Next up for the women’s Division I NCAA Tournament are the quick-fire second and third rounds. From Nov. 19 to Nov. 22 the field will be whittled from 32 down to eight, with the post Thanksgiving quarterfinal field up next.
Preview each of the regional second round matchups below (all times listed EST).
(at Tallahassee, Fla.)
Tournament action kicks off in Florida with a rematch of last year’s second round meeting between Auburn and Texas Tech. The Red Raiders were the winners on that day, though in 2015, the Tigers enter this match as the favorites. That won’t mean much as the teams step between the lines on Friday, as a lot of the same faces remain for both sides. Red Raiders star Janine Beckie leads the line and will once again be the focus of Auburn’s back line, guided by Kala Faulkner and back-stopped by newcomer Sarah Le Beau. Auburn’s Casie Ramsier has enjoyed an excellent season, and can make trouble for Lauren Watson and the Texas Tech defense.
Hosts Florida State hold the massive advantage against South Alabama, although the Jaguars showed they are no pushovers after topping LSU 4-0 in the first round. Can Charde Hannah find any joy against FSU’s stout defense? This one has potential to be a surprisingly close game, especially if the Jaguars can slow down Cheyna Williams and Meghan Connolly.
(at Clemson, S.C.)
Another exciting second round matchup with the potential for goals is slated for Texas A&M’s encounter with the Tar Heels at Riggs Field. On their day, the Aggies can pull off the upset, as their young, creative attacking players like Haley Pounds, Emily Bates and Mikaela Harvey give them every chance in this one. The biggest question will be whether or not the Aggies can slow down UNC’s inconsistent but potentially lethal offense. Alexa Newfield has been the focal point for most of the season despite injury problems, while Jessie Scarpa has the pace and athleticism to make plays in front of goals. Injuries have hit the Heels hard with Joanna Boyles and Cameron Castleberry joining Dorian Bailey and Darcy McFarlane on the season-ending injury list. Summer Green, Maya Worth and Abby Elinsky are also nursing knocks ahead of the second round match, and their availability could help tip the scales in the favor of Carolina.
Clemson recovered from its ACC semifinal loss well enough, putting three past Furman to cruise into the second round with a 3-0 win. Lining up on the other side, Mississippi has enjoyed a tremendous season, though the Rebels will need a special performance to keep the season alive on the road. The dynamic duo of Cecelia Kizer and Addie Forbus combined for 25 of the team’s 41 goals this season. Other contributors are capable of popping up and getting on the score sheet, but it's going to be tough against a determined and physical Tigers side that has been efficient all season. A high-scoring affair would favor the Rebels, though goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan and the rest of the Clemson back line could certainly snuff out Ole Miss’ dynamic pair.
(at Gainesville, Fla.)
From the familiarity of Florida, FCGU eyes up a second straight upset against Duke in a game that, like others, has potential for goals in it. Tabby Tindell’s been the story offensively once again for the Gulf Coast, with 17 goals and 10 assists to her name. The Eagles are far from a one-woman team, as Paulina Speckmaier, Ally Kasun and Shea Rooney are all critical figures. Duke’s certainly the favorite coming from the power conference of the ACC, and boasts solid players all over the field, from Christina Gibbons and Rebecca Quinn at the back, to freshman standouts Kayla McCoy and Taylor Racioppi contributing offensively. The Blue Devils did hit an inconsistent patch during the middle portion of the season, but showed no signs of a lull last week against James Madison, running away 5-0 winners.
After coming up one game shy of the College Cup in 2014, the Gators are primed once again for a deep run. CAA foes William & Mary mustered a shootout win last weekend against UCF, keeping it 0-0 for 110 minutes despite absorbing a good deal of the pressure for long stretches of that match. Look for a similar formula again as the Gators roll out their possession style of play, while Savannah Jordan and the offense look to hit a higher gear after a narrow 1-0 win in the first round. Jordan, who has 22 goals on the season, needs four more tallies to tie Nykosi Simmons for the DI scoring lead (although a few of Simmons’ goals games against DII opposition).
(at Palo Alto, Ca.)
A three-game losing streak in October threatened the Wildcats’ chances of an NCAA Tournament, but Arizona righted the ship, winning four of their final six games to get into the selection committee’s good graces. Thursday’s meeting is a rematch of a regular season encounter between the two teams, which the Pac-12 side won 2-1. The focus for Arizona’s offense is the health of Gabi Stoian, who has missed the last four games, including the first round win against Northern Colorado. Stoian scored against Santa Clara earlier this season and would be a big miss if she's not fit. The Broncos have a good enough defense, led by senior goalkeeper Andi Tostanoski, to keep this close and look for a late goal, a formula that has led them to this point of the season.
Weather issues in Hawaii prevented these two teams meeting back in August, and the recent form of the Cardinal and their seed suggest that they are the clear favorites to win this one. Stanford’s hopes for a deep run in the tournament fall on the shoulders of its top-ranked freshman class that has delivered on the hype. Alana Cook, Michelle Xiao, Jordan DiBiasi, Tegan McGrady and Kyra Carusa have all logged heavy minutes in their first year of Division I soccer. But there’s strength and quality elsewhere, as Jane Campbell is one of the nation’s best goalkeepers, while the class of Maddie Bauer and Andi Sullivan lock down the spine. BYU’s visit to the Farm is a steep test for a second round matchup. Star attacker Ashley Hatch missed eight games this season, returning for the last two, though Nadia Gomes and Elena Medeiros have both stepped up in her absence to combine for 17 goals. If she's healthy and able to open up room for her teammates in the final third, the Cougars' chance of an upset will skyrocket.
