Women's College Previews: MAC to WCC
What happened in 2021: Bowling Green got hot late, winning its last four games to snag first place in the conference. Kent State and Ohio University battled for the top spot, but a 0-0 draw on the last week of the regular season forced them to settle for second and third. Buffalo was among the best, too, while Central Michigan grabbed the no. 5 spot.
What to expect in 2022: Bowling Green appears ready for another run, with a couple of interesting transfers added to an already experienced group. Head coach Jimmy Walker has dealt with change before and should be able to guide this squad back to the top. But there are some threats elsewhere. Buffalo could push further up the standings, especially on the strength of an excellent defense. Two time Defensive Player of the Year Hanna Callaghan is set to return to anchor the back line. If the Bison can figure out how to score more, they could be a threat. Kent State came close last year and might go one further if it can grind out away wins — something it struggled with last year.
What happened in 2021: Loyola-Chicago trounced the conference for the second straight season, winning both the regular season and tournament titles. Valparaiso wasn’t too far behind, largely thanks to the attacking threat of All-Conference striker Kelsie James. But a 5-0 thrashing at the hand of Loyola-Chicago ended the Beacons’ conference title hopes. Indiana State, Northern Iowa and Drake rounded out the top five.
What to expect in 2022: Loyola Chicago has left for the A-10, leaving the No. 1 spot in the conference vacant. Valparaiso seems best equipped to win the conference title, especially with the returns of Kelsie James and All-Conference goalkeeper Nikki Coryell. Midfielder Kylie Dugan should also anchor a strong unit in 2022. There’s competition elsewhere, too, especially in the form of a resurgent Indiana State team. It finished third last season and looks equipped to push for the top spot this year. Missouri State is one to watch, too, especially with new head coach Kirk Nelson at the helm.
What happened in 2021: New Mexico and Fresno State battled for the top spot in the regular season but New Mexico held on for a conference title. They went one better a week after, beating Boise State in Overtime to win the conference tournament championship. The middle of the conference was fairly packed, with six teams separated by just two points. Utah State picked up a massive non conference win at BYU, but couldn’t carry that momentum into league play.
What to expect in 2022: Offensive Player of The Year Jadyn Edwards returns for New Mexico, which will immediately cause problems for the rest of the conference. The Lobos have other options, too, including Newcomer of the Year Zaria Katesigwa — who bagged 10 goals as a freshman. But they will face a range of challengers for the top spot. Utah State is a threat as long as Addy Symonds is on the pitch. She had an excellent summer in the USL W League and appears ready to raise her level. San Diego State is looking to rebound from a down season and has a deep squad. If it can get more out of All-Conference second teamer Rachelle Elve, San Diego State will be a real threat. Boise State will also be in the mix, rounding off an enticing contest.
What happened in 2021: Central Connecticut claimed the NEC regular season and tournament titles, topping the table by four points. It was a well-rounded side, as 13 different players scored. The Blue Devils also had five All-Conference first team honorees. Fairleigh Dickinson wasn’t too far behind. It tallied 20 points, relying on some solid European talent for a second place finish. Sacred Heart, Bryant and Howard rounded out the top five.
What to expect in 2022: Preseason polls have tabbed Central Connecticut to win its fifth title in a row, and it’s easy to see why. The Blue Devils are once again well-balanced, with some star power sprinkled in. Roma McLaughlin is an All-American caliber talent in midfield, while Kelly Brady is a natural forward up front. Fairleigh Dickinson should put the pressure on once again, especially with Offensive Player of the Year Aitana Martínez-Montoya set to return. Sacred Heart and Byrant will also be among the conference’s best, but will need to take points off those ahead of them to challenge for the title.
What happened in 2021: It was a tight year in the OVC. UTyler Martin won the conference on a tiebreaker, after it finished with the same points as SIUE. SIUE got its revenge in the conference tournament, winning 1-0 in a tight contest to secure an NCAA Tournament spot. Belmont enjoyed one of its most successful seasons in recent memory, finishing third with a total of 15 points — highlighted by a 1-0 victory over UTyler Martin.
What to expect in 2022: SIUE seems most likely to top the conference after missing out narrowly in 2021. The Cougars return their biggest attacking threats from last year, including versatile forward Maria Haro, who finished second in the league with seven goals. Other teams could threaten. Though UTyler Martin has lost some key players, Maria Castaldo is back in the fold to lead one of the conference’s best back fours. With Belmont switching conferences, there could be chances for another team or two. Murray State could be one of them, especially with such a well-rounded roster.
What happened in 2021: Boston University closed out head coach Nancy Feldman’s last season in style, winning the conference regular season title. Navy was close behind, led by standout freshman Alexa Riddle, who scored nine goals in her first season. Loyola (MD) and Bucknell were also in the mix, but both dropped points down the stretch to fall out of contention for the league title. Bucknell got its revenge a few weeks later, though, beating BU, 1-0, to win the conference tournament title.
What to expect in 2022: Boston University still appears to be strong but will have to adjust to life without Feldman. New head coach Casey Brown is a BU alum, though, and has Defensive Player of the Year Jenna Oldham to bolster her ranks. Navy will also fancy its chances, especially with Riddle returning. Bucknell has been tabbed as the preseason favorite by the league coaches. It will rely on forward Rylee Donaldson, who bagged 10 goals last year. Loyola Maryland could also have a shot, especially if goalkeeper Paige Sim has another excellent season in net.
