2017 ACC women's soccer preview

2017 ACC women's soccer preview
by Travis Clark
August 9, 2017


2016 Conference Honors
Offensive Player of the Year: M Alexis Shaffer, Virginia
Defensive Player of the Year: D Christina Gibbons, Duke
Midfielder of the Year: M Alexis Shaffer, Virginia
Freshman of the Year: F Bridgette Andrzejewski, North Carolina
Coach of the Year: Eddie Radwanski, Clemson

2016 Standings
Notre Dame (13-3-5, 7-1-2)
Clemson (14-4-4, 7-1-2)
Duke (15-5-3, 7-2-1)
North Carolina (17-4-4, 6-2-2)
Florida State (14-4-4, 6-2-2)
Virginia (15-5-2, 6-2-2)
Miami (FL) (10-8-1, 5-5)
Virginia Tech (11-5-3, 3-4-3)
NC State (11-9-2, 4-5-1)
Louisville (7-7-4, 2-5-3)
Wake Forest (10-8, 2-8)
Boston College (11-7-1, 3-7)
Syracuse (8-8-3, 1-7-2)
Pittsburgh (2-15-1, 1-9)

The ACC was crowded at the top in 2016, and with the caliber of players and programs heading into a new season, a repeat outcome would be no shock.

On paper, Florida State holds the edge. Between returning stars like Natalia Kuikka, Cassie Miller, Megan Connolly and Deyna Castellanos, the Seminoles are poised to erase the memories of last year’s second round exit from the NCAA Tournament. The addition of exciting talent like Adrienne Richardson, Gloriana Villalobos and Gabby Carle gives FSU plenty of depth to return to the ACC regular season summit. There's little doubt that the 2014 national champions are more than capable of another College Cup triumph this year.

There will be plenty of high-powered programs looked to thwart them, of course. Notre Dame welcomes Natalie Jacobs and Sabrina Flores back into the fold after the U20 World Cup, and the former should partner nicely with Jennifer Westendorf in the attacking third. Taylor Klawunder and Sandra Yu also provide experience and leadership.

The senior core that was a huge part of Clemson’s surge up the ACC standings isnow gone, leaving the program in an interesting spot. Can the team cope with the departures of Claire Wagner, Kailen Sheridan and Catrina Atanda, to name just a few? That’s the big question, with junior defender Samantha Staab among the key returnees, while sophomore Julie Mackin was solid in her first college season. The Tigers are going to be young again, with only two seniors and one graduate on the roster. Keeping pace in the conference will be a tough ask, though the team's culture change is sure to stick around.

Fresh off a College Cup run, North Carolina has the depth to play into December, particularly if a few things go as planned. The return of Jessie Scarpa from the U20s is big, as she’ll pair up with Bridgette Andrzejewski in the final third. If Joanna Boyles can recapture her form prior to the ACL injury suffered at the end of the 2015 season, that’s another weapon that can be deployed from the bench or in a starting role. English imports Alessia Russo and Carlotte Wubben-Moy will need time to adjust, but should evolve into very good additions in the ACC.

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Outside of Florida State and North Carolina, Duke is shaping up to be a formidable force. Injuries held the Blue Devils back in 2016, and the health of Canadian central defender Rebecca Quinn, U.S. youth national team player Taylor Racioppi and forward Kayla McCoy will be determining factors. If the trio is healthy for the duration of the season, a deep run in conference and tournament play should follow. The team lost immense talent in Christina Gibbons and Toni Payne, though Imani Dorsey and Ella Stevens more than make up for that in the goal production department. Duke’s incoming class is notable as well, as Gabrielle Brummett and Karlie Paschall should both be in the mix for minutes.

A relatively young team last season, Virginia still has to cope with the loss of starters in goal, at the back and up front. Fortunately, there are talented solutions waiting to be deployed. Goalkeeper Laurel Ivory reclassified as a 2017, and is a contender to start for the Cavaliers right away. Forward Veronica Latsko can help cope with Alexis Shaffer’s departure, with talented sophomores Alissa Gorzak and Taylor Ziemer also able to chip in and step up in the final third. Betsy Brandon and Zoe Morse have the ability to compete with just about any midfield in the country, and will look to restore Virginia’s superiority in the middle of the park.

It was a memorable campaign for NC State, which punched a ticket to the NCAA Tournament after a mid-table finish in 2016. That success came off the back of a talented freshman class, as Kia Rankin, Kristina Schuster, Tziarra King and Ricarda Walkling all stamped their authority on the Wolfpack starting lineup. A third Bayern Munich product joins the team as a freshman, as defender Lulu Guttenburger will reunite with Walkling and Schuster. The X-Factor toan even better season is forward Jackie Stengel; ACL tears have ended her seasons in 2014 and 2016, so if she can stay healthy and contribute – even from the bench – it will be a bonus.

If Miami (FL) is to improve on its 10-win season in 2016, replacing the production of Gracie Lachowecki is central, at least going forward. Sophomore Kristina Fisher emerged as a freshman, earning All-Freshman Team honors, and will need to up her production offensively.

Among the perennial standouts looking to bounce back, both Virginia Tech and Wake Forest look intriguing. The Demon Deacons have landed an impressive recruiting class that includes domestic standouts like Abby McNamara and Ryanne Browne, and is complemented by international additions Vicky Krug and Hulda Arnarsdottir.

Senior forward Alani Johnson will be the focal point of Virginia Tech in the offensive third, where she’ll need to finish her college career in memorable fashion and help the Hokies climb the ladder. The team’s spine will be strong, with Madi Conyers in the midfield, Kelsey Irwin in defense and U.S. U20 candidate Mandy McGlynn in goal. There’s talent on the roster to support that, with the potential for a top half finish well within reach.

Can Louisville make inroads in the ACC standings? The Cardinals have had a difficult time breaking through since moving to the conference, though there are reasons for optimism. This may not be the year, but a young team will pick up valuable experience. Midfielder Gabrielle Vincent was a bright spot last season, and needs to keep improving as a junior. Among the notable additions for the upcoming season are Mollie Rouse and Emina Ekic.

Despite losing its two-headed monster up front in McKenzie Meehan and Hayley Dowd, Boston College does have a roster that could certainly vault it ahead of its projected 10th place finish. Defender Allyson Swaby has the experience to lead the defense, and there are options to inject into the attack. Freshman Samantha Coffey is one of those, provided that she can adjust quickly to the ACC and help replace Dowd and Meehan. Other key returnees include Jenna Bike, Gabby Carreiro and Kayla Jennings.

After jumping out to a 7-1-1 record outside ACC play, Syracuse managed just a single win through the conference slate. Scoring against ACC opponents proved to be their undoing, as the Orange found the back of the net eight times in 10 games. England forward Georgia Allen will be one of the candidates to try and placate that issue after transferring from ETSU. Freshman attacker Mackenzie Vlachos could be another new addition after a decorated high school and club career.

Losing Taylor Pryce before the conference schedule started was a body blow that Pittsburgh couldn’t quite recover from in 2016. Fellow Canadian youth national teamer Ashley Moreira also sat out the campaign to compete in the U20 World Cup. Seeking improvement on a one-win ACC season, the Panthers already have those two additional newcomers to rely on this year. It’s easy to spot where improvements must be made, as the team managed eight goals last season, and conceded 41. The team also added German youth international Vildan Kardesler, who can slot in at the back.

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