(at State College, Pa.)
After gritting out a tough, overtime win at home last weekend against Butler, Ohio State hits the road for an even bigger challenge in the second round against Virginia Tech. The Hokies are hard to break down in the final third, and can muster threats on goal through the physical presence of Murielle Tiernan up front or Alani Johnson’s athletic spark off the bench. Nichelle Prince is generally known as the focal point for the Buckeyes, but five different players have at least four goals: Prince, Nikki Walts, Lindsay Agnew, Michela Paradiso and Sammy Edwards. If any of that quintet is firing and in form, Ohio State could make a real run at the upset.
Perennially underrated as a program, Boston University upset St. John’s on the road to secure a spot in the second round. The task is more daunting this week, facing the electric, deep and talented Nittany Lions. Midfielder Clare Pleuler has scored big goals all season – all four of her tallies this year have won games. She’ll have her hands full trying to win the midfield battle against Penn State’s talented bunch. Raquel Rodriguez is one of a slew of weapons that head coach Erica Walsh can call upon in the middle of the park, along with Emily Ogle and Nickolette Driesse. Up front, speedster Frannie Crouse can stretch the opposition, while Mallory Weber or Megan Schafter supplies the finishing touch. Penn State has the weapons and depth to make a College Cup run, and represents BU’s toughest challenge to date.
(at Morgantown, W.V.)
Prior to last weekend’s tournament win against Summit League champions South Dakota State, Minnesota was winless in its last five games, all against Big Ten opposition. Loyola Marymount, fresh off a road upset of California (the only seeded team to fall in the first round) has to be eying that record with a hint of confidence. Easier said than done of course, as they’ll need to shackle the athletic frontline the Gophers have to offer, whether it’s Taylor Stainbrook or Big Ten Forward of the Year Simone Kolander. Midfielder Jocelyn Blankenship, who led the team in both goals and assists, is the central figure to LMU’s offensive hopes. However, 14 different players have popped up to score a goal this season, and it’ll take an all-around team effort to secure the win over the Gophers.
A second Big Ten team will be in action in Morgantown for the second game on Friday, as Northwestern seeks another road upset after defeating Washington State in the first round. A couple of key figures must deliver for the Wildcats to have a good shot at upsetting the Mountaineers: Lauren Clem between the posts, and Addie Steiner up front. Steiner doesn’t need to find the back of the net necessarily, but she’ll need to occupy the West Virginia defense, including the team’s star center back Kadeisha Buchanan. While the Canadian commands a lot of the attention, the supporting cast is excellent, from forward Michaela Abam, to midfielders like Ashley Lawrence and Amandine Pierre-Louis.
(at New Brunswick, N.J.)
After losing a pair of games at the end of September/beginning of October, Notre Dame is starting to peak at the right time. Winners in six of their last seven, with the only loss on the road at North Carolina, the Irish have every chance to advance not only past UConn, but also top their third round opponents as well. Cari Rocarro and Katie Naughton offer one of the best center back partnerships in the country, leading a defense that has conceded only nine goals all season. Anna Maria Gilbertson represents the team’s most consistent scoring threat, far and away the team’s top scorer with 13 goals on the season, including six game winners. Connecticut had little trouble with MAAC Champions Siena College last weekend, though lining up against Notre Dame represents a much different challenge. Forward Rachel Hill is often thought of as the team’s main scoring threat, though Stephanie Ribeiro, Samantha McGuire and Andrea Plucenik give UConn plenty of options. The question becomes whether that group can find a way past Rocarro, Naughton and the rest of Notre Dame’s defensive group.
Speaking of a dynamic defense duo, Erica Skroski and Brianne Reed lead a defense every bit as good as the Irish’s. The Scarlet Knights, in the middle of a historic season, have conceded only eight goals all season. Goalkeeper Casey Murphy is no slouch herself, as Rutgers prepares to host Hofstra on Friday night. The big question for the visitors is the health of talismanic senior Leah Galton, who exited their first round PK triumph late in overtime after suffering a leg injury. Obviously the fourth-year star is going to do what she can to try and feature against Rutgers, though if she’s not at full strength it could end up dooming the Pride.
(at Charlottesville, Va.)
After eking out a penalty kick victory against a high-scoring Big West opponent, USC faces a second round matchup that is far from straightforward. Princeton showed in its first round win – a 4-2 defeat of Boston College – that no matter the foe, the Tiger attack is ready to run past any and all challengers. Mimi Asom and Tyler Lussi did all the damage last time out, each scoring two goals. The two have notched 27 of the team’s 46 goals, and will look to take the game to the Trojans. Last week’s scare against Cal State Fullerton should provide a confidence boost for the Trojans, which rode the finishing ability of Morgan Andrews, while the engine of Kayla Mills helped to unlock the opposition. This could be another high-scoring affair on the expansive pitch at Klockner Stadium.
A rematch of an earlier season encounter takes place in the second game of the evening in Charlottesville. Virginia had little trouble with UNC Wilmington back in August, winning 8-0 against their CAA foes. There’s a big difference between then and now of course, as UNCW has a lot more confidence, not to mention a promising attack that features Maddie McCormick (14 g, 6 a) and Katrina Guillou (11 g, 5 a). Putting up those kinds of numbers and threatening Virginia is another kind of task. A healthy Makenzy Doniak is rounding into form at the right time, and now has 12 goals and 11 assists this season. Alexis Shaffer has provided a dozen goals of her own, no matter where she lines up, and center back Emily Sonnett’s excellence combine to make the Cavaliers national title contenders. This rematch should be closer than the earlier season meeting, though Virginia should be able to secure progression at home.