Five Games to Watch (record updated as of 9/12):
Shutout and winning streaks are tested in SEC play for the first time for Auburn, which is off to a tremendous start to the 2015 season. The question now becomes whether or not the Tigers can parlay that foundation into an SEC title challenge. First up on the docket in conference play is a tough Missouri side that’s off to an up-and-down start to its campaign. Kala Faulkner provides the steel at the back, Welsh midfielder Ellie Leek is the creative conduit, while Casie Ramsier finishes things off in front of goal. Missouri enters this game three games unbeaten, although its past two results are a pair of 0-0 draws against Oregon State and Northwestern respectively.
Coming off a tough loss on the road against West Virginia, Penn State faces an arguably bigger road test with its trip to the Bay Area for a Friday night matchup with the Cardinal. Getting the offense back on track after coming up empty against the Mountaineers is certain to be a priority for the Nittany Lions, as they’ll likely turn to seniors Mallory Weber and Raquel Rodriguez to test a young but talented Stanford side. The Cardinal are thriving thanks in part to its outstanding freshmen class, including center back Alana Cook and midfielders Michelle Xiao and Jordan DiBiasi. Experience is there too, with Maddie Bauer at the back, Jane Campbell in goal and the sophomore Andi Sullivan, who always gives Stanford a leg up in the midfield battle.
Depending on UCLA’s Friday night result against Wake Forest will dictate the must-win level of a scintillating Sunday matchup with the Tar Heels. The rebuilding project has hit early bumps in the road in Westwood, most notably a 2-1 defeat against Texas on home turf last weekend. There’s talent at Amanda Cromwell’s disposal, and this is a prime opportunity to pick up a much-needed victory away from home. Taylor Smith is one to watch here as she looks to jump-start an inconsistent offense. North Carolina’s depth in scoring is notable, with a number of different attacking players, from Alexa Newfield, Summer Green and Jessie Scarpa just a few of the names off to strong starts this year.
No. 21 Connecticut (6-0-0) at No. 13 Rutgers (6-0-0), Sunday, Sept. 13 1 p.m. (ET), BTN Plus
Like Auburn, Rutgers puts its shutout and winning streak on the line in what should be one of the matchups of the weekend with Connecticut. The Huskies have won their first five straight, although a Friday night meeting with Army means that a loss or tie in advance of this Sunday fixture could change that. Slowing down Rachel Hill is the obvious challenge for Erica Skorski and Brianne Reed at the back as the Scarlet Knights continue to build momentum ahead of the start of the Big Ten slate.
Six games into the season, LSU continues to be a fascinating side to track. Unbeaten at this stage of the season, its two draws came against Ball State and Northwestern State – hardly collegiate powerhouses. That’s part of what makes this meeting with Duke at home so intriguing, as the SEC side has a chance to send a message with a big scalp. Summer Clarke and Jorian Baucom offer hope that LSU could turn this into a high-scoring affair, as the Blue Devils bring a young and talented group to town, as freshmen Taylor Racioppi and Kayla McCoy lead the team in goals scored with four apiece.
Three players to watch:
Makenzy Doniak, Virginia – A hamstring injury has limited Doniak so far this season, as she played reduced minutes last weekend during UVA’s trip west. Her involvement this weekend is something to keep an eye on, as the Cavaliers have games against Harvard and Old Dominion, opportunities to ensure the California speedster is healthy for conference play.
Natalie Jacobs, Notre Dame – The highly touted recruit has had a hand in six goals so far in South Bend, as the Irish have cruised to a 5-0-1 start. A threat to score or create, Jacobs and Notre Dame host a pair of tricky Big Ten matchups this weekend, with Michigan and Indiana coming to town.
Rebecca Wilson, Cal State Fullerton – Similar to the aforementioned Auburn and Rutgers, Cal State Fullerton is off to a 6-0-0 start. Wilson’s goals are an obvious factor in that, as she’s tied for second in the nation with seven tallies. There’s a significant challenge on the horizon, as the California program hops in a plane for matches at Gonzaga and Washington State.