Thursday’s women’s Division I college action features five tremendous matchups.
With the regular season end in sight, here’s what you need to know about these clashes.
Winners of seven straight heading into this match, the defending national champions get the chance to make a statement against their highest ranked RPI opponent to date. USC’s been somewhat of a surprise, winning seven straight games, keeping pace with Stanford. Alex Anthony and Leah Pruitt have provided just enough offense for a team that’s difficult to break down, and Cal’s visit will paint a good picture of just how good USC is. The Golden Bears are playing well at the right time, winners of five straight heading into this one. Senior goalkeeper Emily Boyd’s been a big key to success, conceding only six goals from 16 games. Miranda Nild and Abi Kim have supplied the offense, while Luca Deza and Emily Smith have emerged from a strong recruiting class.
The ACC title race comes down to this Thursday night clash, as Duke hits the road and puts its 16-game win streak on the line at Klockner Stadium. They’ll look to keep the edge over in-state rivals North Carolina, as the Blue Devils need the full three points to secure the regular season crown. Duke’s all-around excellence has come to the fore this season, as they’ve stayed healthy and are deadly at both ends of the pitch. Kayla McCoy leads the team with 10 goals, though Imani Dorsey, Ella Stevens and Taylor Racioppi are all capable of doing damage. Despite this not being the best Virginia team, head coach Steve Swanson has still led his team to a solid 5-1-3 record. The lack of dynamic options up front has limited the team’s ceiling, as they’ve mustered just 28 goals this season. A normally high-scoring program, Virginia’s likely to challenge its lowest total since 2006, when the team scored 32 times. The Cavaliers are topped by freshman Taryn Torres and senior Veronica Latsko, and both need to be on song in this one.
Kicking off an hour ahead of the Duke-Virginia matchup, the Blue Devils will take the field in Charlottesville with at least some idea of how this matchup is going. The Tar Heels had their eight-game winning streak snapped with a draw against Louisville, and wrap up the regular season at “home” in Cary. UNC has clinched the No. 2 seed in the ACC tournament at minimum, which begins this weekend at campus sites around the league. The Tar Heels are finally getting healthier, as freshman Lotte Wubben-Moy and junior Jessie Scarpa have seen minutes over the past few games. They did lose Maya Worth for the rest of the season to a torn Achilles, though the team can still fine-tune ahead of a pair of knockout competitions. Notre Dame has plenty to play for, both from a confidence perspective and the opportunity to finish as high as the No. 3 seed in the ACC tournament. Jennifer Westendorf and Natalie Jacobs are the team’s two leading scorers, and will look to make things happen.
Another regular season title is at stake in Thursday’s matchup at Dizney Stadium, where the Gamecocks can seal the SEC crown with a win against Florida. Texas A&M has a chance to pounce, visiting Mississippi State and hoping that the Gamecocks drop points on the road. Gabby Seiler will be key as Florida seeks to shut down South Carolina star Savannah McCaskill, while the pace and athleticism of Deanne Rose has proved to be effective going forward. Both sides are going to try and get the full points, one seeking a championship and the other looking for momentum ahead of next week's SEC tournament.
Before the Bruins lost last week on the road against Washington State, this was shaping up to be a clash between the top two teams in the nation. Now, it’s still a scintillating matchup and perhaps Stanford’s first big challenge of the 2017 season. The individual battles are fascinating – from the top two upperclassmen in the Top 100 list (Jessie Fleming and Andi Sullivan) to the top two freshmen in the country (Ashley Sanchez and Catarina Macario). The focus for UCLA, which is certainly in the category of national title contender, is to slow down the Stanford attack. Keep it a low-scoring game in Westwood, and the Bruins’ chances improve significantly.