A reminder: I’ll be live tweeting updates for the big matches all season long at @Chris_AWK. News and views for the college campaign will be on display on that twitter account all season as well.
Second reminder: The irreplaceable mecca of college WoSo results and stats is here. Features a scoreboard that’s probably the fastest on the ‘net to be updated with final scores. Also features a live updating RPI as finals are entered into the database, along with too many other tools for the crazed or casual college WoSo follower. Used by countless nervous coaches come November, what’s stopping you from giving it a try?
North Carolina vs Santa Clara – 5:00 PM (in Charlottesville, Virginia)
The animus between these two great rivals will heat up again as they prepare to do battle for the first time in nearly half a decade. The Tar Heels are almost a consensus favorite to become the first repeat champions since they won in 2008 & 2009. Returning Hermann Trophy winner Crystal Dunn will aim to become the first two-time winner of the award since Notre Dame’s Kerri Hanks in 2008 and the first repeat winner since Christine Sinclair in 2005 with Portland. She may have to fight off the efforts of teammate Kealia Ohai, who was a constant threat last year after a down sophomore season in 2011. Not that the Tar Heels don’t have some major questions to answer before a potential title run. The club has to replace the irreplaceable in Amber Brooks, who commanded the deep midfielder position so well for this UNC side the past four years. There are also questions in goal, where the club loses Adelaide Gay, meaning that, at least initially, the Tar Heels might be back to rotating netminders each half until one can keep a stranglehold on the job. The return of a healthy Megan Brigman and the addition of a top-rated recruiting class should allay some worries, though head coach Anson Dorrance will still have to find a balance tactically between the customary 3-4-3 and the more conservative 4-2-3-1 the club used to help control the final against Penn State last season.
Jerry Smith’s Broncos will be looking to put a decisive muzzle on the critics who’ve claimed his club have become a soft touch against the very best in the nation. The numbers don’t paint a pretty picture, with SCU having won just eight of forty-one and four of twenty-three against ranked opponents in the past five years plus. SCU might have their best team in a generation though, adding transfer Morgan Marlborough and a solid recruiting class to what already was a very good team. Marlborough will likely be ready and eager to get back on the pitch after being forced to sit out last season. The mammoth striker will also likely be looking to make some personnel amends against North Carolina after missing a penalty against the Tar Heels while with Nebraska in 2011. As good a pair as Dunn and Ohai are, Marlborough and fellow senior Julie Johnston aren’t far behind, though it’ll be interesting to see what role the latter plays, such is her versatility and such is the threat provided by UNC’s attack. There should be little subtlety about where SCU ranks in the national hierarchy after this weekend, with the club playing at Virginia on Sunday. Regardless of Sunday though, a win here will likely have Broncos fans dreaming of a national title challenge come December.
Notre Dame vs Illinois – 5:30 PM
They say you can’t win anything with kids, but Notre Dame came agonizingly close last season, making a dramatic run to the Elite Eight with wins over much more fancied Wake Forest and Florida sides before bowing to Florida State’s might. The Irish aren’t going to surprise anyone this season and are prime contenders for a spot in Cary’s College Cup if the club’s glut of youngsters can continue to produce. While the likes of forward Crystal Thomas and defender Katie Naughton seem poised for stardom, all the focus in the Irish’s opener figures to be in the hotly contested battle in the middle of the park. Head coach Randy Waldrum is spoilt for choice, but it’s hard imagining this group functioning without the presence of senior leader Mandy Laddish. An all-action threat going forward with a cannon of a shot form range, Laddish’s leadership skills may ultimately be what might separate a title contender from a year of consolidation for the Irish. The more pressing question may be who is tasked with the defensive midfield role in the opener, i.e. who gets to try and stop the Illini’s Vanessa DiBernardo. Swiss army knife Cari Roccaro would seemingly be the ideal option, but Waldrum’s a shrewd operator, meaning Illinois would be wise to expect the unexpected. Whatever the case, Notre Dame will be wanting victory here to help build momentum for what would likely be a 3-0-0 start before a crunch showdown against UCLA next Sunday.
