Friday, 10:00 PM
(4) Washington (12-6-2; 7th, Pac-12; WTSR – 1.02, 5th – Pac-12)
Rider (12-5-3; 4th, MAAC; WTSR – 1.09, Ranking – N/A)
Is The Long Trip Going To Help or Hurt Rider’s Hopes of An Upset?
Probably help, to a certain extent. I suspect that, while not totally familiar with them, some of the big schools on the East Coast would’ve at least known a nominal amount of info about the Broncs. Washington? I suspect their knowledge about the MAAC side is going to come exclusively from phone calls and scouting tape procured right after the bracket announcement. With Seattle such an obvious pick on paper for an opponent, this one might’ve been a major curveball.
Does Rider Have Anything Other Than A Lack of Familiarity Going For It?
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Rider’s not an especially imposing MAAC side. The Broncs finished fourth in the league for a reason, namely an offense that falls flat against tougher teams too often. There’s a little light over the horizon as the Broncs did manage to score against Monmouth and Fairfield, the league’s two top teams in the regular season, who both shut them out in their regular season meetings. Rider may also finally be getting close to whole, with Michelle Iacono and Tara Ballay both back in the fold after missing time in the league season, the latter with a broken leg. Ballay is the club’s biggest scoring threat by a mile, finishing with five goals in the five league matches she played. She needed just thirteen shots to net those five goals as well. The likes of Iacono and Ellie Smith take a lot of shots, with their volume not often paying off. If Ballay’s not performing at the top of her game, it’s going to be tough for Rider to compete.
Any Other Bad News for Rider?
Yeah. They haven’t faced anyone close to Washington’s level in a long, long time. And by “long time,” that’s pretty much as far back as I’m willing to check on the score database. With obvious budget limitations and realistic ambitions, the Broncs aren’t about to schedule too many beatings from top clubs in non-conference play. At the same time though, that’s going to mean they’re probably in for a rude awakening against Washington’s athleticism and speed of play come Friday night.
Is It Time For Another Magical Run for Washington?
Well, considering Stanford is likely to await in the Sweet Sixteen, they probably aren’t going to be getting back to the Elite Eight this season. The Huskies are a side that plastered Kentucky at the beginning of the season and did well to beat many of their mid-table rivals in the Pac-12 this season. But there are still a lot of red flags for Washington going into the NCAA Tournament. When the wheels fell off this season, they really fell off, with Wisconsin, Stanford, and UCLA all beating the Huskies to a pulp in heavy, heavy losses. Recent form also hasn’t been with UW, as they haven’t won in their last four after winning five straight in the league.
But At Least They Can Actually Score Goals This Year, Right?
Thankfully, yes. Washington isn’t exactly subtle in their gameplan offensively. Get the ball to Jaclyn Softli and Kate Bennett and let the veteran duo work their magic. Softli has been a great performer spearheading the attack this year with ten goals, four in the league, and six winners overall, with all four of her league goals being match winners. Bennett has shined brightly as an attacking midfielder, though she does get a bit trigger happy with her shooting at times. Beyond those two though, it’s tough to see where offense is going to come from. Kimberly Keever has showed great potential as a rookie but has also been limited by injuries at times and may be breaking down at an inopportune time. While UW has enough in the tank to trouble Rider with their offense, they’re likely too limited to take out better teams.
Is The Defense Is Going to Cost Them Dearly?
Given how shellshocked they looked against the very top teams they played this year, it’s a distinct possibility. The Huskies are especially vulnerable out wide. Dominique Bond-Flasza is a rookie at right-back, while left-back has been a revolving door, with no less than five players having started there while Lesle Gallimore tries to find a solution. Megan Kufeld, like most Pac-12 goalkeepers, is a talented custodian in net but isn’t going to be able to compensate for the failings of the defense on her own. UW has enough offense to keep them in most matches, but if the club gets blitzed early by a foe taking advantage of the Husky defense, it could be a painful night for the Seattle side.
So Just How Far Can UW Go?
I suspect UW will be pretty high on folks’ list for teams in line to get upset after their late season swoon. They got a pretty kind draw in the first round against a team likely to be overmatched on Friday. But the Missouri/Kansas winner presents a real threat. If Washington can’t get it together after some late season struggles, they may well be toppled in the second round next weekend.