League play kicks off in the Big Ten and ACC this weekend, offering up another host of exciting matches.
Below are players and games to keep an eye on over the next few days.
Five Games to Watch (all times EST):
ACC play starts this weekend, offering a first glimpse of who might emerge as the conference champion – and by default – cement the status as a national title favorite. The Tar Heels visit Blacksburg for perhaps the best matchup of the lot. North Carolina’s attack has flourished so far this year, amassing 26 goals from eight games, a year after scoring just 31 goals overall in 2014. Sophomore Jessie Scarpa has emerged as the team’s go-to scoring threat, while Summer Green and Alexa Newfield (when healthy) also providing danger on a consistent basis. Like Carolina, the Hokies have yet to suffer a loss this season, and in Murielle Tiernan and Ashley Meier, the firepower is there to match the UNC attack. Interesting stat entering this one to note: the Hokies have yet to concede a goal in the first half of a game this year, although they’ve conceded eight after the break.
No. 5 Notre Dame (7-0-1) at No. 10 Clemson (6-0-1), Saturday, Sept. 19, 7 p.m., ESPN3
Another top ten clash between two ACC powers jostling for position in the national rankings as well as the league table, the Irish faces a treble of difficult matchups at the start of conference play. After the Tigers, Notre Dame travels to Virginia and hosts Florida State – nothing easy. So far, a blip against Western Michigan aside, Notre Dame has made it look simple, conceding three goals and looking to an attack buoyed by freshman Natalie Jacobs and senior Anna Gilbertson, who’ve combined for eight goals so far. Solving a stout Clemson defense that’s backstopped by one of the best goalkeeper’s in the country will be no easy task, and the Tigers are no slouches themselves in the final third, with ten difference goal scorers so far this year.
Fresh off an impressive road result against Clemson, opportunity knocks again for South Florida in the form of a trip to Lubbock, Texas. Senior midfielder Olivia Chance (5 g, 2 a) adds menace to the offense, and the team has conceded just three times in seven games. The Red Raiders have rattled off six straight unbeaten since a first-game loss against USC, even if the offense hasn’t taken flight. Canadian forward Janine Beckie has just one goal on the year, and she’ll be looking to lead the offense and stave off an upset on home turf.
The Tigers had their shutout streak snapped and suffered a first loss last weekend in their SEC opener against Missouri. How they manage to bounce back on the road against the Volunteers is critical after a positive start. Both teams have built impressive defensive records at this point in the season, as Auburn has conceded just twice in its eight games, and Tennessee once. Senior goalkeeper Julie Eckel continues to impress with six shutouts. A scoreless draw might be on the cards given both team’s track record thus far, as the two teams look to make waves in the conference.
The Nittany Lions enter Big Ten play on a high, coming away with two wins from a west coast swing against Stanford and Santa Clara last weekend. As a preseason title contender and a talented squad, the challenge now starts in league play with a Thursday night matchup against Wisconsin, and this tilt against Minnesota. It’s a big week for the Golden Gophers, riding a four game unbeaten run into their opener on Thursday against Ohio State. Twelve different players have supplied the goals for Minnesota this year, though more than half its output came last time out at home against Omaha. Cracking a stout Penn State back line of Kaleigh Riehl and Elizabeth Ball is no easy task, not to mention keeping talented forwards Frannie Crouse, Mallory Weber and Raquel Rodriguez.
Three Players to Watch:
Savannah McCaskill, South Carolina – There’s been no sophomore slump for the strikers McCaskill, who is playing a big role in turning the Gamecocks into a consistent offensive force. With seven goals in eight games so far, she’ll lead South Carolina into an SEC game against Missouri on Sunday.
Taylor Racioppi, Duke – The Blue Devils freshman pair of Racioppi and Kayla McCoy has combined for eight total goals so far this season. With Duke coming off a loss against LSU heading into Thursday night action and a huge ACC opener on Sunday against visiting Florida State, Racioppi’s ability to score and create against the tough Seminole midfield would be a huge asset as they look to win the opening game of league play.
Jackie Kerestine, North Texas – On the cusp of national rankings, North Texas travels to College Station on Sunday for a matchup against Texas A&M. Kerestine has enjoyed a stellar career in goal for the Conference USA side, and has the chance to back stop a famous win on the road this weekend.