Illini boss Janet Rayfield will be hoping that DiBernardo does find the answers to whatever the Irish throw at her, because if she can’t, it’s probably going to be a long evening for the Big Ten side. DiBernardo had twice as many goals as anyone else on Illinois last season, which might be seen as a problem considering she also played in seven fewer games than many of her teammates. Second leading returning scorer Nicole Breece returns after four goals last season, while junior Janelle Flaws will be hoping to make an impact after missing two of her first three seasons here, though she also was one of the team’s most promising players in 2011. The headaches aren’t all on offense either, as Illinois also has to break in a new starting goalkeeper after the graduation of Steph Panozzo, who played every minute last year. The returnees have almost no experience, which should open a door for rookie Claire Wheatley, one of this recruiting class’ highest rated netminders. This is very much trial by fire though, and Illinois do not have it any easier afterwards, with a trip to Louisville looming on Sunday. Nicking a win would likely be beyond Illinois’ wildest expectations, but even grabbing a draw would likely reap huge dividends come Selection Monday.
Boston College vs Stanford – 7:00 PM
A Stanford side that has been accustomed to reloading faces off against a Boston College side that hopes they are able to do the same after the graduation of a golden generation. The hosts have usually played the Card very tight in recent meetings and will be hoping to keep it close again in both teams’ opener this year. BC knows that the loss of offensive juggernaut Kristie Mewis won’t be easy to overcome, though the combined firepower of Stephanie McCaffrey and McKenzie Meehan will be supplemented by the additions of rookie additions Hayley Dowd and Rosie DiMartino. Offense has almost never been a problem here though, defense most definitely was last year though, with the Eagles shipping more than two goals a game in the ACC. There’s no telling if the situation is going to get markedly better in the short-term either, as the club also has to replace last year’s starting netminder Alexa Gaul, with Jessica Mickelson and Alexandra Johnson fighting to claim the gloves. If the backline, lead by junior Casey Morrison, doesn’t improve by leaps and bounds though, it could be a long season, starting with Friday night’s matchup.
BC’s defense will be put to the test by a Stanford attack that gets a whole lot more fearsome with the addition of Minnesota transfer Taylor Uhl to the ranks. Uhl looks poised to join Chioma Ubogagu and Courtney Verloo up top to give the Card a three-headed monster with which to terrorize opponents. While few are likely to question the veracity of Stanford’s attack this season, there are more than a few questions in defense. Gone are the steady feet of Alina Garciamendez, Rachel Quon, and Maddie Thompson from the backline, while midfield hammer Mariah Nogueira is also plying her trade as a pro right now. The likes of Laura Liedle and Maya Theuer return hoping to reach some of their vast potential, while newcomers like U20 World Cup winner Stephanie Amack also arrive to reinforce the backline. It’s bound to be a work in progress though, and it’s very much trial by fire in the opener against a volatile Boston College attack. The last line of defense figures to be Emily Oliver…maybe. Hotshot freshman netminder Jane Campbell joins the Card this season, and you get the sense the Georgia native didn’t sign up to collect dust on the bench, even as a rookie. It’s a situation worth monitoring in a season that could be full of talking points for a Stanford side again aiming for a national title.
Florida State vs Oregon State – 7:00 PM
A Florida State club that’s made a habit of reloading every season with top-flight talent has another tough task on their hands this season, losing goalscoring dynamo Tiffany McCarty, as well as both starting full-backs from last season. The defense should be fine in time, as the center-back pairing of Kassey Kallman and Kristin Grubka likely to dominate again, while Kelsey Wys could again star in goal for the Noles. The big question is where the goals are going to come from without McCarty up top and Casey Short and Ines Jaurena to stretch teams down the flanks. Dagny Brynjarsdottir has been excellent in front of goal in her two years here, but she’s probably not an out-and-out striker, meaning head coach Mark Krikorian has some tinkering to do before the brutal full round robin of the ACC kicks in in a few weeks’ time. As is, the Noles may need either true freshman Anna McClung or redshirt freshman Berglind Thorvaldsdottir to come in immediately and show they’ll be able to lead the line. Don’t count out a tinkering with the 4-2-3-1 the club used so effectively last year. FSU was heavily dependent on McCarty scoring to make the formation work, and when she was off, so was the entire offense on most nights, meaning a rethink of tactics might be needed.
