looked dead and buried in the Big West at one point in 2016, but they proceeded to show why they should never be counted out just a little bit later in the season. The 49ers have racked up seven winning seasons in a row and are largely considered the class of the pack in the Big West. LBSU showed their quality early last year, beating eventual national champs USC but entered league play on a stretch of five losses in six matches, albeit against brutal competition. The Beach went on a nice run early in league play but found their postseason hopes endangered with a one win in four run on the road in the middle of league play. In a must win circumstance though, LBSU won their final regular season match and both matches in the Big West Tournament to bring home another trophy and NCAA Tournament bid, though their journey would end against Santa Clara in the first round.

The Big West is always close and rarely predictable, but Long Beach has a great shot at more silverware in 2017. The Beach’s defense was a rock last year, shipping just four goals in the league and is probably going to be in a position to be strong again this year. The backline is anchored by returning sophomore duo Chloe Froment and Kaitlin Fregulia, who played beyond their years for LBSU last season. Froment in particular looks like a future All-American and will be eager to build on last year’s success. The 49ers do have to replace Ashton McKeown, one of the nation’s best senior goalkeepers, but appear to have some solid contenders, choosing between Imani McDonald, who saw a fair amount of action when McKeown was hurt, as well as Mia Hummel, a transfer from Texas A&M.

Offense could be a bit more spotty based on last year’s scoring record, as the goals largely dried up in league play. At least the club does still have a go-to scorer in senior Ashley Gonzales, the reigning league Offensive Player of the Year after netting eleven goals last year. Nobody who returns netted more than three goals though, and the club has to replace Mimi Rangel, one of the league’s best players in midfield. The Beach will need some additional offense to truly flourish, either from returnees like midfielder Dana Fujikuni or newcomers like highly rated rookie Kayla Cannon or Santa Clara transfer Katie Pingel, once a big time recruit. LBSU looks solid everywhere, even with a few big departures and has two of the league’s best in Froment and Gonzales. They look like title contenders and could ruin someone’s day in the NCAA Tournament with the right matchup.

After two straight losing seasons, UC Irvine got close to recapturing some of their earlier glory under Scott Juniper but didn’t quite get there. Non-conference play brought wins over the ACC’s Pittsburgh and Pac-12’s Oregon, but UCI went a bit cold as league play approached. After a draw with Long Beach State though, Irvine won five of their next six. With a chance to clinch a share of the league title on the final day of the season, the Anteaters capitulated to Cal State Fullerton but got some revenge in the Big West Tournament semi-final, knocking the Titans out after penalties. Irvine would be the ones to suffer in the final though, as mortal rivals Long Beach State delivered a 3-0 beating to UCI.

The Anteaters can rejoice in knowing that they were probably a little ahead of schedule last year with a young squad and are legit title contenders in the Big West this season. Attack-wise, UCI should be very dangerous, with the return of midfielder Kiana Palacios, who missed six games last season but still led the team with nine goals, a big plus for Juniper’s side. The Anteaters have plenty of talented forwards to choose from, with Noel Baham (6 G, 8 A) and Lili Andino (5 G, 2 A) the pick of the returnees. Adding in U.S. U17 international Sydney Carr should only give Juniper more weapons, and UCI’s attack could be the league’s best this year.

The only starter gone is a big one on defense though, with Kelsey Texeira, one of the league’s best defenders gone. UCI doesn’t have anybody in that class returning, though senior Andrea Mensen and sophomore goalkeeper Maddie Newsom, are likely to play a key role for Irvine’s defense this year. In a league with some fierce defenses, UCI’s options in attack could make up for any defensive fallout after losing Texeira, and the Anteaters are on the shortlist of Big West title challengers this year.
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NCAA – 2017 Colonial Athletic Association Preview

Chris’ Colonial Projections

1. Northeastern
2. William & Mary
3. Drexel
4. Hofstra
5. Elon
6. UNC Wilmington

7. James Madison
8. College of Charleston
9. Towson
10. Delaware

Northeastern conquered all in the CAA in 2016. It certainly didn’t appear that that was going to be the case early last year, when the Huskies won just two of their first six, including a draw at home against Rhode Island. Even at the beginning of league play, there were doubts, with the club losing their opener against Delaware. NU would end up winning seven of their last eight CAA matches though to storm to a league title. They’d win their two CAA Tournament matches, 3-0, and actually gave Clemson a close run battle in the NCAA Tournament before bowing out.

The Huskies are a paradox in 2017, as they lose five starters, but they also return a very talented core that could have them as title favorites again. The attack for NU rolled last season, and junior Hannah Rosenblatt was the lead gun, netting thirteen goals to lead the Huskies. Rosenblatt is just one part of a dynamic attack though, as seniors Hannah Lopiccolo and Kayla Cappuzzo have terrorized opposing defenses here for three years and could give NU the best one-two-three punch in the CAA. Though the Huskies have to replace midfielder Carina Deandreis, they still have sophomore Kerri Zerfoss and rookies Chelsea Domond and Sophia Thompson to fall back on as ancillary attacking weapons.

