Weekend Preview: Critical conf. clashes
Top 5 Matches to Watch (All times EST)
There’s a compelling regular season race taking shape in the Mid-American Conference, and the first place side Kent State travels to Central Michigan for a matchup against the West Division’s second place side. Kent State is rolling, winners of 10 straight games, look to maintain the momentum on the road. What makes this one even more compelling is that it pits the conference’s scoring leaders against one another. Alexis Pelafas leads the MAC with 13 goals, while Kent State’s Jenna Hellstrom’s 10 goals and eight assists spurs her team’s attack. While it’s a team game with 20 others on the field, depending on which player can provide the big momentum could end up deciding this clash.
Prediction: Kent State 3-2 Central Michigan
One side rolls into this ACC clash unbeaten in five, while the hosts Notre Dame seek to recover from a close 1-0 defeat at the hands of Virginia. The Tar Heels can continue to build momentum with a positive result after coming away with home wins against Miami and Wake Forest last week. Cracking a tough Notre Dame back line that relies on the superb saves of Kaela Little. The Irish don’t score much, though timely goals have come from Kaleigh Olmsted and Jennifer Westerndorf, even if the freshman sensation has slowed of late. There’s little doubt that a close game favors the home side, while North Carolina can count on themselves as favorites if there are a lot of goals in this one. The Irish are in the race for the ACC regular season title, and need three points to keep Duke close.
Prediction: Notre Dame 1-0 North Carolina
With the ACC regular season ending on October 30, every game is critical as the Blue Devils look to consolidate their lead at the top of the table. Virginia must win this in order to keep pace with Duke, a tough ask considering the Blue Devils haven’t lost since September 9. Their ACC schedule to this point hasn’t been particularly difficult, though Duke has the capability to punish Virginia’s desire to push numbers forward. Quality senior leaders anchor both teams, with forward Alexis Shaffer providing the main threat in front of goal, though freshmen players Taylor Ziemer and Alissa Gorzak can pose danger of their own. Christina Gibbons has bounced around to help Duke cope with injuries, providing reliability and even a source of offense. Taylor Racioppi’s been battling a knock, so her availability for Saturday’s match could prove decisive.
Prediction: Duke 2-1 Virginia
The Ivy League race could take a twist on Saturday, or Columbia could continue its march towards conference supremacy in this decisive matchup. Princeton, fancied to achieve glory this year behind the high-scoring Tyler Lussi and Mimi Asom combination, has lost and drawn in two of its three conference clashes, opening the door for the Lions to check in at first place. Defending has been the foundation for Columbia, with three clean sheets in Ivy play to this point, and nine of their 15 goals scored by Natalie Neshat and Emma Anderson. If Princeton can open things up here, it swings the balance in favor of the Tigers. However, Columbia is a well-coached outfit and could find a way to get another huge result here.
Speaking of enthralling conference races, the SEC’s chase for the regular season title is led by the Gamecocks, one of two unbeaten teams left in the country. If Florida can find a way to come up with a result in this one, it would open the door for the top four, as South Carolina currently holds a three-point advantage of second place Arkansas and Auburn. Home field advantage has been big for the Gamecocks, currently 8-0 at home, so the impetus to keep winning goes beyond an SEC title, as a No. 1 seed could be within reach, particularly with a win here. The battle of star strikers named Savannah could provide decisive, as few players have been better this year than Florida’s Savannah Jordan, something that South Carolina’s Savannah McCaskill has managed to do in 2016.
Prediction: South Carolina 3-2 Florida
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