(Check back later in the day for previews of the later games on Friday.)
Florida vs Minnesota – 7:00 PM
For a club that got beaten like a drum by Florida State in a big time derby at the end of August, Florida hasn’t exactly wallowed in misery since. The Gators have since picked themselves back up and won their last three in convincing fashion, outscoring their opponents by a 9-0 clip. It’s a series of results that has Florida again bouncing up the early RPI, and topping an unbeaten Minnesota side on Friday would surely deliver another shot in the arm for the Gators’ hopes of a national seed come November. Taylor Burke has taken back over as the club’s full-time starting netminder after Nora Neset Gjoen’s disastrous first half display against the Seminoles, and the backline in front of her has done well to stifle opponents. Offensively, Savannah Jordan’s scoring pace has slowed down considerably despite her still being a factor in front of goal, but the Gators have been spreading it round offensively as a result to great success. A brace from Havana Solaun against Oklahoma State last Sunday was a very promising sign considering the U23 international was expected to be one of the team’s heaviest hitters this season. A win here, and the Gators will probably extend their winning streak to six before a brutal SEC stretch at Ole Miss and Missouri before coming back home to face South Carolina.
Minnesota have been one of the season’s early surprise packages, racing out to a 6-0-0 start to spark dreams of a return to the NCAA Tournament. The Golden Gophers have made a mockery of predictions that they’d sink like a stone without offensive talisman Taylor Uhl en route to a 100% record through three weeks. In fact, it’s been the offense that’s been firing on all cylinders, scoring fifteen goals in six games. The duo of Katie Thyken and Josee Stiever has blistered opposing defenses this season to the tune of seven goals combined, with both netting in the club’s 2-1 win over Ole Miss in extra time last Sunday afternoon. The defense has been less assured, keeping just two clean sheets in six games, though they’ve also failed to concede more than one a game. That the defense has been more of a sidelight might be a bit of a shock considering head coach Stefanie Golan’s reputation as a defensive wizard at Army. The Golden Gophers’ aggressive, high defensive line has worked well for them so far, but such gambles could blow up in their face against a Florida side that’s reduced most opposing defenses to cinders thus far. If Minnesota can pull off the upset and beat their third straight SEC opponent, they might well have a foot already in the door of the NCAA Tournament. Odds are, they’d be 9-0-0 heading into a Friday afternoon showdown with Michigan State in East Lansing. It’s still going to be a very tall order to come out of Gainesville with anything against an on form Gators side though.
USC vs Pepperdine – 5:30 PM
Oh, the difference a week can make.
At this time last week, we were heralding USC’s renaissance as a program on the national stage while also talking up a Pepperdine side that had delivered a big statement win on the road against Texas A&M. Now? Considerably shakier for both sides after lost weekends on the road. The Women of Troy probably came out of it a little bit better, but still, a draw with Ole Miss and loss to LSU were stark reality checks for the Trojans. The latter will likely be the more frustrating result, as USC thoroughly dominated the match against the Tigers despite playing the better part of an hour with ten after the red mist descended upon Jordan Marada in the first half. The Trojans will be without their offensive weapon for this one as she serves a ban for the red card, though with Elizabeth Eddy, Kayla Mills, and Tanya Samarzich, you hardly worry about their offensive potential. They haven’t kept a clean sheet all season though, and against a club boasting a talent the likes of Lynn Williams, that’s particularly worrisome. If there’s good news, it’s that the non-conference schedule eases up considerably after this match, with the Trojans likely for three wins after they take on the Waves on Friday, setting up a big Pac-12 opener against Arizona State in a few weeks. But with USC’s wins early on perhaps not adding as much as they’d like to their RPI profile, a win here could be big in setting minds at east in Los Angeles.
Pepperdine actually has the better profile right now in all likelihood, even with two losses last weekend. The Waves can fall back on their earlier draw with Cal and win against the aforementioned Texas A&M, though any notion of infallibility was shattered by the defeats on the road last weekend. The defeat to Michigan was pretty understandable with the Wolverines looking like a top team early this season. Less understandable? The subsequent defeat to Toledo, in which the club doubled up their MAC opposition in shots and shots on goal but still fell to a highly discouraging 3-2 loss to a Rockets team that has looked little like the mid-major power they once were in earlier years. Lynn Williams, in electric form early this season, raised her goal total to five for the season with a brace here, but the club’s defense largely let it down, letting Rachel MacLeod net a hat trick to see the Rockets come up trumps. That has to be a big worry considering USC’s firepower, and evidence is the defensive follies weren’t a one-off, with Pepperdine having kept just one clean sheet thus far. The showdown with the Trojans is the first of a three game set that includes San Diego State and UCLA that could be a window to making some big jumps up in the RPI or a brutal reminder of how tough life is for California programs sometimes. Getting something out of this one on Friday afternoon would be a big boost for the Waves before returning home to Malibu against SDSU on Sunday.