NU was also pretty good on defense last year as well, though not in league runner-up Drexel’s class. Defense is the biggest question mark for NU, as the group loses one of the CAA’s best defenders in Mackenzie Dowd, as well as the very game Jenny Sinclair. Adding in U.S. U18 international Mikenna McManus should help, but there are still some serious concerns on the backline. NU should be safe in goal though, as junior Nathalie Nidetch was one of the best in the league last year, while rookie Megan Adams should provide excellent cover if needed. I’m probably a bit more conservative on my view of NU this year than my projections thanks to some of the defensive questions, but the Huskies are still probably going to roll most CAA teams thanks to their attacking trifecta.

2016 was another winning season for William & Mary, a program that has never had a losing season in program history. Unfortunately for the Tribe, that’s about all it was, as they were mired in the mid-table in the CAA at the end of the season. A non-conference win over DePaul had invariably raised hopes of a big year, but one win in four CAA games to begin the league season hurt, and W&M backed into fifth place in the league after a loss and draw in their final two. They’d make a run to the CAA Tournament semi-final but were well beaten by Northeastern there.

The Tribe look to be well placed for a bounce back year in 2017. Defense could be a bit of a sore spot though, as the Tribe lose league Co-Defender of the Year Clara Logsdon, as well as Corinne Giroux from the backline. Senior Haley Kent is likely the best of the returnees on the backline, while seniors Grace Smith and Samantha Johnson may again split time in goal.

The Tribe could be pretty good going forward, with most of last year’s big hitters back. Senior Rachel Moore could be one of the league’s best players and will be looking to improve upon a six goal, five assist showing from last season. Also back is sophomore Sarah Megan, who was very impressive as a rookie, knocking home ten goals to lead the Tribe attack. W&M also add in rookie midfielder Erin Dailey, a strong prospect from the powerhouse PDA club, to their ranks. At bare minimum, William & Mary look like one of the CAA’s best sides this year and potentially a title contender if they can compensate for the loss of Logsdon. Continue reading

NCAA – 2017 Patriot League Preview

Chris’ Patriot League Projections

1. Bucknell
2. Boston University
3. Navy
4. Colgate
5. Lehigh
6. Army West Point

7. Holy Cross
8. American
9. Loyola (MD)
10. Lafayette

With twenty-seven wins in two seasons, Bucknell’s Kelly Cook has established herself as one of the nation’s best young coaches, especially after a tremendous 2016 season for the Bison. Bucknell enjoyed a dream season last year, going unbeaten in their first fourteen matches before taking their only loss of the regular season against Lehigh. It was enough to see them bumped into a share of the league title with Boston University, but the Bison left no doubt about who the rulers of the league were in 2016 by winning the Patriot League Tournament by topping BU in the final. Penn State proved to be well out of Bucknell’s league in the NCAA Tournament, but there was still no shame in a sixteen win season.

With eight starters set to return, the Bison should again be right in the mix for Patriot League honors. Bucknell’s attack was absolutely electrifying in the Patriot League last year, netting almost three goals a game in the league. The Bison’s attack doesn’t come through completely intact, with Alexis Gannon departing after four goals and seven assists last year, while Patriot League Tournament MVP Cora Climo also graduates. However, Bucknell does return a deadly duo in Kendall Ham and Maddie Mulford, who combined for a whopping twenty-five goals and thirteen assists and should again terrorize opposing defenses this season. Senior midfielder Meghan Holtz isn’t a big offensive threat but is also a standout for the Bison heading into 2017.

Bucknell was also quite stout defensively in 2016 but has to replace starting goalkeeper Jessica Ratner, who was one of the best senior netminders in the nation last year. Sophomore Dani Kaufman saw a little bit of mop-up duty and will battle classmate Theresa Adu-Attobrah for the gloves. The backline should be fine though, with the return of senior stud Karli Cirovski the highlight. Also back are Jackie Ham, sister of Kendall, and promising sophomore Ali Russo. It looks like another big battle between Bucknell and Boston University, and the Bison certainly look like a club that could win another title in 2017.

Those familiar with women’s college soccer likely know of Boston University as a program almost always at or near the top of whatever league they’re playing in, be it the America East or the Patriot League. But last year, BU’s league success was coupled with something unfamiliar to the club: a losing record overall. It’s not hyperbole to say the Terriers experienced no non-conference success in 2016, as they lost all nine of their games before Patriot League play, albeit to six teams that would finish in the RPI Top 70. Normal service was resumed in the league with BU sharing a league title with Bucknell, but the Bison were the club’s Achilles’ heel last year, beating them both in the league and in the conference tournament final.

