The women’s Division I tournament kicks off this weekend, with the First Round in full force around the nation.
With 32 games on the docket, here are five critical matches to keep an eye on between intriguing programs.
Perhaps the matchup of the first round, the slugfest between the Big Ten and Big East program could simply boil down to a pivotal midfield match. Marquette’s holding midfielder Morgan Proffitt will look to put the shackles on Badger extraordinaire Rose Lavelle. Neither senior wants this to be her last game in college soccer, as Proffitt seeks to snuff out Lavelle’s attacking forays forward. Of course, if both are locked in a dual with one another, it could open up space for other players on the field. Carrie Madden tops Marquette with six goals, while Micaela Powers and Emily Borgmann have combined to score nine. Whatever the case, the individual battle between Proffitt and Rose makes this for must-see TV.
The Big West champions head north to Santa Clara, as the two under-the-radar programs clash for the fourth time in the NCAA Tournament. The previous three meetings have all resulted in a win for the Broncos, including last year’s First Round match that Santa Clara won by a 1-0 score. It should be another close matchup between the two California programs. Long Beach state relies on the quality of its spine, whether it’s Ashton McKeown in goal, freshman Chloe Froment, midfielder Mimi Rangel and forward Ashley Gonzales a tough package to slow down. Both teams emphasize keeping things tidy at the back. Senior midfielder Jordan Jesolva leads Santa Clara with eight goals, as the hosts look to keep the advantage this season
The West Coast Conference champions play host to the Golden Bears in another scintillating first round matchups. Cal’s stumbled at the end of its Pac-12 season, with just one win in its last five. Recent form should go out the window, and with Arielle Ship, Ifeoma Onumonu and Emma Fletcher going forward, the potential is there for plenty of goals. However, Pepperdine has the edge as host, and boasts a tough back line that shut down BYU, one of the best attacks in the country. Goalkeeper Hannah Seabert deserves a lot of the credit for that, as she earned WCC Goalkeeper of the Year honors earlier this week. Senior Rylee Baisden emerged as the team’s most consistent scoring threat, though there’s little doubt that the Waves will look to keep this one as a close, low-scoring affair.
One of the intriguing story lines that tends to emerge from First Round matches is to go through and pick out which mid-major programs can do a job against power conference opponents. This matchup presents one of the games that could end up being close, simply because of each team’s strength. Kent State won the MAC on the back of its offensive, with Jenna Hellstrom leading a quality attack, scoring 14 goals and adding 10 assists. Shutting her down is sure to be the focus for Northwestern, which boasts one of the nation’s best defenses. Solving goalkeeper Lauren Clem is key, and her numbers are impressive: 15 shutouts, just six goals allowed all season. The Wildcats are no slouches in front of goal either, scoring 25 times. An early Kent State goal could shake things up, even though host Northwestern are the clear favorite.
In-state rivals clash in Columbus, with two high-powered attacks capable of delivering an entertaining match. Dayton needed to run the table at the Atlantic 10 Tournament in order to make it to this point, which they did, thanks to an explosive offensive performance from Alexis Kiehl and Libby Leedom. Kiehl reached 20 goals on the season and can nudge herself into the national lead in goals scored if she find the back of the net against the Buckeyes. Ohio State managed just a single win down the final stretch of the season and missed the Big Ten tournament. It could leave Nichelle French and Lindsey Agnew fresh and ready to hit the ground running in front of Dayton’s goal.