Oregon State comes into this one knowing their window to make some serious noise on a national stage might be fading for a bit after this season, as its the final year for the Canadian striking duo of Jenna Richardson and Chelsea Buckland. Richardson has displayed tons of pace and ability to terrorize backlines thus far in her college career but will be looking to overcome some inconsistent finishing to try and increase her odds of winning an allocated slot for Canada in the NWSL next season. Running mate Buckland looked like she was going to get an allocated slot before tearing her ACL in the offseason before the 2012 campaign. She’s back as a fifth-year senior, and her form in front of goal could be key for the Beavers’ chances of making some noise this year. While FSU is the team in this matchup with the ballyhooed rookies, Oregon state brings in some rather intriguing attacking talent of their own this year. Norwegian Helene Haavik is one of the few Scandinavians to try their luck in the Pac-12 as of late, and the youth international could make OSU’s attack even more dynamic if she can live up to her billing. Head coach Linus Rhode has successfully mined Canada for some elite talent since he took over, and he may have found another gem in midfielder Sabrina Santarossa. Santarossa already looks like a contender for next year’s U20 World Cup for Canada and gives a vibrant attack even more options. Rhode has discussed varying things up formation-wise this season, and the increased options could ease any transition. The defense is a pressing issue though, with the rearguard made none stronger by losing Morgan Kennedy to an ACL injury in the offseason. There’s no time to settle in. The docket features the likes of Florida, Wisconsin, and UC Irvine after this, meaning if OSU can emerge from this one with anything Friday, they could reap the rewards in November.
Texas A&M vs Duke – 7:00 PM
That Texas A&M’s 7-2 mauling at the hands of a Duke in 2011 isn’t a sorer subject is perhaps testament to the club’s momentous 4-3 win over North Carolina just a few days later. The Aggies will be wary going into this one though, knowing that most of Duke’s wunderkinds of that win are back for one final go of it in 2013. A&M comes into this season with the highest expectations they’ve faced in a while, with many expecting them to romp to an SEC title while contending for a spot in Cary and the College Cup. These Aggies may be the best hope in a long while for the beleaguered SEC to break into the College Cup for the first time in ages. The firepower possessed by the home side is immense, with a healthy Kelley Monogue combining with Annie Kunz and Shea Groom to give the Aggies a trinity of attacking strength that few in the nation will likely be able to match. One team that might be able too is Duke though, meaning the Aggies will be hoping the countermeasure of moving Meghan Streight into defense from her defensive midfield spot helps shore up the backline this year. Along with Rachel Lenz, A&M has a talented duo with her and Streight, while sophomore Karlie Mueller has shown undeniable potential as well. The midfield battle could be key though. Monogue was used there in the preseason and may be needed to help win some battles in what might be A&M’s biggest weakness going into the new season. With Kaitlyn Kerr ready to run riot for Duke though, the Aggies can’t afford to get it wrong. If they get it right, they’ll likely be favored in every game up to the match at Florida in October.
Duke themselves will be looking for a big scalp on the road to help build their resume for a high national seed come November. The Blue Devils blitzed teams last year, drowning opponents under a tide of goals, all the while their defense itself springing a few leaks. It’s going to be a new dawn for that defense this year though, as starters Erin Koballa, Maddy Haller, and Libby Jandl all depart the backline, while Tara Campbell is gone from the goal after serving as the club’s netminder for four years. Center-back Natasha Anasi is indisputably one of the game’s best at this level, but even she may not be able to organize the backline into a dominant unit right away. Mollie Pathman was used in defense some last season after playing there with the U.S. U20s, and she might yet end up back at left-back if the club struggles initially this year. They can certainly afford to tinker considering the return of last year’s breakout stars Kim DeCesare and Laura Weinberg up top, with Kelly Cobb also looking to get back on track after injury blighted her sophomore season. Kerr again will pull the strings in midfield and almost always rises to the occasion in big games, but who surrounds her will be a mystery. Gilda Doria is out for the season with an ACL injury, while Cassie Pecht is out indefinitely with a knee injury of her own. It might be just enough to slow down Duke appreciably early on until some of the team’s rookies get their feet wet. The schedule eases up for a few weeks after the opener, but the Blue Devils will nonetheless have to be at their best on Friday if they’re to walk out with a win.
