Women's College Previews: ASUN to MAAC
The new women's Division I season starts this week. Here's a look at 13 conferences ahead of the 2022 campaign.
What happened in 2021: FGCU took another step, topping the eastern division, with a stout back line leading the way. Liberty was close behind but didn’t defend its own goal as well — dispute having a better overall record on the year. Lipscomb found success out west, edging Central Arkansas for the division title. And that run continued, as the Bisons captured the conference tournament title.
What to expect in 2022: Lipscomb appears to be well-equipped for another run, especially with six preseason all-conference players on its roster. Molly Grant could be install for another big season in the final third. Below the Bisons, there’s some real talent. FGCU should also be in the mix and is lead by one of the conference’s best players in Louise Lillback. Central Arkansas will have to try to overcome the transfer of Emma Hawkins, while Liberty will hope a young group continues to develop.
What happened in 2021: Vermont won the conference comfortably in 2021, winning nine straight games after losing its first two. Massachusetts-Lowell and NJIT were also in the conversation, finishing tied for second at 16 points apiece. New Hampshire made a run to the conference tournament championship, but eventually lost to Vermont, 1-0.
What to expect in 2022: The Catamounts appear primed to be among the best, but Massachusetts-Lowell a young team that should compete. It is led by Ioanna Papatheodorou, 2021’s striker and rookie of the year. She scored 10 goals and should be among the conference’s best players once again. New Hampshire should also improve, with the quality to move up from 6th place. With the solidity of Cat Sheppard in goal, its defensive unit appears to be among the conference's best. It will be a tight year in 2022.
What happened in 2021: VCU ran away with the conference last year, winning nine of 10 games. The Rams relied on the excellent form of Samantha Jerabek, who tallied 11 goal involvements. But VCU’s season ended only, with Saint Joseph's bumping it from the conference tournament. Saint Louis made a run in VCU’s stead, earning an NCAA Tournament bid after knocking off UMass in the final.
What to expect in 2022: The A-10 seems trickier to predict in 2022. VCU certainly has some key pieces, but the teams around it seem to have improved. St. Louis’ Emily Gaebe is one of the best players in the conference and could become a serious goalscoring threat as a sophomore. Loyola-Chicago is also a threat, led by an excellent back four. Dayton will be a threat as long as offensive player of the year Itala Gemelli stays healthy. Struggling Fordham has brought in a new head coach, which might give the team a lift. In such a big conference, upsets are inevitable. With a handful of teams vying for an NCAA Tournament bid, it will likely be a case of who can find form at the right moment.
What happened in 2021: The Big 12 featured some of the top talents in the country last year. TCU led the way, with prolific striker Messiah Bright starring. She bagged 17 games, lifting the Horned Frogs to the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Texas also earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament, handed an at-large bid after a strong regular season in which it leaned on some exciting freshmen. Baylor and Oklahoma State also threatened but were a class below the conference’s elite. West Virginia was pipped to win the conference before the season but crumbled late.
What to expect in 2022: It appears to be a battle between TCU and Texas for the top spot. With coach Eric Bell at the helm, TCU will always have a solid chance of winning the conference. But Texas has two exciting sophomores in Lexi Missimo and Trinity Byars. The duo combined for over 50 percent of the Horns’ goals last season. If they can do that again, Texas will have a real shot. Baylor should be interesting. The Bears brought in a promising but inexperienced coach in Dallas Baptist’s Michelle Lenard. Oklahoma has brought in a few transfers, while West Virginia can always compete. It’s not difficult to see the conference send four teams to the NCAA Tournament this year.
What happened in 2021: Xavier won the conference, only conceding four goals all season, while dropping just one game. Presumptive favorites Georgetown finished second, having to settle for two frustrating ties, before losing to Connecticut on the final day of the regular season. Both earned NCAA Tournament bids. But there was a real depth to the conference, as St. John's, Butler and Providence also made it to the postseason. St. John’s won a couple of games but lost to Duke in the last 16.
What to expect in 2022: The conference was hard to call in 2021. Georgetown is always a smart pick to go on a run and will be buoyed by the same attacking threats that made it the league’s top scoring team. Butler will always have a shot when Katherine Soderstrom is on the pitch. The all-conference forward bagged 12 goals and added eight assists last year. Xavier still has some young players to build around, including freshman of the year Ella Rogers. St. John's will look to build on one of the best seasons in school history, but it has lost 17 goals after Zsani Kajan departed to the pros. There’s certainly some attacking talent in the ranks. Providence needs another big year from Meg Hughes to return to the NCAA Tournament.
What happened in 2021: Northern Colorado performed well in the regular season, winning the conference by two points. The Bears won all but one conference game and scored in bunches. Lexi Pulley and Taylor Bray led the way, combining for 21 goals. Montana wasn’t far behind, leaning on a better defensive unit to steadily pick up points in conference play. Goalkeeper Claire Howard and defender Taylor Hansen both made the All-Conference first team. Their strong play lifted the Grizzlies to the Big Sky Tournament championship.
What to expect in 2022: Montana has lost some impact players but still returns some key pieces from the group that won the Big Sky Tournament championship last year, including Big Sky Goalkeeper of the Year Camellia Xu. Northern Colorado, too, has lost its three best goalscorers. Northern Arizona could be ready to capitalize. It has all-conference talent returning in bunches, and can lean on Madison Montgomery for goals. Weber State is an interesting team. It has reigning newcomer of the year Morgan Furmaniak in its ranks, and showed some promise as a defensive unit, too.
