Master & Commander – Mariah Nogueira Will Look To Dominate for Stanford in Midfield Again
(All times listed are Eastern.)
Stanford vs Santa Clara – 10:00 PM
What’s harder than winning a national title? How about defending it, which Stanford will try to do this season, knowing that the past two national champions haven’t exactly fared that well in defense of their crowns. The Card have quite the task ahead of them given the losses faced by Paul Ratcliffe’s side. Gone are Camille Levin, Teresa Noyola, Kristy Zurmuhlen, and Lindsay Taylor, a giant chunk of the starting lineup that led Stanford to glory last year. Also gone early on will be sophomore forward Chioma Ubogagu, away on international duty for the U.S. U20 team.
With serious questions hanging over Stanford’s offense early, it might be up to returning junior Courtney Verloo to ignite the offense early on. Verloo missed all of last season through injury and played center-back in 2010 but had four goals and six assists as a rookie in 2009, showing she knows where the goal is. Even if the offense might sputter a bit early, the defense could strangle teams into submission given the returning quality. Center-back Alina Garciamendez, full-back Rachel Quon, and goalkeeper Emily Oliver are all among the very best at this level at their positions and will be sure to give opponents a torrid time. Oliver’s an injury doubt going into the opener though, adding another dimension of concern for Ratcliffe’s squad early on.
That includes a Santa Clara team missing their top two offensive weapons in Julie Johnston and Sofia Huerta, also at the U20 World Cup. Losing Bianca Henninger in goal also hurts, but this Bronco team is still the best Jerry Smith has had by some margin over the past few years and shouldn’t be cowed in the face of the mighty Cardinal machine. The visitors will fancy their chances to pull off the upset and end many an unbeaten streak that Stanford enters this match with.
Given their proximity, these two eternal rivals will likely cross swords again in the NCAA Tournament this season. While some of the missing stars might leave some dubbing this as a warm-up act for future showdowns, both sides will be desperate to get off to the best start possible with great tests ahead for both in the coming weeks.
Wake Forest vs Richmond – 5:00 PM (Virginia Tech Tournament at Blacksburg, Virginia)
Timing is everything in the world of college soccer, and so it is for the Richmond Spiders this season. Coach Peter Albright’s side raised many an eyebrow last season as they just missed out on an NCAA Tournament berth, due in no small part to the scoring heroics of Becca Wann, quickly establishing herself as one of the nation’s most dangerous forwards. That scoring form caught the attention of the U.S. U20 setup, and while considered an outsider for spot on the U20 World Cup team initially, Wann made the final cut for the squad to travel to Japan.
While the selection could do wonders for recruiting, in the short-term, it creates problems for Richmond. The club scored twenty-seven goals last year, and Wann had a hand in twenty-one of them. The team only had one other player with more than two goals, Natalie LeClair, who, thankfully, returns for Richmond this season.
Being short on options up front isn’t exactly a good sign for anyone playing Wake Forest though, with the Demon Deacons packing one of the nation’s top rearguards. For their part, Wake is without Katie Stengel in attack, but Rachel Nuzzloese is hardly a poor fallback option. The 2011 College Cup semi-finalists are seemingly on everyone’s shortlist of teams that could make it to San Diego this season, and with good reason with almost everyone returning for 2012.
It’s a high-risk, low-reward game for Tony da Luz’s side though. While a win would help the RPI down the road, most would probably brush it off, dubbing a Wann-less Richmond a team the Demon Deacons should beat at any rate. They’ll be facing a team hell bent on getting a result against the odds, with even a draw likely to go a long way in the club’s NCAA Tournament at-large bid hopes. A couple of those results could have the Spiders in a great position when Wann does come back in September.
Denver vs Colorado College – 5:30 PM (Colorado Cup at Greeley, Colorado)
The race to solidify at-large bid credentials waits for no one, and these two Colorado mid-majors will have a chance to stick an early feather in their cap on opening day. The Pioneers of Denver had turned into the Sun Belt’s almost team in recent seasons but could be revitalized with a fresh start in the new look WAC. A club which scored goals for fun last year will be looking to pry open the Tiger defense with help from junior sensation Kristen Hamilton, who destroyed rearguards to the tune of sixteen goals and nine assists last year.