UConn vs Wisconsin – 7:00 PM
If Wisconsin planned to dip in under the radar this season after last year’s disappointing sixth place league finish in the Big Ten, they effectively scuttled those chances by throttling Marquette in the preseason, 5-1. The Badgers certainly have a whole lot of intriguing ingredients heading into the 2013 season. Junior forward Cara Walls has been steady and deadly through two seasons, netting ten last year after nine goals as a rookie. Add in the sheer potential of rookie Rose Lavelle, and you’ve got an offense that could be ready to rock in 2013. The hype train on Lavelle has been building momentum for months now after impressive showings in action with the U.S. U20s and after a nice display in the exhibition against Marquette. The club also got a massive boost with the return of Alev Kelter after a season away to focus on hockey. The gritty and tough Kelter is just as imposing as you’d expect a collegiate hockey player to be, and her presence could add some much needed steel to the Badgers going forward. Junior Genevieve Richard could be in for big things in goal as well. The Quebec native was one of the stars of the W-League season and could be in store for a huge season after coming into the Wisconsin program with so much promise years ago. UW plays four on the road to open up the season, but all four are certainly winnable, though the club wants a result here to avoid some pressure going into Sunday against Illinois State.
UConn is coming dangerously close to “opponent” territory, after another disappointing season in 2012, where they finished just a game above .500 and made no real impact in the postseason. While UConn may have one eye towards a match against Stanford that is the clubs’ first meeting since the Huskies’ famous NCAA Tournament win 2007 over the Card in Palo Alto, they also know it’ll be tough to avoid an 0-2-0 start if they lose on Friday. The loss of sparkplug forward Danielle Schulmann could be a big one, as the firebrand often made the offense tick. Andrea Plucenik will be depended on for most of the offense having netted five goals and five assists each, while Samantha McGuire also had four goals a year ago. Getting a healthy again Julie Hubbard back should help as well, as she and a veteran midfield will like to stifle the supply line to Walls in this one. UConn was unsettled all season in goal in 2012 and may not be much better off this year. The returning Allison Saucier has the experience but also had a wretched 67.6% save percentage last year. Transfer Emily Armstrong came into Boston College with many youth plaudits but couldn’t beat out Alexa Gaul for minutes and will be hoping to fare better here. Whoever starts in goal on Friday could be busy if the Huskies can’t put the clamps on Walls and her teammates.
Penn State vs West Virginia – 7:30 PM
West Virginia probably has fond memories of Penn State, if only because it was the site of their monumental upset of Stanford last season. It was also the lone bright spot in a stretch of one win in six that the club will not want to repeat this season. In part, that’s because expectations are through the roof for the Mountaineers after the additions of Canadian international Kadeisha Buchanan, who could be one of the nation’s best defenders if she matches her form with country, and the equally talented Ashley Lawrence, another bright star coming up through the Canadian system. And that’s in addition to a team that was already pretty strong to begin with. The scoring duo of Kate Schwindel and Frances Silva is good enough to give any defense nightmares, while the return of Canadian midfielder Caroline Szwed gives the club another experienced campaigner. Underrated senior keeper Sara Keane is another gem for head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown, and all of the assembled talent means WVU might have their best team in half a decade. The Mountaineers are still likely stinging from their second and third straight postseason defeats last year, and a win here would affirm the club’s big game prowess and underline their College Cup intentions.
The hosts aren’t going to make it easy. Penn State will be looking to go one better from last season when they made the College Cup final. PSU supporters will rue the losses of Christine Nairn, Maddy Evans, and Erin McNulty, but there’s still plenty of returning talent. The club’s offense figures to be a little more settled this season with Maya Hayes and Taylor Schram there the whole season. They’ll join the precocious talents of sophomore Mallory Weber, one of the nation’s most exciting rookies last year, and Costa Rican star Raquel Rodriguez, who has superstar potential at this level and for her country. PSU’s not all flash though. Whitney Church was last year’s Big Ten Defender of the Year and returns with the likes of Bri Hovington and a healthy Lexi Marton to give the Nittany Lions a shot at being one of the league’s best teams in defense as well. The big question is in goal, where McNulty leaves big shoes to fill after innumerable brilliant displays as a senior. It’s probably Britt Eckerstrom’s job to lose, but she’ll have to show very well for PSU to contend, especially if they invite as much pressure as they did at times last season. Walsh has a big tactical dilemma on her hands as well. Stick with the makeshift 3-5-2 the club used with great effect last year after injuries struck early or go with four in the back with greater defensive depth this year? The wrong decision could spell trouble. WVU on Friday, Hofstra on Sunday, and Virginia and La Salle next weekend all have enough weapons to turn PSU over if the Big Ten champs are not in top form.
