The Big 12, CAA, AAC, Big East and Pac-12 jump into conference play this weekend as the crucial days of October tick closer and closer.
Below are the games and players to watch in women’s college soccer over the next few days.
Five Games to Watch (All times EST)
Football country is serving up a tantalizing women’s soccer SEC battle between these two squads on Friday night, as LSU’s dynamic offense battles against the tenacious defense of Auburn. Rolling into this matchup winners of three straight, LSU has bagged 25 goals behind the duo of Summer Clarke and Jorian Baucom, as the latter is tied for second as one of the nation’s top scorers. Kala Faulkner and goalkeeper Sarah Le Beau are a tough nut to crack at the back, while Brooke Ramsier, Casie Ramsier and Ellie Leek help fire up the attack. One thing in this is clear: while Auburn has the horses up front to do damage, a high-scoring affair definitely favors the visitors.
With most of the country locked in conference play, one of the recurring themes of the weekend is a number of Big West vs. West Coast inter-conference clashes. The pick of the lot is BYU’s trip to California to face a Long Beach State side capable of unseating the Cougars. Goalkeeper Ashton McKeown proved last weekend that she has the ability to preserve points for LBSU on the road, and will look to slow down BYU’s Ashley Hatch-led offense. A win at home would be huge for Long Beach’s hopes of an at large bid, with BYU at No. 3 in the first RPI of the season.
Is this the year Cal can ride the momentum of a strong start into Pac-12 contention? Stanford and UCLA look vulnerable, leaving the door cracked for the Golden Bears, who have certainly tested themselves with a difficult out of conference schedule. Arielle Ship is building a claim for Player of the Year honors at a national level, with eight goals from her first nine games. The Buffaloes are certainly going to prove that they belong in the conference race conversation, despite a hiccup at home last weekend against Northwestern. Speedster Brie Hooks tops the teams in goals and assists with four apiece, while the transfer of Colorado native Danica Evans has added an extra edge to the attack. It should prove to be a tight affair as both teams seek the ideal start to conference play.
The Scarlet Knights finally conceded a goal on Thursday evening, dropping their first result of the season against a talented Illinois side. A shutout streak wouldn’t last for the entire year, and now the Midwest road swing takes Rutgers to Bridgeview for a matchup against a significantly improving Northwestern side. Buoyed by a bright recruiting class and junior forward Addie Steiner’s play, the Wildcats are riding a seven game unbeaten streak into Sunday’s game. Another win against a team like Rutgers would cement Northwestern’s status as a possible Big Ten dark horse.
The ACC is setting up to be as tantalizing of a race as ever, as both of these teams nabbed huge wins on Thursday – the Seminoles topping Clemson at home, while the Irish dealt Virginia its first loss of the season in Charlottesville. FSU head coach Mark Krikorian has done it again in terms of his international recruiting, as Irish attacking midfielder Megan Connolly is proving to be more than capable of making things happen on the field, scoring once and adding two assists on Thursday. The Irish counter with Anna Maria Gilbertson, who scored twice against the Cavaliers, demonstrating her match-winning credentials and now has seven goals on the season. This certainly has the makings of another classic ACC heavyweight clash.
Three Players to Watch
GK Abby Smith, Texas – The Longhorns are on the road this weekend for a huge conference opener against the powerhouse of West Virginia. It’s been a season of ups and downs so far for Texas, which boasts one of the best goalkeepers in the country in Smith. With just one game this weekend, Smith’s performance could go a long way in securing a huge, resume building win over the Mountaineers.
D Greta Espinoza, Oregon State – One year on from winning zero games, the Beavers’ 4-1-3 record is already substantial improvement as conference play kicks off this weekend. Espinoza, a veteran of the Mexican national team, has seamlessly transferred into a back line that has conceded only four goals in its first eight games. OSU is on the road for a Sunday matchup against USC, a talented team that has yet to hit full form this year, meaning a big performance from Espinoza and the defense can give the Beavers a shot at a huge road win.
GK Tarah Hobbs, Minnesota – After last weekend’s road exploits in conference play, the Golden Gophers are back home for a pair of Big Ten matchups against Purdue and Indiana. After two huge road wins, continuing the momentum is key. Enter Hobbs, who has a goals against average of just 0.31 through 10 games, making 34 saves so far. Should things break down for the Minnesota back line, they’ll have someone back there who can bail them out as they seek to extend the winning streak.