There’s no guarantee she’ll have it all her way in this one though, as Colorado College’s defense was bolstered by the huge addition of Notre Dame transfer Kecia Morway in the offseason. CC head coach Geoff Bennett will be hoping it’s the last piece of the puzzle to get the Tigers roaring again in Conference USA, where they’ve been overshadowed by Memphis and UCF in recent seasons. Wins against potential bubble rivals are worth their weight in gold come November, and it’ll be intriguing to see if either of these sides can strike it rich in Greeley come Friday afternoon.
Pepperdine vs San Diego – 6:00 PM
Teams on the West Coast tend to do things a little differently at times, and as such, we’ll be privy to a rematch between the 2011 WCC co-champions right off the bat in 2012. With the teams to play again in the league in October in San Diego, this game will count as a non-conference contest but still will be very meaningful for two of the WCC’s new guard.
After a recent history of inconsistency, Pepperdine made their big breakthrough last season, starting strong and finishing the regular season that way to lift the WCC trophy at season’s end. With many of last year’s young and exciting team returning, most are expecting nothing less than another title challenge and perhaps a deeper run into this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Their opponents also shared in WCC glory last year and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen to boot. With a club that’s been crushed by graduation though, the Toreros may just be hoping to get back to the NCAA Tournament this season. USD must begin life without offensive ace Stephanie Ochs and goalkeeping heroine Courtney Parsons, both of whom were immense down the stretch last season. The new look Toreros certainly won’t be easing into the new season, with the fancied Waves likely to give them a stern test right off the bat.
UConn vs UCLA – 7:00 PM
Two of college soccer’s most storied programs square off in a tantalizing early season showdown in Storrs on opening night. The Huskies will be lacking no degree of motivation after a season of disappointment last year which ended in the club missing the postseason entirely. With young talent like Riley Houle combining with old heads like Danielle Schulmann and Julie Hubbard, UConn are a side that might be flying under the radar a bit and could well be a sleeper to finish well up the pecking order in the Big East.
They’ll fancy their chances at an upset here, with UCLA making the long trek out to the East Coast shorthanded thanks to losing three players to international duty. The midfield in particular looks gutted with the loss of Samantha Mewis and Sarah Killion likely to leave many wondering where the supply line for the forwards is going to come from. The strikeforce itself could be an early problem for UCLA as well, as they lose Sydney Leroux and will be yearning for someone to step up into the role of top gun as the season kicks off. B.J. Snow’s kids were certainly alright for much of last year but showed their youth in the NCAA Tournament. Much more will be expected this year, but the Bruins can’t look ahead too far, lest they be caught cold by a hungry Husky side.
Florida vs Miami (FL) – 7:00 PM
It’s Old Order vs New Order in Gainesville as the perennial SEC powerhouse Florida Gators try to keep their place in the state pecking order against the upset minded Miami Hurricanes. Tom Anagnost’s side have often been competitive but ultimately unsuccessful historically against these Gators, but you get the feeling the worm may well have turned in recent months. The Hurricanes have brought in some talented freshmen and transfers in an unabashedly ambitious recruiting effort to try and propel themselves up the ACC table. Some of the results were on display in an eye-raising 4-0 destruction of Dayton in an exhibition last weekend.
The real acid test of course comes on Friday night, with UF waiting in this state rivalry. It’s the last chance for the generation of Tymrak, Williamson, and King to leave a lasting impact, as Florida tries to shed their postseason underachiever tag after another NCAA Tournament flameout last season. Always home to some bright young things from annually strong recruiting classes, Becky Burleigh will be hoping some of her young underclassmen step it up early to build momentum before the marathon SEC season as Florida seeks to regain their league crown.
Virginia vs Penn State – 7:00 PM
These two teams have played some absolute classics over the years and will look to rekindle that rivalry again this season, albeit without some key figures on both sides. The U20 World Cup has played havoc with both clubs early on this season. The visitors must do without scoring sensations Maya Hayes and Taylor Schram, both hoping to fire the U.S. to a youth world title in Japan.
It’s even worse for the home side, who lose not just attacking midfielder Morgan Brian, but also their head coach, Steve Swanson. Early signs have been perhaps a bit ominous for the Cavs, who failed to score in either of their exhibitions against Notre Dame or Georgetown. Underestimating this club’s firepower would be a mistake though, as UVA returns senior Caroline Miller to the fore, one of the nation’s best strikers in the clutch. The likes of rookie hotshot Makenzy Doniak, set piece wizard Julia Roberts, and super sub Gloria Douglas will also be sure to test the Penn State defense.
