As if you need anything else to help fill your soccer thirst, the NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Tournament starts Friday night. The 64-team tournament is similar to the NCAA Basketball Tournament that everyone gets excited about every March. The tournament will culminate with the Women’s College Cup at Orlando City Stadium in Orlando, Florida on December 1st and 3rd.
If you’ve never seen college soccer, it’s pretty much the same as any other soccer you’ve watched with a few key differences. In the collegiate game, the clock counts down and is stopped for injuries, bookings, and goals. The managers are allowed unlimited substitutions, but a player may not reenter the match during the first half. Additionally, games that are tied at the end of regulation go to an overtime similar to an overtime in a professional game. The only difference is that the college game is played under golden goal rules meaning the first goal in overtime wins it. If no goal is scored, then penalties will follow.
NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Tournament Preview
Now that we’re through all of that, we can get into this year’s tournament. The first round kicks off Friday evening. As you would expect, the “Power Five” conferences dominate the field with 34 of the 64 teams coming from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, and Pac-12. The rest of this year’s field is made up of conference champions from the mid-majors and an at-large bid from Conference-USA, the Big East, the American, and West Coast Conferences. The tournament is split into four regions that will each send a team to Orlando in December.
Stanford (18-1) is the number one team in the women’s soccer rating percentage index (RPI) and United Soccer Coaches poll. Their sole loss was by just one goal in their fourth game of the season against Florida, who is now ranked 16th in the nation right now. The Pac-12 champions will be matched up with Utah Valley (10-11-1). Utah Valley is 231st out of 333 in the RPI. Unless you just really love Stanford soccer, there’s absolutely no reason to watch this game. Joining Stanford in the regional is two-seed West Virginia (15-3-2, seventh in coaches’ poll and RPI), three-seed Penn State (12-4-4, tenth in the coaches’ poll and RPI, and Big Ten champions), and four-seed Florida State (11-6-1, unranked in coaches poll, and sixteenth in RPI).
The region is always full of interesting first-round games to keep an eye on and all three of them are Friday night showdowns. The first, with a 6:00 EST kickoff, is a matchup between the Hofstra Pride (15-3-2, unranked in the coaches’ poll, 23rd in RPI, and the Colonial Conference champions) and the Auburn Tigers (7-6-5, unranked in the coaches’ poll, and 27th in RPI). The Tigers are coming into the game led by senior Kristen Dodson, who leads the team in scoring with eight goals, and redshirt senior defender Caroline Bado. Hofstra’s leading scorer, senior Kristin Desmond, will attempt to help the Pride overcome the Tigers in what should be a good defensive matchup.
Up next is a battle between Florida State and Ole Miss (10-6-3, unranked in the coaches’ poll, and fortieth in the RPI). The game will kickoff at 7:00 EST. Florida State comes in as the clear favorite, but Ole Miss has the third-best scoring offense this season and the second best in the tournament. The team has two really good scorers that have led this team to an at-large bid in this year’s tourney. Junior CeCe Kizer has 16 goals and seven assists, while freshman Channing Foster has 12 goals and two assists. If Florida State can stifle the two stars, then it should be an easy road into the next round.
In the final big first-round matchup in the region, Georgetown (14-3-3, 15th in coaches’ poll, 22nd in RPI, and Big East champions) will face Wake Forest (11-5-3, 24th in the coaches’ poll, and 42 in RPI). It’s the only first-round matchup between two ranked teams In this tournament. Wake Forest’s leading scorer Bayley Feist will be faced with the tough task of trying to beat Arielle Schechtman, who currently has a save percentage of 82.1 percent.
The Columbia regional is highlighted by South Carolina (15-2-1, fifth in the coaches’ poll, and third in RPI). Additionally, the bracket features two-seed Central Florida (13-1-3, eighth in coaches’ poll, and fifth in RPI), three-seed Florida (14-6-0, 16th in the coaches’ poll, and 19th in RPI), and four-seed Ohio State (15-4-1, 14th in coaches’ poll, and 17th in RPI). The region has two in-state showdowns as South Florida (12-3-2, 25th in coaches’ poll, fifteenth in RPI, and American conference champions) takes on Florida Gulf Coast (14-3-1, unranked in coaches’ poll, 35th in RPI, and Atlantic Sun champions) and Santa Clara (13-6-1, unranked in coaches’ poll, and 31st in RPI) faces off with California (13-5-1, 19th in coaches’ poll, and 25th in RPI). The bracket presents the biggest challenge for a one seed as number five South Carolina will have to potentially face three of the seven ranked teams in the regional.
The first round game to watch is Murray State (15-1-2, unranked in coaches’ poll, 21st in RPI, and Ohio Valley champions) vs Tennessee (14-4-1, 20th in coaches’ poll and RPI). The game kicks off at 5:00 EST on Saturday and will be decided in Tennessee’s attacking third. For Tennessee, Khadija Shaw, who has 14 goals this season, will have to try to beat Murray State’s exceptional goalkeeper, Alex Steigerwald, who is saving 85.1 percent of shots this season.
The third portion of the bracket is headlined by one-seed Duke (19-2-0, third in coaches’ poll, and fourth in RPI), two-seed Texas A&M (17-2-1, sixth in coaches’ and RPI, and SEC champions), three-seed USC (14-3-1, ninth in coaches’ poll, and eighteenth in RPI), and four-seed Texas (13-3-2, 18th in coaches’ poll, and twelfth in RPI).
Of the first round games, there are three that pique my interest. Clemson (9-5-3, 38th in RPI) faces Alabama (12-7-1, 28th in RPI) in a game that could be a potential upset if Clemson’s goalkeeper, Sandy MacIver, can keep up her 85 percent save percentage. Kickoff is at 7:00 EST on Friday night. In addition to that game, Rice (12-3-2, 36th in RPI) plays Baylor (13-5-2, 23rd in coaches’ poll, 34th in RPI, and Big 12 champions) Friday evening at 5:00 EST and North Texas (14-3-4, 65th in RPI, and Conference USA champions) plays Texas in a few of the good matchups in the first round.
Chapel Hill Regional
The final section of the tournament features the most historic women’s soccer program in the nation as North Carolina (15-2-2, second in coaches’ poll and RPI, and ACC champions), who has won 20 of 27 ACC titles and 21 of 31 NCAA championships, will lead the way with the number one seed. Joining them are two-seed UCLA (15-2-2, fourth in coaches’ poll, and eighth in RPI), three-seed Virginia (11-5-4, 12th in coaches’ poll, and 23rd in RPI), and four-seed Princeton (13th in coaches’ poll, ninth in RPI, and Ivy League champions).
The regional features only one quality matchup as Arkansas (11-10-2, 41st in RPI) faces NC State (14-5-1, 21st in coaches’ poll, 30th in RPI). That’s the best first-round matchup and it doesn’t have all that much to offer. Colorado (11-5-4, 43rd in RPI) host in-state opponent Denver (11-8-1, 225th in RPI, and Summit champions) in what is probably the next most intriguing matchup. This part of the tourney doesn’t offer much until the later rounds unless you want to watch a UNC match. Overall, the tournament looks to have a good first round, though. There are a handful of good matchups that could provide some early upsets in this year’s tournament.