USC vs San Diego State – 8:00 PM (in San Diego, California)
Consistency is the hallmark of great programs, a fact that will not be lost to either of these sides which have struggled with that very concept in recent years. San Diego State is coming of a banner year which saw the Aztecs humble many a side on their way to the Sweet Sixteen. But we’ve seemingly been here before, with SDSU showing very well one year, only to taper off the next, a vicious cycle that the club will be hoping to break in 2013. Doing so will mean replacing two of the team’s best players from last year’s squad though. Forward Megan Jurado was a stud as a senior, scoring fifteen goals, many of them stunning finishes. The club will be hoping Hannah Keane, who netted seven a season ago, is able to pick up much of the slack. Junior Fernanda Elizondo is a tantalizing import from Mexico, while rookie New Zealander Evie Millynn joins up with Texas A&M transfer Katie Perry and returnee Victoria Barba to give the Aztecs a midfield that could be among the region’s best. Defensively, Haley Palmer is back for her senior season and continues to be one of the team’s best rearguard players ever. Replacing Rachel Boaz in goal’s a pressing need though. Returnee Melanie Vaughn barely has more experience than rookie Sophia Trujillo and Elise Nord but may be first choice to begin with. A win here, and 3-0 is a real possibility heading into a big-time clash at Michigan in a week.
USC figure to be one of the nation’s most interesting teams going into 2013. Ever since Ali Khosroshahin helped deliver a shock national title to the club in 2007, it’s been a battle to meet that raised bar. Last year was a season of marked inconsistency, as the Women of Troy tried fitfully to gel a team that had taken on an immense number of freshmen and transfers before the season started. It was more miss than hit often last season, but the club shocked UCLA in extra time showing the raw potential and growth of USC. It also raised belief and expectations going into the new year, with many feeling the Trojans could be one of this year’s dark horses. The attack has been searching for a proven and consistent goalscorer since Amy Rodriguez graduated, but Khosroshahin may finally have some answers this season. Rookies Kayla Mills and Tanya Samarzich come in with All-American potential, with Mills featuring on the U20 team for the U.S., while Samarzich has featured with the full Mexican Women’s National Team. Returnees Elizabeth Eddy and Jordan Marada both have shown flashes of brilliance themselves, and USC could score goals for fun if it all comes together. Defense has been an issue in previous seasons thanks to injuries, but the club adds in elite rookie Mandy Freeman which could make all the difference this season. The X-Factor could be Caroline Stanley in goal. With loads of potential, Stanley wasn’t always consistent in her first season in Los Angeles, but if she comes good, USC could be in course for a fine season. Nothing on USC’s non-conference schedule should be beyond them if they play to their potential. Then again, it’s up to the Trojans to show they can win consistently on this stage after the past few seasons.
Portland vs Marquette – 10:00 PM
As one set of Portland women’s soccer fans gnashes their teeth, another could be jumping for joy for the next few weeks, as Pilot supporters could be celebrating their best squad for some time. Portland has certainly taken their lumps the past few seasons, barely squeaking into the tournament in 2011 before a pedestrian 11-5-5 last season. Garrett Smith’s side was amazingly young though, and with the club set to return ten starters and add in a big-time recruiting class, expectations on The Bluff are as high as they’ve been in a while. While many fans will have an eye towards the showdown at Stanford next Saturday, the Pilots can’t overlook Big East giants Marquette in the opener. Smith is taking some risks this season with some surprising tinkering with the club’s personnel, moving last season’s goalscoring dynamo Amanda Frisbie to center-back (!). The return of a healthy Micaela Capelle may have certainly influenced Smith’s decision, while the addition of hotshot forward Danica Evans could ensure the club doesn’t miss a beat offensively. With Michelle Cruz also having played in defense in the preseason friendly against Portland State, there might be some teething issues earlier if the club does keep the defensive alignment that started against PSU. They’ll be hoping those issues are kept to a minimum given Friday’s opponent.
