North Carolina vs Notre Dame – 1:00 PM
It’s women’s college soccer’s version of El Clasico, between the game’s two biggest programs, and it’s (probably) going to happen every season now with Carolina and Notre Dame now league rivals in the new look ACC. As has often been the case between these two great rivals, the home side will enter as favorites after looking nigh-unstoppable early on in 2013. The national title favorites were in control for most of their ACC opener against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg but were still forced to ride out some onerous moments at the end. The Heels appeared to be cruising to a 2-0 win but then conceded a goal off a corner kick late and had to hold on a bit to escape with a 2-1 win. Considering the club’s historical hoodoo in Blacksburg, it might not have been as bad a result as some might have believed. Still, the club’s shakiness in closing games out that has been a serious thorn in head coach Anson Dorrance’s craw this year might come back to haunt them if such dramatics are repeated against stronger sides. Inevitably, the player to watch for the Tar Heels will be senior Crystal Dunn, who has shown no signs of relenting from her explosive form to start the season. The Notre Dame midfield will try to deny her space, but considering how well Dunn played against a UCLA midfield of comparable talent, it might be a matter of how well the Irish can slow Dunn down rather than stop her. It’s also going to be an atypically short week of rest for the Tar Heels, as their match against Florida State on the road was moved to Wednesday, presumably for TV purposes, meaning UNC will want to get out of this one without worrying about extra time if possible.
Notre Dame’s beginning to life in the ACC was a bit of a nightmare…for about a quarter of an hour. A delayed quarter of an hour, as lightning pushed back the start to their conference debut against NC State, while Kaela Little’s howler in letting Shelli Spamer’s long free kick through her hands put the Irish behind early. But Little and her teammates recovered in style, taking a 2-1 lead after twenty-seven minutes before adding another late to roll to a decisive win. It goes without saying that the Irish will be desperate to iron out the individual errors before Sunday’s showdown in Chapel Hill, knowing that given UNC’s power this year, the margin of error is minuscule for any side hoping to take points off the defending national champions. The Irish’s million dollar midfield of Mandy Laddish, Morgan Andrews, and Cari Roccaro will be tasked with trying to keep Crystal Dunn’s influence to a minimum, though that’s obviously much easier said than done. That midfield trio will also naturally be looking to break forward in support of the frontrunners while trying to overwhelm UNC defensive midfielder Kelly McFarlane. Lauren Bohaboy and Crystal Thomas have run hot and cold this season, and the Irish will probably need big performances from both if they have hopes of an upset. Victory here could be priceless for Notre Dame, as they have four in a row at home next and will be comfortable favorites in all but perhaps the Wake Forest game at the beginning of October. Victory here, and the Irish may well be in the driver’s seat for a league title at the first time of asking.
Ohio State vs Saint John’s (NY) – 11:00 AM (from Bloomington, Indiana)
It’s time for a somewhat belated opportunity to prove credentials for Saint John’s (NY). The Red Storm have racked up an impressive 6-0-0 record but have also beaten nobody of real note en route to that impressive mark. They appeared to have a chance to right that somewhat against Indiana on Friday, but travel woes grounded the club and wiped out Friday’s contents. 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 Sunday’s showdown against Big Ten foe Ohio State. 7-0-0 is nothing to sneeze at, and might well keep the Red Storm in the at-large bid conversation well into October.
Ohio State’s been a bit of a weird one to figure out thus far in 2013. The Buckeyes mat have just a single defeat to their name, but at the same time, they haven’t exactly been convincing in most of those wins, being taken to extra time by Eastern Michigan and being run close by Morehead State while also drawing with Arizona. OSU supporters would probably point out that a lot of hose worries came much earlier in the season, and that the club has won two in a row by multiple goals. Canadian forward Nichelle Prince had the breakout game so many have been waiting for against Northeastern, assisting on an equalizer before scoring a hat trick to lead the Buckeyes to a 4-1 pummeling of the CAA side. The offense survived a wayward day of shooting against Central Michigan in a a windy Bloomington on Friday, riding the defense to a 2-0 win in a game in which twenty of twenty-five shots didn’t hit the target. Despite their record right now, OSU’s languishing in the RPI at the moment, and a win over the unbeaten Red Storm would deliver a much needed shot in the arm to the club’s NCAA Tournament hopes. An upset here though, and the pressure will only ratchet up ahead of the league opener against a potential bubble rival in Illinois next week.