The Nittany Lions will be eager to trouble the Cavs’ new choice in between the pipes, though the question is whether or not they’ll have the weapons to do so without Hayes and Schram. The only player available on Friday with more than three goals last season is sophomore Emily Hurd. It’s one reason head coach Erica Walsh may be hoping that injury plagued Tani Costa can stay off the training table, as the Hawaiian has the ability to test any defense. With so much up in the air with these two squads going into opening night, it makes the showdown in Charlottesville compelling theatre and one of the day’s best potential matches, albeit one that’s utterly unpredictable.
West Virginia vs La Salle – 7:00 PM
There’s no easing into the new season for either of these two clubs, who’ll be looking to make a statement right out of the gate on Friday night. The Mountaineers have likely been waiting for this day since an NCAA Tournament opening round defeat to Virginia Tech that must have left a sour taste in many mouths. WVU’s moved to the Big XII since and will be looking to build momentum towards a title run in their new home after dominating the Big East last season.
They won’t have it easy against a La Salle team that will be eager to prove they’re no one-hit wonders after last season’s ascent into the national consciousness. The scoring duo of Renee Washington and Kelsey Haycook is among the best tandems in the NCAA and will be trying to light up a Mountaineer defense that will be trying to blend in a few new starters at the beginning of the new season.
WVU still packs senior defender Bry McCarthy though, one of the nation’s best attacking full-backs, who’ll be eager to help feed dangerous forwards Kate Schwindel and Frances Silva. Given some of the offensive talent on display, this one has all the makings of a goalfest, with the visitors likely to be especially eager to make the most of what’s likely to be their best chance at making a big impression in non-conference play.
William & Mary vs Duke – 7:00 PM
The biggest game in the history of the William & Mary program? OK, maybe that’s exaggerating a bit, but it’s hard to think of too many bigger regular season matches involving the Tribe in recent years. In all likelihood, many eyes will be trained on Williamsburg to see how the much fancied Blue Devils deal with an opponent more than capable of springing an upset on Friday night. The Tribe returns nine starters from last season’s all-conquering CAA double winners and will be looking to defend their league trophies while aiming for a possible run in November in the NCAA Tournament.
Those credentials will be put to a swift test on opening night though, as Duke begins 2012 on the shortlist of national title contenders, with Robbie Church’s team returning all eleven starters from last year’s national finalists. Of course, Duke will be without Kelly Cobb and Mollie Pathman for the early weeks of the season, as the duo tries to help the U.S. bring home a U20 world title. That means it’ll largely be up to Laura Weinberg and Kaitlyn Kerr to provide the goals, though Duke also has to be hoping that some additional sources of offense step up as well.
It’s Duke’s defense that might end up being tested most though, as the likes of Mallory Schaffer, Cortlyn Bristol, and Emory Camper will be a handful for any rearguard this year, even one that contains the likes of All-American Natasha Anasi. While the visitors have a couple fairly perfunctory matches following this one, the Tribe knows that the hype train could be full steam ahead headed to Knoxville with a win here. It all adds up to a night full of intrigue in Williamsburg and one of opening day’s best matchups.
Missouri vs Memphis – 7:30 PM
Two Tigers of a different shade collide on Friday night in an intriguing non-conference clash. The visitors have now won eight straight matches against SEC foes, dating back to the 2009 season, and will be looking to add another high profile scalp as they travel to Columbia. The Conference USA powerhouse won’t be at full strength though, missing the likes of Kylie Davis, Christabel Oduro, and Natalia Gomez-Junco due to the U20 World Cup. When you add in the fact that this Memphis team was already having to replace six starters before those losses above, you might wonder if their SEC winning streak might be in some serious danger, especially on the road.
They’ll be facing an opponent whose confidence might have taken a severe blow in the exhibition season though, as Missouri were humiliated in Dallas by SMU in a 4-0 thrashing. It’s certainly not the beginning the new SEC side asked for as they try to shake off the malaise of the past few seasons in their new conference home. The loss is one thing, but the margin of defeat may be bringing back awful memories of the horrid 2010 defense that was among the nation’s worst. Though they may be understrength, Memphis still has enough firepower to severely test the opposing defense, which will have to be on their toes this season in a very offensive league.
Milwaukee vs South Carolina – 8:00 PM
Two clubs who have risen dramatically into the national consciousness face the beginnings of a new era come Friday night. The home side aren’t just dealing with the loss of striker extraordinaire Sarah Hagen, they have to deal with a change at the top, with Greg Henschel taking over for Northwestern bound Michael Moynihan. While the club still has talent and depth, the air of invulnerability around last year’s unit has certainly waned as they enter the new season.