Marquette may have been made to look sheepish in a crushing preseason defeat to Wisconsin, but make no mistake, this is still a Golden Eagles side with tons of talent. Front and center is attacker Maegan Kelly, equal parts finisher and playmaker, who could make the Pilots’ defense life very difficult if on form on Friday night. Senior Taylor Madigan actually scored more goals for the club last season and gives Friday’s visitors a devastating one-two punch in attack. Much of the rest of Marquette is very much a blue collar side of grinders, but extra attention may be paid to the backline, which has to replace the talented Ally Miller this year. Senior Emily Jacobson got a U23 callup in the Spring and will be looking to hit new heights in her final year with the Golden Eagles. Sophomore goalkeeper Amanda Engel was a revelation as a rookie and will be hoping to be just as good this year, though she’s bound to be a busy camper against an explosive Portland offense. Questions about Marquette’s ability to hold up against top notch teams’ attacks continued to be asked after shellackings at the hands of North Carolina and Duke last year. If real growth hasn’t been made, the evidence will likely be on hand in early games against the Pilots and against UCLA next Friday. A convincing win here could be an indicator though that the Golden Eagles might be able to fly to new heights in 2013.
UC Irvine vs Cal – 10:00 PM
An “anywhere, anyone, any time” mentality has helped fuel a meteoric rise for UC Irvine under Scott Juniper, but the Anteaters come into 2013 at something of a crossroads. A club who were seemingly a match for just about anyone in the nation for a few seasons, UCI last year was more of a grounded team that looked able to give most clubs a strong fight but often came out on the losing end of those fights. Heavy defeats to Denver and Pepperdine were also interspersed into the season, while the club also fell short in the race for a trophy despite losing just once in the league. Perhaps a little more settled after some heavy losses to graduation have been compensated for following 2011, Irvine could again be a dangerous opposition for many a team. In typical fashion, UCI isn’t shying away from challenges, especially right off the bat against a fancied Cal side. Other than senior attacker Natalia Ledezma and perhaps goalkeeper Jennifer Randazzo, there aren’t many names recognizable to the casual college WoSo fan. But Juniper’s proven to have a keen eye for talent in his time at UCI, and the Anteater boss has added an interesting mix of freshmen and JUCO transfers this season that could make him look like a genius come season’s end. Of course, in the cutthroat Big West, netting some big non-conference results to boost at-large bid hopes certainly helps, and Cal is a tantalizing scalp for the home side.
The Golden Bears have spent much of the past half decade trying to close the gap between themselves and the duopoly of Stanford and UCLA at the top of the league. They might be closer than ever after sixteen wins last year and the return of a very talented side in 2013. If Ifeoma Onumonu can keep up her freshman pace in front of goal, she has the potential to be a transformative talent for the club. Scarily enough, Cal’s surrounded her with some new dangerous weapons this year, adding highly touted rookie forwards Arielle Ship and Sam Trenary to the mix. Midfielder Kaitlyn Fitzpatrick is eternally underrated and should set the table again, though the midfield drive of the irreplaceable Betsy Hassett will be dearly missed. Senior defender Emi Lawson is another who has excelled with the Golden Bears and is bound to get more attention nationally if Cal cashes in on their potential this year. The Golden Bears have the potential to make a deep run into November if everything clicks, but there are plenty of challenges to meet before then. Victory here might be a must for a national seed down the line. But if Cal can negotiate this tricky first weekend, they could be 6-0-0 heading into a glitzy showdown at Santa Clara in mid-September. As many an opponent can testify to though, overlooking UCI would be a big mistake.
Washington vs UCF – 10:30 PM (in Honolulu, Hawaii)
Hawaii probably hasn’t played host to a matchup this good in ages, but fans of neutral site soccer should get their money’s worth in this showdown in paradise. The Huskies bounced back in fine fashion after a disappointing 2011, reaching the NCAA Tournament once again but will have much higher hopes this year. That’s because the club returns senior midfielder Lindsay Elston, an immense talent for the Huskies and one the club hopes can lead them deep into November. Elston was a house afire to begin last season before tapering off a bit, and she’ll want to be more consistent overall but should have quality weapons around her in the 4-2-3-1 for UW, with Isabel Farrell and Cal transfer Kate Bennett likely to be fine options around her. The club’s Achilles’ heel may be the inconsistency up top, with the ’1′ in that 4-2-3-1 a problematic area as of late, with the inconsistent trio of Jaclyn Softli, Hillary Zevenbergen, and Falon Miller all fighting for major minutes. Miller has the most upside, but watch out for Rebecca Schoales, a highly touted rookie who might just make for a surprise or two if sufficiently recovered from injuries. There shouldn’t be any concerns in goal, despite the club losing another senior starter in Kari Davidson. UW has one of the nation’s best goalkeeper coaches in Amy Griffin, and the talent pipeline should keep flowing with Megan Kufeld ready to step up, with the sophomore likely to be one of the league’s best keepers in her first year as a starter. Head coach Lesle Gallimore has tipped four starters to start along the backline, meaning Kufeld’s job could be made infinitely easier behind a cohesive rearguard. The Huskies likely had some serious heartburn up to Selection Monday last season thanks to a late league swoon. They’ll want to take care of business early again to give themselves a cushion going into Pac-12 play. 4-0-0 is a real possibility going into a showdown against Wake Forest if UW can emerge with a win here.
