The women’s Division I NCAA Tournament kicks off this weekend, with 32 matches set for the next three days.
After sifting through the first round of games, here are five of the more intriguing games to track (all times list EST).
Friday, Nov. 11
After already meeting once this season (a 2-1 win for the Golden Bears), Santa Clara and California square off in the first round eyeing an opportunity. Whichever side emerges victorious has a real chance of making some noise in a wide-open bracket. The two sides ended the season in contrasting fashions, as Santa Clara rattled off seven straight wins to close out 2017, and Cal dropped its last three games by 1-0 scores – although against USC, UCLA and Stanford. Goalkeeper Emily Boyd gives Cal a chance against any opponent, such is her quality, and she’ll be eager to keep her season alive. Freshman Kelsey Turnbow’s been a driving force for Santa Clara during its winning run, scoring eight times during the winning streak.
Few teams were as hard done by in the NCAA draw than Georgetown. After winning the Big East regular season and conference title, the Hoyas were sent on the road for a clash against the ACC’s come back side. But something’s up when a team that finished 20 places ahead of the host side in the RPI has to go on the road. And while Georgetown’s final RPI checked in at No. 22, why not reward a title-winning side over mid-table ACC finishers such as Virginia or Florida State? The chip that Georgetown will have on its shoulders is going to be a big challenge for Wake Forest to overcome. Regardless of those implications, the match should be a good one. Two teams that like to keep possession, can score in a variety of ways, and have good goalkeeper. Senior midfielder Rachel Corboz is a key player to watch here, as her ability to unlock a defense needs to be on point for the Hoyas to grab the road win. On the other side, Wake Forest needs a big game from Maddie Huster, who can slow down Corboz and the Hoya attack.
Saturday, Nov. 11
It’s not every day a seeded team in the NCAA Tournament faces a Big Five conference opponent in the first round, as the committee did no favors for UCF. The good news is that a win against a tough Washington State side leaves the bracket relatively wide open for the rest of the tournament. Plus, Washington State’s travel demands won’t be easy, making the long trip from Pullman to Orlando. Battled-tested against the Pac-12, the Cougars will be a formidable outfit to get past, however. Offering a threat on set pieces and capable of defending rigorously the task is tall for Kayla Adamek, Morgan Ferrara and Dina Orschmann.
Florida Gulf Coast(w) at South Florida, 1 p.m.
In-state rivals between programs in contrasting conferences is always a benefit of the early rounds of the tournament, and this meeting between the A-Sun and AAC champs should be a good one. In what was supposed to be a down year for FCGU, the team’s offense continued to roll, with Brazilian transfer Marjorie Boilesen emerging as a much-needed supplement for Tabby Tindell. South Florida counters with Canadian stalwart Evelyne Viens, lending belief that this first round matchup should have plenty of goals on offer.
Sunday, Nov. 12
This is a matchup for the defensive purist, as two of the nation’s best at the back square off in Evanston. Butler will have to like its chances, as any side would, after finishing the season having given up just seven goals on the year. But the Bulldogs aren’t a defensive-first team, as Paige Monaghan’s standout campaign provides the spark in the final third. Finding a way past a Northwestern team that didn’t put together as sterling of a defensive record as a year ago, yet remain a tough team to beat as long as Lauren Clem remains in goal. Even if this ends up as a 0-0 match that goes to penalty kick, it should provide a fascinating tactical encounter.