Indiana vs Saint John’s (NY) – 6:00 PM
Are you for real? It’s the question that’s naturally going to hang over these two teams until they beat someone of consequence. Time is running down in non-conference season, and both of these sides will be looking to bolster their case as an outside bet for an NCAA Tournament spot as we move into the middle of September. New Indiana head coach Amy Berbary has wasted no time in getting the Hoosiers out to a winning start, with the club beginning 5-0-1, though the level of competition has been pretty forgiving in all honesty. The club has conceded just once in those six games, but as stated above, it’s hard to make many conclusions about the defense given the level of opposition. Offensively, the question always was who was going to replace Orianica Velasquez, who the offense ran through for the past four seasons in Bloomington. The short-term answer has been the duo of Lisa Nouanesengsy and Rebecca Candler, who have combined for seven goals this season, with the former accounting for five of those strikes. There’s not really any other chances for IU to make a big impact in non-conference play, with just Central Michigan and Xavier remaining before league play. Thus, it’s in Indiana’s best interest to take advantage of a perhaps unforeseen opportunity to boost the resume on Friday.
Opponents Saint John’s (NY) are largely in the same boat, having racked up an impressive 6-0-0 record but have also beaten nobody of real note en route to that impressive mark. However, playing most definitely against type, the Red Storm, a traditionally dour and defensive side, have turned into a goal machine early, netting twenty-one goals in six games. The catalyst is current DI scoring leader Rachel Daly, who has been worth the wait and then some for the Red Storm, netting eleven times thus far after being forced to sit out last season following a transfer. The England U17 international has combined well with Amy Marron (3 G, 7 A) to turn the Big East side into one of the league’s most threatening going forward. As is the case with the defense, it remains to be seen how well the attack does against sterner opposition, but still, the early signs are quite promising. There will probably be little argument about just how good the Red Storm are after this weekend, where the club takes on Big Ten opponents Indiana and Ohio State. The Sunday game is obviously bigger, but don’t discount the importance of a Friday win for the Big East side. 7-0-0 is nothing to sneeze at, and might well keep the Red Storm in the at-large bid conversation even with a defeat to OSU on Sunday.
Utah State vs Arkansas – 6:00 PM
A first ever ranking in the NSCAA poll was a just reward for an Arkansas side who hasn’t fallen prey to Second Season Syndrome as of yet. The Lady Razorbacks have passed every test thrown in front of them so far en route to a 100% record after three weeks that likely has supporters dreaming of the NCAA Tournament. For the most part, Arkansas hasn’t shot down any truly great teams, but the likes of Kansas, Tulsa, and Nebraska aren’t exactly pushovers either. Before league play in the SEC begins next weekend, Arkansas will get another chance at a good win with a big road test against Utah State. Logan’s a devilishly hard place to escape with a win, and this could be a much tougher test for the SEC side than some may anticipate. Ashleigh Ellenwood’s great start to the season continued against Nebraska last Sunday, with the sophomore scoring the club’s opener and putting three shots on target to help Arkansas’ cause against the Big Ten side. With Sunday opponent TCU floundering badly as of late, a win here for the Lady Razorbacks could give the club a very real chance of going into league play with a perfect non-conference record. Overlook Friday’s foes though, and Arkansas could be struggling for traction going into the regional matchup against the Horned Frogs.
It’s still early days yet, but Utah State looks like the pick of the Mountain West thus far, going into this weekend with a 4-0-1 record through five matches. The strength of schedule hasn’t been much to speak about, but the Aggies showed their true colors when they came back from 2-0 behind against Nebraska to salvage a draw despite being barracked by shots for much of the match by their Big Ten opposition. The Aggies made hard work of Idaho State in their last game though, missing a penalty early and falling behind twice before hitting back with equalizers both times before Taryn Rose made up for her earlier penalty miss by sinking the winning penalty in a match that had devolved into a bloodbath with seven bookings at full-time. Rose has been the focal point of the offense early this season, but it’s still largely been goalscorer by committee, with nobody on the club having more than two goals despite the team averaging two a game through five matches. Their at-large bid hopes are pretty slim unless they can turnover some of the big conference sides still on their docket, with those sides continuing on with good seasons. Obviously, victory against the Lady Razorbacks is a near must for those hopes, and the Aggies will fancy their chances having not blinked against Nebraska earlier in the month in the stifling atmosphere of Logan.