What happened in 2021: Campbell stormed through the regular season, winning nine of 10 games en route to a first place finish. Forward Jessica Donald led the way, tallying four game-winning goals in a prolific season. Despite Campbell’s regular season success, High Point eventually earned an NCAA Tournament bid on the back of a conference tournament title. The Panthers edged the Camels in overtime, with Skyler Prillaman delivering the winning goal. Radford was an interesting team to watch, scoring a conference high 53 goals, while Longwood pulled off a major upset to beat Campbell, 1-0.
What to expect in 2022: Campbell is the presumptive favorite to win the conference again, largely thanks to the return of Donald and defender Delaney Baumbick. There’s some uncertainty under new head coach Jeff Gross, though. While the new appointee has tons of college coaching experience, there might be a few rough spots as he gets to know the team. That could present another opportunity for High Point, which proved it can win the big games last year. It appears to have one of the most well-rounded sides in the conference this year. Katherin Parris is a talent to watch. She bagged 13 goals and added nine assists for Radford last year and could take another leap this season.
What happened in 2021: Long Beach State was the presumptive favorite to win the California-based conference in preseason. However, it stumbled in conference play, while UC Irvine and Cal Poly negotiated their fixture list with aplomb. The two squads finished with identical 8-2 records. But the Anteaters had the edge in the conference tournament, winning the championship. UC Irvine’s Scarlett Camberos earned offensive player of the year, capping off a season in which she tallied 12 goals and seven assists. But Cal Poly has all-conference talent of its own, highlighted by Midfielder of the Year Camille Lafaix.
What to expect in 2022: This fall seems primed to be another close year in the Big West. UC Irvine has lost a bit of firepower with the departure of Camberos but is otherwise a fairly young and talented squad. Cal Poly will be in the picture again, especially if Lafaix stays fit. But Long Beach State should also compete, especially with the improvement of freshman of the year Maddy Perez. It’s anyone’s conference in 2022.
What happened in 2021: UNC Wilmington saw off a late charge from Hofstra to claim the regular season conference title. But James Madison also made a late charge, winning its last four games to finish third. Hofstra got hot at the right time, though, winning the conference tournament and also picking up an NCAA Tournament win. Two of its players were selected in the NWSL following the season.
What to expect in 2022: Hofstra has bagged four of the last five CAA championships — and it’s difficult to look past them winning again. Coach Simon Riddiough returns a talented squad, once again heavy on European talent. UNCW should also be in the picture again, with a few transfers primed to give an already experienced squad a boost. Northeastern made a run to the conference championship last year and returns a lot of the same players. It will believe that another run is possible. The conference looks a bit different with JMU out the door and Monmouth joining the fold.
What happened in 2021: Old Dominion started the season strong and remained in control throughout. It lost only once — a narrow home defeat to Florida International. Western Kentucky was its closest competitor, but Old Dominion won the title decider between the two in mid September. Southern Mississippi was also in the picture. However, a leaky defense was costly down the stretch. Old Dominion made the NCAA Tournament, falling to Duke in the first round.
What to expect in 2022: It’s a tricky year to predict. Conference realignment has seen some top contenders leave, while other talented schools have entered. It might create opportunities for Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers came close last year and without the threat of other top teams, the C-USA could be theirs to win. Charlotte and Louisiana Tech might also fancy their chances. Conference Player o the Year Delaney Schultz returns for Rice and will look to close out her college career with a successful season.
What happened in 2021: Wisconsin-Milwaukee dominated the conference, winning 11 straight games to clinch the top spot. It went one better in early November, beating Oakland to clinch the Horizon Tournament Championship. An NCAA Tournament loss to Xavier ended an otherwise successful season. Oakland was the best of the rest, finishing second in the league while only losing one game. Northern Kentucky built on a solid non-conference slate, but couldn’t get the job done against the two top teams — settling for third.
What to expect in 2022: Things might change in the Horizon this year. Coach Troy Fabiano left Milwaukee to take up the head coaching job at Kentucky — bringing some of his best players with him. New Coach Kevin Boyd, though, has a solid resume and should manage the team to be among the best again. Still, it could be an opportunity for Oakland or Northern Kentucky to have a run at the top spot. Both teams have all-conference talent in their ranks, including all-region talent Samantha Lopez — who can score in bunches for Northern Kentucky.
What happened in 2021: Brown repeated as Ivy League champions, going undefeated in regular season play. Kia McNeill pieced together an impressive squad, led by star forward Brittany Raphino and promising Canadian midfielder Miya Grant-Clavijo. Princeton enjoyed a solid slate — earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament — but lost to Brown in the regular season decider. Harvard was similarly successful and didn’t lose a game until October 9.
What to expect in 2022: Despite the loss of Sydney Cummings, it’s difficult to look past brown. McNeill has started to establish a solid recruiting pipeline, and there’s a real depth to her squad. Raphino was among the best forwards in the college and will have one last season to show why. Princeton will be in the mix, though. The Tigers notched a first round win in the NCAA Tournament, and return nine of 14 goalscorers from last season — although some All-Ivy talents have left. Harvard will also be in the conversation, especially with returning Ivy League Rookie of the Year Hannah Bebar. Penn is also one to watch under the tutelage of new head coach Krissy Turner.
What happened in 2021: Monmouth edged Quinnipiac for the league title, winning via the tiebreaker between the two sides. Niagara scored goals in bunches and made a push for the top spot. However, its inability to keep the ball out of the net proved costly, as it had to settle for third. Monmouth won the conference tournament but fell to Penn State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
What to expect in 2022: Longtime power Monmouth moved to the CAA, opening the door for anothe team to step into the first-place status. It might not have the easiest time this year. Niagara will also look different, especially after conference offensive player of the year Florence Vaillancourt transferred to Syracuse. Quinnipiac, then, appears to be the most steady roster. Star forward Rebecca Cooke returns, while the Bobcats also have some solidity between the sticks. Midfielder Markela Bejleri will also be crucial.
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