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2016 ACC women’s preview

Article Written by Travis Clark
Published: August 15, 2016

Atlantic Coast

2015 Conference Honors
Offensive Player of the Year: Makenzy Doniak, Virginia
Defensive Player of the Year: Emily Sonnett, Virginia
Midfielder of the Year: Megan Connolly, Florida State
Freshman of the Year: Megan Connolly, Florida State
Coach of the Year: Steve Swanson, Virginia

Teams (2015 overall, conference record)

Virginia (19-1-3, 9-1)

Moving on from the Morgan Brian era was difficult enough, and now the Cavaliers have to figure out both their defense and offense without the talents of Makenzy Doniak and Emily Sonnett. Of course, head coach Steve Swanson always has talent waiting in the wings, whether that’s in the incoming recruiting class or already on the roster. Alexis Shaffer will continue to assume a prominent role in the offense, while Kristen McNabb backstops the team’s defending. First year talent will get opportunities, and look for Taylor Ziemer, Meghan McCool and Zoe Morse to get a decent amount of playing time from the start.

Florida State (18-2-4, 6-1-3)

Mark Krikorian’s machine continues to solidify itself as one of the nation’s most consistent powers. The 2014 national champions seek a sixth straight College Cup appearance and tenth overall under Krikorian. While there are big holes to fill, experience and talent remains. Megan Connolly will have more of the attacking load to shoulder, though when Deyna Castellanos arrives after the U17 World Cup, she’ll add a boost. Kaycie Tillman and Elin Jensen are two rising sophomores that will need to feature prominently again. Defensively, there should be little drop off, with Cassie Miller in goal and Kirsten Crowley the lone senior on the roster.

North Carolina (15-5-1, 7-3)

Injuries dogged the Tar Heels last season, as a number of ACL tears left the powerhouse bereft of its top talent in the NCAA Tournament. Taylor Otto and Jessie Scarpa are slated to redshirt and miss the upcoming campaign, a definite blow, though depth remains. Midfielder Dorian Bailey was one of those to tear her ACL in the midst of an encouraging freshman campaign, and her return will be a boost. There’s Megan Buckingham, who will need to step up in the absence of Scarpa, while senior Joanna Boyles is an underrated player. The incoming class should be able to add some intrigue, including forwards Bridgette Andrzejenski and Madison Schultz.

Clemson (14-4-2, 7-3)

An impressive team defensively, backed by one of the nation’s elite goalkeepers in Kailen Sheridan, there’s no reason to believe a drop off is around the corner for the Tigers. Given the presence of Sheridan plus Claire Wager at the back, Clemson’s ability to generate offense on a regular basis could be the only thing separating them between being an elite team and just a very, very good one.

Virginia Tech (15-3-3, 6-3-1)

The two-headed monster of Ashley Meier and Murielle Tiernan has come to an end, with the former’s graduation from Tech. Tiernan remains one of the best players still in college soccer, and should the Hokies setup a dangerous pipeline, it should prove beneficial to Tiernan’s production. Fellow forward Alani Johnson has proven capable of adding to the scoring load, and is another important element to the team’s offensive hopes.

Notre Dame (14-5-1, 6-4)

It’s set to be a challenging season in South Bend with the combination of losses to graduation and the U20 World Cup. Natalie Jacobs and Sabrina Flores will redshirt the entire season for the trip to PNG, while key freshman Jennifer Westerndorf and outside back Sabrina Flores will take off midway through the season for the competition. Westerndorf brings a prodigious scoring record at both club and high school level to the college ranks, and given that she spent the entire spring at Notre Dame. Goalkeeper Kaela Little could end up being very busy after three out of four starting defenders graduate from last year’s squad.

Boston College (11-7-2, 5-3-2)

Everyone loves a good sleeper pick, and the Eagles setup in intriguing fashion heading into the campaign. The attacking duo of McKenzie Meehan and Hayley Dowd make the team’s offense significant, and an impressive recruiting class lifts the quality of depth in a number of positions.

Duke (14-6-5, 4-3-3)

Pressure and expectations are sky-high for the Blue Devils, which brings back nearly the entire starting lineup from last season’s runner-up squad. Add in a tremendous recruiting class that includes Mia Gyau and Ella Stevens, the Blue Devils should be in contention for both an ACC title and a national crown. With players like Rebecca Quinn, Christina Gibbons, Toni Payne and Imani Dorsey providing experience and quality in different parts of the pitch, Robbie Church’s squad has a big season ahead of it.

Louisville (8-8-2, 4-5-1)

It’s been a battle for the Cardinals to keep themselves above water since moving to the ACC, though last season the squad showed signs of effectiveness and ability to compete against some of the league’s heavy hitters. Some of that came down to the sensational play of Taylor Bucklin in goal, as she made 74 saves in just 13 games. Improving in the goal-scoring department is going to be the critical issue here, as the Cardinals managed just 17 goals. Raise that total and Louisville could be set for an even better 2016 campaign.

Pittsburgh (10-7-1, 4-6)

Speaking of improving, that’s what Pitt managed to do with a four-win ACC campaign last fall. Replicating that will be tricky, as 2015 leading-scorer Jarena Harmon transferred to Maryland. Taylor Pryce is returning up front, which will help soften the blow, and the team did pick up an impressive exhibition win this week against Ohio State. Senior goalkeeper Taylor Francis is one of the nation’s most underrated netminders, and will look to make an impression in her final season.

Syracuse (7-11-1, 3-7)

A program looking to make a move in the ACC, this could be the best chance for the Orange. With leading scorers Alex Lamontagne and Stephanie Skilton back in the fold, and Caroline Brosnan in goal, a Top 20 recruiting class could provide the boost needed to push Syracuse up the standings. That includes Maine standout Opal Curless, who enjoyed a standout career for FC Stars of Massachusetts.

Wake Forest (5-12-2, 2-8)

Is this the year that the Demon Deacons thrust themselves back into the elite? It’s been a few years that Wake has been in ACC contention, and a 4-1 exhibition loss against James Madison does not inspire confidence. Midfielder Sarah Teegarden is one of the players that does lend hope, though improvement needs to happen rapidly in order for success to come, particularly in conference play.

Miami (FL) (5-12, 2-8)

After an impressive start to her tenure in Miami, posting a 9-8-1 record back in 2013, things have been a struggle the past two campaigns under Mary-Frances Monroe, with a combined record of 9-25-1 between 2014 and 2015. On paper, there is reason for optimism. A quality recruiting class should move the needle in terms of the team’s depth, and if Second Team All-ACC performer Gracie Lachowecki can take another step forward, look for the Hurricanes to boost their win total.

NC State (4-15, 0-10)

The rebuild continues in Raleigh for NC State, which went winless in back-to-back ACC campaigns. Is this the year that streak comes to an end? The incoming recruiting class contains a pair of German freshmen, Kristina Schuster and Ricarda Walkling, who will need to quickly adjust to a new style of play and a new country. Forward Jackie Stengel is a quality player, though she’ll need help on a team that scored only 14 times in 2015. Another freshman, Kia Rankin, could provide to help in that regard.

Related Topics: Atlantic Coast
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