What happened in 2021: Samford was perfect in 2021, winning all nine games in conference play for a 9th straight title. It was similarly successful in the conference tournament, knocking off Furman to win the championship. Furman put up a good fight, finishing the season with 18 points. Western Carolina ended the season in third.
What to expect in 2022: Samford will look to make it 10 conference titles in a row, and it’s difficult to see them not hitting that mark. It has arguably the best player in the league in Taylor Yount, as well as a solid defensive line to make for a balanced side. Furman will likely finish second, as it will return largely the same roster as last season. Mercer appears primed to improve, with a few all-conference talents still around to build on a tricky 2021 campaign.
What happened in 2021: Northwestern State clinched the title comfortably in a much-changed conference. It tallied 30 points, overcoming a couple of surprising losses to McNeese. The Demons won the conference tournament, too. McNeese put up a good fight, but a costly tie and a couple of losses down the stretch saw it come up short.
What to expect in 2022: NW State is pipped as the favorite again, but it might not be so simple this time around. Last year’s run in showed that McNeese can match up with them on any given day, and the Demons will need to be perfect in every other game. With other teams improving around them — such as a resurgent Lamar side that joined the conference this year — a second straight title might not be that easy. 2022 will be interesting in the midwest.
What happened in 2021: Prairie View A&M cliched its second regular season title in three years, edging Alabama A&M for the top spot. The Panthers also won the conference tournament, this time beating Grambling State on penalty kicks in the championship. Although it finished the season without silverware, Grambling State still enjoyed a solid campaign, especially with the electric Kailey Pena up front.
What to expect in 2022: The coaches' polls have tabbed Grambling State to emerge out of a crowded field of contenders. The Tigers are a young group this year, having lost a few key seniors, including their top goalscorer. But there’s potential elsewhere — certainly enough to compete for the top spot. Prairie View A&M should certainly still be in the mix, especially with the dominant Andrea Nugent at center back. Arkansas Pine Bluff might be ready for a run. Its attack is among the best in the conference, and some defensive reorganization could go a long way to a much improved year.
What happened in 2021: Denver strolled through conference play, going undefeated in the regular season. It scored 27 goals while only conceding three. But South Dakota had the edge in tournament play, beating Denver in the conference tournament, 4-2. South Dakota State won the tournament championship to clinch a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
What to expect in 2022: Things might not quite be as straightforward in 2022. Denver has lost All-American Natalie Beckman to the NWSL, while South Dakota State has further strengthened thanks to some shrewd recruiting moves. It’s difficult to see beyond those two, although South Dakota appears to be an experienced side — and a big win or two might put them in the picture. Still, with four seniors returning for their fifth year, it appears the Summit is Denver’s to lose.
What happened in 2021: The conference was a two-horse race between South Alabama and Arkansas State last year. Arkansas State came out on top in the regular season, picking up enough wins early to stay on top — including a 3-2 win over its closest rivals. But South Alabama got hot in tournament time, winning out to earn an NCAA Tournament berth.
What to expect in 2022: The new look Sun Belt is far harder to predict this fall. The conference has been split into two divisions, with three new teams added to the fold. South Alabama should still be among the better sides, having retained a lot of players from their NCAA Tournament squad — although it might struggle without program legend Deanna Green. Newcomer Old Dominion is projected to be up there, with the C-USA champions returning a deep squad.
What happened in 2021: Stephen F. Austin topped the east division with a solid showing. It started hot, winning eight games in a row. But a late dip in form — with three losses in a row — saw the Lumberjacks’ season end early. Grand Canyon stayed consistent in the west division, losing only once in conference play. That form continued into the tournament, where it knocked off Utah Valley in the final.
What to expect in 2022: Grand Canyon appears to be the team to beat. The antelopes have retained top scorer Gianna Gourley, and also bring back the best goalkeeper in the conference, Jordan Ferguson. Utah Valley might not be too far behind. Jenna Shepherd is one of the best defenders in the conference and the Wolverines showed that they can find the net with regularity. Elsewhere, there are three new head coaches in the conference, which could bring change over the next few years.
What happened in 2021: The conference boasted three of the top 25 teams in the nation, with BYU, Santa Clara and Pepperdine all making NCAA Tournament appearances. BYU and Santa Clara shared the conference title, and both made deep postseason runs. They met in the College Cup semis, with BYU winning on penalties — before losing in the final at Florida State. But there was no such thing as an easy win in the WCC. Portland, Gonzaga and St. Mary's (CA) were all tough to beat, especially away from home.
What to expect in 2022: Santa Clara seemed a solid bet to go all the way again, until star forward Sally Menti suffered a torn ACL while on international duty. The Broncos still have quality in the form of striker Izzy D'Aquila and defender Makoto Nezu, but another College Cup run will be difficult. Top five ranked BYU now appears to be the favorite, with three All-Conference stars returning to the fold. This is a balanced team — even without National Player of the Year Makayla Colohan to lean on. Pepperdine certainly can’t be ruled out either. It’s a perennial top 25 side and has the versatile Tori Waldeck to lead the line. A good recruiting class should also offer a boost. Elsewhere, Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga both appear to be improving, and could be contenders for an at-large tournament bid if they pick up points against some of the conference’s elite.
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