Opponents UCF may have changed coaches in the offseason, but the M.O. is likely to be the same. Specifically, big name foes are likely going to be in for a rough night. The Knights handled Florida with surprising ease in the club’s lone exhibition, getting goals from newcomers Lena Petermann and Tatiana Coleman in the win. Petermann is just one small part of a German invasion that saw Bianca Joswiak star for the past four season, with Sophie Howard coming in and impressing last year, while Karoline Heinze will be expected to do much of the same in midfield this year. It’s Petermann and Coleman’s partnership up top that could make or break the club’s season, as there’s much offense to replace following the loss of Nicolette Radovcic and Tishia Jewell. If the offense is rolling, it’s going to be hard to stop this club, as UCF also returns shutdown defender Marissa Diggs, a name to memorize going into January for NWSL Draft obsessives. New boss Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak has enormous shoes to fill in Orlando and has been afforded many opportunities to make a statement on the schedule left to her by predecessor Amanda Cromwell. With Tennessee, Florida State, and Georgetown all to come on the schedule, Roberts Sahaydak has a real chance to stamp her authority on a contender with some positive results. Washington is not to be overlooked though, as the Huskies have a way of derailing fancied opponents. Just ask Notre Dame last year. It might not be Friday’s most immediately captivating fixture on paper, but this Hawaiian clash could yet be one of its most intriguing when all is said and done.
Other Matches to Watch
Arizona State vs Cal State Northridge – 9:00 PM – The duo of Devin Marshall and Cali Farquharson will aim to fire ASU up the Pac-12 table but face a stern test in the opener in the always stingy Northridge defense.
Auburn vs Clemson – 8:00 PM – Going down and going up? Karen Hoppa made need another Houdini act to extend her Tigers’ NCAA Tournament streak after serious losses, while Clemson has aims of upward mobility in the ACC with one of the nation’s best recruiting classes in tow.
Boston University vs Dayton – 7:00 PM – Two sides hungry to get back to the Big Dance meet in a critical non-conference showdown. BU are in a bigger pond in the Patriot League, while Dayton hopes life without Colleen Williams isn’t too rough.
BYU vs Cal State Fullerton – 9:00 PM – Elite Eight side BYU is aiming for another year at the top of the WCC but certainly aren’t easing into the new season with Big West champs Cal State Fullerton coming to Provo.
Denver vs Colorado College – 9:30 PM – It’s another fierce Colorado derby between these two rivals, with the Pioneers having landed a resounding blow in last year’s NCAA Tournament first round win. Both sides know victory here might be crucial to their at-large bid hopes.
Georgetown vs William & Mary – 4:00 PM – Is this a year Georgetown can make a run? The Hoyas are, for all intents and purposes, loaded and have the potential for a deep NCAA Tournament run. If they’re as good as advertised, they should saw through a William & Mary team that’s been a dangerous gatekeeper in years past.
Illinois State vs Miami (OH) – 5:00 PM – If you like offense, this is your show. ISU boasts the lethal Rachel Tejada, capable of twenty goals and more. The Redhawks? Death by a whole lot of cuts. The home side will fancy their chances, but the defense was leaky in the preseason, raising worries going into the new season.
Tennessee-Martin vs Oklahoma State – 8:00 PM – The SkyHawks were last seen frustrating the hell out of Kentucky for the better part of ninety minutes in the NCAA Tournament and looked prime for a run this year until an ACL injury to Saphyra Coombs-James. OSU will still be wary, knowing they’re still a big scalp to the likes of UTM.
Wake Forest vs Kentucky – 6:30 PM – It’s the final year of the Stengel-Bledsoe-Nuzzolese era, and Wake Forest will want to head into the league season with maximum momentum, meaning matches like these are must wins. Kentucky will again lean on the talents of junior Arin Gilliland, who might have multiple roles on the pitch for the Wildcats in 2013.