Their opponents have challenges of their own as they begin the quest to repeat as SEC champions. The most notable loss is that of attacking dynamo Kayla Grimsley, arguably the greatest player in club history and certainly one of the most decorated, with numerous personal plaudits to go along with an SEC title and SEC Tournament title. The questions over the attack are one thing, but the club also has to deal with early uncertainty in goal with goalkeeping superstar Sabrina D’Angelo in Japan on international duty. With largely untested understudies taking the mantle, Carolina’s traditionally stingy defense could be made to sweat a little more early on. Some of those questions lingering over these two clubs will be answered Friday in what could be a pivotal clash come Selection Monday.
Minnesota vs Florida State – 8:00 PM
Florida State, South Carolina, San Diego, USC…nobody will be accusing new Minnesota head coach Stefanie Golan of being able to ease into her new job as she endures a murderer’s row in the opening weeks of the new season. None of those challenges may be more difficult than the one faced on opening night, as the Golden Gophers run up against the perennial College Cup contending Seminoles.
After coming so agonizingly close to a national title run so many times, head coach Mark Krikorian will be hoping that his club can get over the top this season. Despite losing the likes of Toni Pressley and Tori Huster to graduation, the Noles reloaded in style, adding the likes of highly regarded freshman Carson Pickett, Oklahoma transfer Dria Hampton, and international starlets Berglind Thorvaldsdottir, Isabella Schmid, and Nora Kervroedan to a typical continental lineup. There looks to be firepower to burn, with the above joining the explosive Tiffany McCarty in an attacking group that looks to be one of the most dangerous in the nation.
Without Pressley and the U20 World Cup bound Kassey Kallman in defense early on though, some will question the steel in Florida State’s defensive spine. It could also mean increased scrutiny on junior goalkeeper Kelsey Wys, who will want to do everything she can to erase memories of a fitful performance in the College Cup semi-final against Stanford.
Rice vs Baylor – 8:00 PM
Two rapidly rising programs in Texas will look to continue to build momentum in an intriguing opening night clash in Houston. The Owls began last season in fine fashion and looked to be briefly in the mix for an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament before tailing off a bit towards the end of the season. The past few seasons may have just been a warmup act though, as the Owls are replete with young talent and will be looking to finally make the big breakthrough behind the goals of Jessica Howard and strong defending of Lauren LaGro this year.
They’ll get a big test right off the bat this year with the visitors looking like one of the Big XII’s upper crust this season. Baylor has been battling for respect for the past few seasons, but Marci Jobson’s side opened some eyes last season with a run to the second round of the NCAA Tournament after many a year out in the wilderness. With a little taste of postseason success, the Bears will be looking to make that next step and turn into a league title contender in the Big XII. If the Bears do want to be looked at as contenders, then they have to beat their state rivals in convincing fashion. For their part, if Rice wants to harbor hopes of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament come November, getting a win over Baylor could be paramount.
Texas vs Dayton – 8:00 PM
It’s the official beginning of Angela Kelly’s reign at the top of the Texas program, and the schedule does her few favors on opening night. While Texas should be able to accrue some wins in the games directly after this match, the Horns will have quite a challenge on their hands in the form of a high powered Dayton squad. Senior Flyer forward Colleen Williams is one of the most dangerous attackers in the nation and has some pretty good cover in the form of teammate Kelsey Smigel, more than capable of knocking them in herself.
They should put a new look Texas team, coping with graduation and defections, to a big test right off the bat. Nowhere will the pressure be felt more than in goal, where relatively untested sophomore Ava Vogel will likely be deputizing for U20 World Cup bound freshman Abby Smith. The Flyers may have some challenges of their own to face on opening night though, especially on the defensive end of the pitch. With graduation forcing some serious tinkering, this Dayton team could be vulnerable until the unit gels, a fact underscored by the club’s 4-0 loss to Miami (FL) in an exhibition match. It might just equal an end-to-end encounter and one of the first day of the season’s most exciting matches.
Wisconsin vs Notre Dame – 8:00 PM
Two programs coming off disappointing 2011 seasons will try to take the first steps towards redemption this year in Madison, as Wisconsin and Notre Dame open up against each other for the second straight season. The Irish won last year’s encounter at South Bend, but things generally went downhill after that, with the 2010 national champions struggling to make the NCAA Tournament field and then going down tamely at the first hurdle.