Boston University vs UConn – 7:00 PM
This regional rivalry might have a little more fire than usual with potential at-large bid ramifications given the start each club has made to the new season. The Terriers don’t have the glossiest W-L-T record, but they’ve also tested themselves at every turn, taking on a plethora of major conference opponents and coming close to big upsets on many occasions. They did net a draw with South Carolina, which, given the Gamecocks’ form, could be a big chip in BU’s favor come Selection Monday. Last week, BU did a pretty good job in slowing down Penn State’s explosive offense, to the point that they were in contention to the end but saw their offense misfire in a 1-0 defeat. The Terriers’ last match was a bit of an outlier considering the rest of their season thus far. BU’s offense, which has been a bit hot and cold so far, netted three goals, a season high. It turns out, they needed every one of them, as they were down 2-1 to Akron after an hour. Considering BU hadn’t given up multiple goals all season, it was a bit of a surprise. They’ll be hoping it was a one-off, given UConn’s offensive potential. With a grueling league schedule approaching, BU will be hoping to add a final and perhaps most important, piece of their non-conference resume with victory here.
UConn certainly looks legit after three weeks of the season. The Huskies had looked competitive in opening weekend defeats to Wisconsin and Stanford, but the question ultimately was how much staying power the club would have over the long haul. As it turns out, a lot. The win over Boston College on the road opened up a lot of eyes, while the Huskies then reeled off clean sheet wins over Central Connecticut State and Maine to follow that up. Last time out, the club shut down Syracuse in a 1-0 win, extending the club’s clean sheet streak to four matches and netting a potentially big bubble win in the process. The Huskies did a fine job of slowing down a Syracuse offense with a few dangerous weapons while doing damage of their own on the offensive side of the ball. The eye opener may have been Rachel Hill, who put a whopping six shots on frame, including the eventual game winner for the Huskies. Hill already has three game winning goals and looks like one of the AAC’s most dangerous offensive weapons despite being just a rookie. More of those heroics could add to her growing reputation, though BU’s defense will present a very big challenge. If she and the Huskies can rise to that challenge, they’ll be that much closer to an at-large bid with more opportunities for non-conference wins against La Salle and Georgetown to come.
Georgia vs Long Beach State – 7:00 PM
Are You For Real, Part II? This matchday is full of these types of matchups, and this encounter figures to be an important clash for the seasons of both these sides. If we’re being fair, there are probably less questions about the quality of the visitors, though their ability to display that quality with a degree of consistency is very much in question. LBSU suffered a shock defeat on opening night at the hands of Northern Arizona, and the loss might have had a knock-on effect, with the Beach getting pummeled by Santa Clara in their next match. Facing a potential do or die match as far as at-large bid hopes were concerned, the Beach looked sunk as they were down 2-1 with three minutes to play. LBSU promptly scored two goals, including a winner with two seconds left to breathe new life into their season. Two more wins later, and the Big West side looks like a contender again. Replacing Nadia Link up top has proven to be a chore, with the club scoring just eight in five thus far. Eileen Maes is one of three players with a pair of goals for the Beach, while Elizabeth Lyons has been a key provider with a team leading four assists thus far. Though the offense has some question marks lingering over it, defense might actually be a bigger concern, as the club has kept just a single clean sheet thus far. This is the first of a three match series that concludes with BYU next Saturday and which could be a big turning point in LBSU’s season, win or lose.
The home side showed very little in the season opener in Austin against a rather middling Texas side but have rebounded well to win five in a row since. The Bulldogs have also shutout all five of those vanquished foes and will be looking to add to their defensive record against the Big West contenders on Friday night. The offense has largely feasted on overmatched opponents for much of the season, with Madeline Barker already matching last season’s goal total through three weeks this season, netting three times. Rookie Rachel Garcia is the other player with multiple goals and is one of many promising freshman attacking talents Georgia boasts this season. For all of the good the five shutouts in a row have done though, this is a club that doesn’t have anything close to a quality win right now and needs one desperately before SEC play starts to keep the pressure for big results at a manageable level in league play. LBSU’s not guaranteed to be as big a boost in the RPI as they have been in the past given this season’s erratic form, but a win here would still likely be the best non-conference result UGA will pick up this season. It also makes it likely that the club will be going into the league season on the back of seven straight wins, with a huge showdown against South Carolina to come in the SEC opener.
Arizona State vs Texas Tech – 7:30 PM (from Tuscon, Arizona)
Baylor vs Cal Poly – 8:00 PM
Marquette vs Colgate – 8:00 PM
Oklahoma State vs Penn State – 8:00 PM
Samford vs Vanderbilt – 8:00 PM