Unsurprisingly, BU looks in a position to again challenge for honors in 2017. The Terriers packed a mean bite on defense last year, shipping the fewest goals in league play and will likely be great again this year. Fifth-year senior Rachel Bloznalis returns after winning league Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2016, though BU has to replace excellent defender Rachel Blauner. Hannah Ciolek looks likely to take over in goal after splitting time with the graduated Bridget Conway last season.

The concern might be on offense, where nobody netted more than four goals on the season, though BU still scored their fair share in league play. Midfielder Julianna Chen doesn’t usually do the scoring but is still the standout of this group, with McKenna Doyle and Jesse Shreck also heavily involved in the attack. Rookie Kiana Ghamarifard could also be worth watching given her reputation coming into BU. The Terriers are well coached, well rounded, and well placed for another run at honors in the Patriot League in 2017. Continue reading

NCAA – 2017 Conference USA Preview

Chris’ Conference USA Projections

1. Charlotte
2. Rice
3. Western Kentucky
4. Old Dominion
5. Florida Atlantic
6. UTEP
7. Louisiana Tech
8. Marshall

9. Middle Tennessee State
10. North Texas
11. Southern Miss
12. Florida International
13. UAB
14. UTSA

2016 looked like another season of Charlotte being Charlotte, i.e. the poster child of a program somehow doing less with more. Despite having some of C-USA’s best players and being flush in an area with great youth talent, the 49ers under John Cullen had seldom threatened for trophies. The 49ers finished an uninspiring sixth in the league in 2016 after dropping their last three league games and looked to be staring down another less than fulfilling season. And then a weird thing happened. Charlotte knocked out Western Kentucky on penalties in the C-USA Tournament. And beat UTEP. And then crushed Florida Atlantic in the final to lift silverware and clinch an NCAA bid. Suddenly, Charlotte’s narrative had changed dramatically.

The next goal is to show that last year’s postseason wasn’t a fluke and that the 49ers are here to stay as a force in Conference USA. At first glance, the 49ers should at least be able to compete for a much coveted league title. Charlotte will likely be riding their offense to any success this season, with arguably the league’s best player, Martha Thomas, returning for her senior season. Thomas was one of the nation’s few players to achieve the “double-double” last year, scoring ten goals and assisting on ten as well. The key is, Thomas won’t be along, as the club also returns reigning league Freshman of the Year Megan Greene, who netted ten goals and six assists as a rookie. Replacing midfielder Katie O’Neill could be tough, but Charlotte should still have enough offense to trample most opposing defenses.

There are more questions defensively, where C-USA Tournament Defensive MVP Shelby Hicks graduates, while last year’s starting keeper Anna Shelden also departs. Set piece threat Riley Orr returns at full-back after eleven assists a season ago and is joined by promising rookies Meredith Hamby and Brianna Morris. In goal, last year’s backup, Abby Coffey, will likely battle prized recruit Alivia McKelvy for the starting job with Shelden gone. There are some questions on defense, but the 49ers still look to have enough on the other side of the ball to be installed as preseason title favorites in C-USA.

2016 brought another strong RPI finish and third straight winning season for a Rice program that’s done quite well under Nicky Adams. Last year, the Owls had a bit of a middling non-conference season, though they did net a nice 3-3 draw against SoCon powerhouse Samford as the highlight before league play kicked in. Losing two of their first three in the league scuttled their title hopes, but Rice were fabulous after, winning their final seven in the league to finish as runners-up. With the Owls in-form, they looked like a nice pick for the C-USA Tournament, but they were shocked by UTEP in the quarterfinals, 1-0.

The Owls look set to return eight starters from last year’s runners-up, which means they should again be a title challenger. The attack could be the focus for Rice this year with the club returning the reigning C-USA Midfielder of the Year, senior Samantha Chaiken, though she didn’t show a great cutting edge in front of goal last year. Considering the Owls didn’t have anyone net more than five total last year, you could argue the entire squad needs to show a sharper edge in front of goal. Senior Mia Stallings could be looked at as the go-to scorer after leading the club with five goals, while Erin Mikeska could be in line for a bigger role after an impressive rookie year. The Owls will also be looking for big things from rookie Remy Mathews, a midfielder who is the club’s top newcomer on paper.

Rice gave up just six goals in the league last year, but they have some huge holes to fill thanks to graduation and attrition. The backline gets hit with a double blow, losing Defensive Player of the Year Jenny Fichera, who tied for the team lead with seven assists, and the stellar Jasmine Isokpunwu. Also gone is promising goalkeeper Samantha Colley, who departs after one season. It means the Owls will decide between sophomore Maya Hoyer, who started a few games last year, and true freshman Amanda McMaster. There are some major defensive questions, but Rice returns enough talent and have solid coaching to believe they’ll be in the mix near the top of C-USA this year.
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