It was even worse for Wisconsin, who, set to challenge for the Big Ten title, found little success beyond an ill-tempered win over Penn State. The dreadful season seems to have taken its toll on the Badgers, with more than a couple of last year’s starters departing unexpectedly, joining some costly losses to graduation. It figures to be new looks all around, with both these sides shuffling the deck coming into the new year.
The difference may be that Notre Dame gets to reload with a phenomenal recruiting class that could be the foundation for another national title run. Expectations may have to be tempered a bit early though, as the Irish will be without midfielder Mandy Laddish, the club’s best returnee by a mile, and top newcomer Cari Roccaro, both a part of the U.S. U20 team in Japan for the U20 World Cup. It’s enough to make you believe that the home side has more than a puncher’s chance of claiming at least a share of the spoils come Friday night. The Badgers also know that a result here could go a long way come November if the club is fighting for a spot in the Field of Sixty-Four in their quest to return to the NCAA Tournament.
Utah vs Utah State – 9:00 PM (Rio Tinto Stadium)
The simmering rivalry between two of the state’s best gets a justifiably grand stage, as Utah and Utah State will do battle at Rio Tinto Stadium, home of the MLS Real Salt Lake club. Each of these programs will be looking to keep the momentum rolling from last season after each impressed in 2011. The Utes may not have made a return to the NCAA Tournament, but Rich Manning’s bunch did manage a mid-table finish in the Pac-12, an unlikely proposition entering the season.
The Aggies’ accomplishments were much more tangible, with the WAC side doing the double en route to the club’s first NCAA Tournament appearance. USU’s season also featured a 1-0 win over the Utes in non-conference play, a result that should only stoke this rivalry further.
Utah comes into the new season with just one senior but also must replace their towering center-back duo of Lauren Dudley and Lauren Porter, along with starting goalkeeper Hannah Turpen. That could be quite the challenge facing a Utah State offense that boasts the likes of Kendra Pemberton, who hit for seven goals and nine assists last year. The Aggies are no soft touch in defense though, boasting the likes of Natalie Norris, arguably the WAC’s top defender and a heavily underrated gem. While both clubs still have to play fellow state heavyweight BYU, a decisive winner here would go a long way in claiming state superiority in 2012.
Portland vs North Carolina – 10:00 PM
Two of college soccer’s most storied programs will collide for the first time since 2006 in an eagerly anticipated match. The Pilots will try to break an ignominious record against the Tar Heels, having never topped the powerhouse in eight previous meetings (0-7-1). The landscape of the college soccer world is quite different than when these two last met though, with both of these clubs still trying to find their footing after some severe challenges these past few seasons.
The host Pilots will be eager to try and wash away the memories of a nightmare season in 2011 where they just barely qualified for the NCAA Tournament after a turbulent season. While the club does lose offensive talisman Danielle Foxhoven, the return of flying full-back Kendall Johnson should raise spirits heading into the new year.
North Carolina will also be hoping for much better after two straight exits in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament, which has led to no shortage of teeth gnashing from the Tar Heel supporters. The Heels will be very much a team in progress early on though, trying to blend in a big and talented rookie class while also coping with the absence of a cadre of players due to the U20 World Cup, including Crystal Dunn and Kealia Ohai. With games against Florida, Notre Dame, and Marquette among others on the horizon though, the pressure on UNC to begin the season on a winning note will be palpable as they open the new year on Friday night.
UC Irvine vs BYU – 10:00 PM
In the midst of their meteoric rise up the ranks in college soccer, UC Irvine has taken on a fearless scheduling mentality that has seen them take on (and often beat) no small amount of much more fancied foes. You certainly can’t accuse them of ducking a challenge this year either, as the club opens up with a punishing four day stretch with the Anteaters facing BYU and Texas A&M.
UCI’s Friday opponents have likely been eager to get back onto the pitch since the rather sour denouement to their 2011 season left them out of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in ages. BYU likely aren’t going to be down for too long though. The Cougars come into the new season with no shortage of weapons in attack, a fact that could spell trouble for an Irvine defense that will be coping with All-American defender CoCo Goodson this season.
Scott Juniper’s side does have some attacking heft of its own but will also be put to the test by a BYU defense that features the excellent Lindsi Lisonbee as well as top notch addition Cloee Colohan. The battle between BYU’s defense and Irvine’s potentially explosive offensive pairing of Natalia Ledezma and Rachel Wood and the BYU defense could be one of the best of opening day as these two talented schools aim for their first win of the 2012 season.