Friday, 5:00 PM
(2) North Carolina (12-3-2; 2nd – ACC; WTSR – 1.32, 4th – ACC)
South Dakota State (8-7-2; 1st – Summit; WTSR – 1.32, 2nd – Summit)
Why In The World Is South Dakota State Traveling To UNC?
Good question, considering Wisconsin was right there.
OK, But Can They Shock The World?
In short? No. But the Summit League has a history of being a pain in the ass for bigger conferences. See North Dakota State dragging Texas A&M to penalties. See this same South Dakota State program beating a seeded Colorado team in 2008 (and promptly melting that program down). I’m not sure if Denver counts as conference newcomers, but they too have been formidable in the past.
So What About These Jackrabbits?
They won the Summit League by a point over Denver but were a minute away from not even getting here as they were trailing the Pioneers late before equalizing and winning on penalties. They haven’t played a team in the RPI Top 140 since August (!). Their too matches against RPI Top 140 teams? Uh, not good. 5-0 loss at Wisconsin, 2-0 loss at Minnesota. In the league, they were joint high scorers with fifteen goals but had a middling defense with nine conceded in eight matches. SDSU conceded just twenty-seven shot on goal in the league which is a double edged sword considering they gave up over a goal a game. That points to opponents making the most of their limited opportunities.
Uh, Accentuate The Positive Dude.
Diana Potterveld’s a pretty good player for this level and had three goals and six assists this year in the league. Add in a solid midfield boasting talents like Tori Poole and Alyssa Brazil, and you’ve got a solid core of talent. Oh, and all that talent should be back next year, with none of the club’s first team All-League players seniors. So this is probably just the beginning for this SDSU squad.
OK, Can You Get A Bead On This UNC Team?
Yeah, they’re a pretty good side, and Anson Dorrance has been a mini-miracle worker this year considering all they lost last season and some of the costly injuries this season. They were in it against Stanford, drew with UCLA, and had their way with Big Ten champs Penn State. They hung tough with a Florida State juggernaut and have only looked truly awful against Pepperdine in defeat this season. The Virginia performance wasn’t exactly one that will be cherished, but at least UNC can take heart in knowing they won’t face Virginia again until the final if they both make it that far.
What’s With The Tar Heels’ Offense?
Your guess is as good as mine. The leading scorer here is Emily Bruder, she of seven starts and five goals, the latter practically an unheard of number for a top gun in Chapel Hill. Bruder started just two league games but did start the game against Virginia and scored all of her games in the league. Her bullish style makes her a hard proposition to deal with, it’s just a matter of consistency. Joanna Boyles may actually be the offensive leader with three goals and six assists, and she can deliver the spectacular from dead ball situations as well. Add in Paige Nielsen, whose timely strikes have seen her net four match winners in the league, and UNC still has offensive weapons, even if probably aren’t going to get crazy goal totals from this year’s side.
You Didn’t Mention Summer Green.
Yeah, I know. Green is the mystery figure for UNC, as she seems to have always been in Chapel Hill. She has just two goals this season but has a joint team leading six assists in the league. One goal on twenty-three shots in the league is a poor return though, and Green was the one to make way when Dorrance brought Jessie Scarpa in to switch to 4-2-3-1 early against Virginia last Friday. It might be a sign of Green’s fading untouchable status in the starting lineup for the Heels, and though Green’s potential may be the difference between a run into December or disappointment, it’s increasingly looking like she’s just going to be another talented cog in the machine.
OK, Capable But Inconsistent Offense. How About That D?
It’s a much better story. The numbers aren’t totally in line with the talent, but the unit has the potential to give plenty of teams problems. Satara Murray’s probably a better center-back than full-back in the modern game but she’s a powerful force who can batter opposing forwards who try to outmuscle her. Her ability to silence opposing forwards is going to be key down the line. The cultured Katie Bowen remains one of the nation’s most underrated defenders, and her leadership qualities from the back have been key in keeping a unit that’s faced personnel changes over the past few years from running aground. The keys, of course, will be the play of Maggie Bill and Jessie Scarpa, the latter likely to be used in a 4-2-3-1, either from the start or off the bench.
The X-Factor might be in goal. Dorrance hasn’t settled on just one keeper to run with in the postseason as of yet, playing both Bryane Heaberlin and Lindsey Harris in the ACC Tournament. Neither are going to turn a game on its head, but neither are gaffe prone either (let’s forget the Stanford match ever happened…). Making the right choice, even if it’s to continue rotating, could go a long way for the Heels.
Really, How Far Can UNC Go?
The Elite Eight should be more than within their reach. BYU in the second round might be the trickiest matchup if they can overcome Colorado in Boulder. The Cougars are probably one of the few sides that can match UNC in terms of sheer endless energy and strength in numbers and could prove a bear to handle if their offense gets rolling. The other half of the potential regional is full of defensive teams with little firepower and/or star power. Such clubs almost always fall short against UNC. They’ve got a puncher’s chance on the road against Florida State potentially, but they’ll be clear underdogs. Get past them, and who knows?
But How About Friday?
Goals, happiness, and a win for the Heels.