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Women’s Preview: Crucial clashes

Article Written by Travis Clark
Published: October 16, 2015

Mid-October clashes are perhaps some of the most important of the women’s college campaign, as teams continue to duke it out for conference honors.

Below are the games and players to watch this weekend.

Five Games to Watch:

Duke (7-4-4, 1-2-3) at No. 7 North Carolina (11-2-1, 4-2-0), Friday, Oct. 16, 7 p.m., GoHeelsTV

Just about any edition of the Duke-UNC rivalry matchup is worth catching on Tobacco Road, and Friday night’s clash between the two ACC programs comes at an intriguing time. The Tar Heels are riding a rare two-game winning streak, and need a win to keep themselves in the race for a top four conference finish and an automatic berth in the ACC tournament. This game kicks off a three game home stand, with Notre Dame and Clemson still to come. For the visiting Blue Devils, getting a lift in the scoring department from its talented but inconsistent attack is the key here. An early goal for UNC could lead to a long day for Duke.

No. 13 Auburn (12-2-0, 5-2-0) at Mississippi (10-3-2, 4-3-0), Friday, Oct. 16, 8 p.m., SEC Network+

The inside track for the regular season SEC title still belongs to South Carolina, but Auburn remains in the hunt, one point behind and ready to pounce on a Gamecock mistake. The Tigers first need to make sure their own house is kept in check before worrying about results elsewhere, facing a difficult road test against Ole Miss under the Friday night lights. Freshman forward Cecelia Kizer is the top first-year scorer in the country with 11 goals, and she’ll command the attention of Auburn’s shutdown defense. Casie Ramsier’s excellent season continued last weekend against Texas A&M, as the midfielder has now accumulated four game winners in 2015 for the title-chasing Tigers.

No. 25 St. John's (12-2-0, 4-1-0) at No. 21 DePaul (11-2-2, 5-0-0), Sunday, Oct. 18, 2 p.m., Big East Digital Network

There’s an exciting title race brewing in the Big East, as the Blue Demons lead the back with a perfect 5-0 record heading into a battle with the visitors from Queens. The Red Storm’s English flavor (Rachel Daly, Lucy Whipp, Georgia Kearney-Perry) gives them every chance to come in and pick up the full points against a DePaul side that has 36 goals through 15 games. Having options in the attack is part of what makes the Blue Demons so dangerous, as Elise Wyatt, Franny Cerny, Madeline Frick, Alexa Ben and Abby Reed have all stepped up and provided goals at different points of the season.

No. 5 Penn State (11-2-2, 6-1-1) at No. 14 Rutgers (11-2-2, 4-2-2), Sunday, Oct. 18, 1 p.m., BTN Plus

After Thursday night’s results, the Big Ten title race is setting up for a stirring finish. The Nittany Lions are now tied on top of the standings and must come away with the full allotment of points against a very good Rutgers side. On paper, the New Jersey program boasts one of the nation’s premier defenses, and has the capability of slowing down Penn State’s high-flying attack, whether through defender Brianne Reed or goalkeeper Casey Murphy. Senior Raquel Rodriguez delivered a clutch goal on Thursday in a 2-1 road win against Purdue. The midfielder represents just one of a slew of offensive talents who can secure a breakthrough, as Megan Schafer, Emily Ogle, Mallory Weber and Frannie Crouse are all capable of changing the game in the final third.

No. 18 Connecticut (13-2-0, 5-1-0) at Tulsa (12-3-1, 3-2-1), Sunday, Oct. 18, 2 p.m.

Three games – including Sunday’s road trip to Oklahoma – are all that stands between Connecticut and an American Athletic regular season conference title. The Huskies ride a five game winning streak into town, and have shutouts in four straight games. Tulsa’s promising start to the season eventually faltered as the conference slate began, and this is basically a must-win contest to have any hopes of an at large bid in the NCAA tournament. Slowing down Rachel Hill is an obvious focal point, although it’s been players all over the pitch contributing goals of late, as senior Andrea Plucenik scored two game winners last week, while Samantha McGuire supplied Thursday night’s decisive strike against Memphis. Rachel Thun has the talent and ability to deliver on an individual level for the Hurricanes, but will it be enough?

Three Players to Watch:

Rose Lavelle, Wisconsin – The turnaround continued this week for Wisconsin, coming back from a 2-0 deficit to defeat Michigan 3-2 on Thursday night. A matchup against Michigan State is on the docket for Sunday, and it’s a must-win encounter with the Badgers equal on points with the Nittany Lions at the top. Lavelle’s creativity and distribution from midfield are keys to success for every game, but with the stakes high Wisconsin needs its start to deliver the goods.

Liana Salazar, Kansas – An early season dip in form has likely cost Kansas a shot at an NCAA tournament bid, winning just three times in the first seven games of the season. But the hopes are not flickering after winning six of its last seven heading into Friday’s daunting visit to Morgantown to take on West Virginia. Unbeaten in 12 and shutting up shop in goal, it’s going to take a special performance from a player like Salazar (who is certainly capable of them) to best Kadeisha Buchanan and pick up a precious road victory.

Jamie Fink, USC – USC is sticking around in the Pac-12 race, a game behind a surging Stanford side. Making the trip up to the Northwest for a Saturday meeting against Oregon, it’s an opportunity to pick up valuable road points. Offense has been the one question for USC this season, so a forward like Fink will cut a crucial figure as the Trojans look for a win in Eugene.

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