Duke vs Florida State – 1:00 PM
The course of seasons can change on the back of a single goal, or maybe in Duke’s case, a penalty save. The Blue Devils looked to be in control against Miami (FL) in the first half but looked to be going into the half down 1-0 when goalkeeper Ali Kershner saved Tara Schwitter’s spot kick. The Blue Devils promptly got the game’s opener through toni Payne a few minutes after the break and then all but wrapped up the points through Kaitlyn Kerr’s diving header right before the hour mark. Duke would finish three goals to the good, a relief after so many offensive performances where the club looked to be buckling under the pressure of expectation after last season’s free scoring unit returned mostly intact. Whether Robbie Church has finally struck the right balance for his Blue Devils going forward remains to be seen, but the present looks a whole lot brighter after the Miami (FL) win than it did following the rather tame defeat to UCLA last weekend. It has to be said though that the level of competition gets much tougher over the next few weeks, as three of the next four opponents Duke faces are title rivals Florida State, Wake Forest, and Virginia. You’d have to think that the Blue Devils need at least two wins out of that set to be realistic challengers for the ACC title, while they also need wins for a high national seed considering their stuttering non-conference form. FSU went through extra time on Thursday and are the visiting team, meaning Duke will fancy their chances in a protracted battle of attrition against the Seminoles.
Florida State got arguably the hardest opening assignment on the first day of ACC play, facing the task of going to fellow title rivals Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. It ended up being a pretty turgid 0-0 draw, as has been the case between these teams a few times in the past. Defense dominated, and FSU put on a clinic against the home side, holding them to just a single shot on goal in a hundred ten minutes. The FSU defense also managed to completely shut down Katie Stengel, who didn’t have a single shot despite playing the entire match. The Noles will be hoping that they can carry over that same form into Sunday against a Duke offense that finally found its feet against Miami (FL) in their league opener. While FSU’s defense figures to be on center stage in Durham, some of the concerns about their offense seem bound to keep cropping up until the club can go out and just hammer someone like they’re capable of. FSU had just three shots on goal in the draw with Wake Forest, and they now haven’t scored multiple goals in four straight games. Given the seasonal form of both sides, this figures to be another close encounter in The Triangle. With North Carolina looming on Wednesday, FSU could be in the box seat for a title run by this time next week with a few wins…or they could be clinging to their title hopes if they can’t find a way to win.
West Virginia vs Kentucky – 1:00 PM
When we last left West Virginia a week ago, the Mountaineers were roundly dispatched by North Carolina in Durham, though they did spark to life in the second half and pull two goals back after being down 4-0 at one point. It may have only been of moderate comfort to the vanquished Big XII side, but at least the weekend wasn’t a total wash, with the club leaving Durham with a hard fought draw against hosts Duke, a result which could prove to be priceless come Selection Monday. Friday’s match back in Morgantown was a bit of a non-affair, as the Mountaineers were tasked with dispatching a horrible Eastern Kentucky side. The winless Colonels weren’t much of a threat, netting just a single shot on goal, with WVU up 2-0 at the half and 4-0 shortly after the hour mark, with Ashley Lawrence and Tessa Broadwater getting off the mark for the season and allowing Nikki Izzo-Brown the opportunity to rotate fresh legs throughout in anticipation of this key showdown on Sunday afternoon. The final two non-conference games next weekend are essentially filler, so the Mountaineers will want to take full advantage of this final chance to boost their non-conference RPI. Draws with Penn State and Duke will be helpful, but a win over Kentucky would be another big step in the right direction as Big XII play draws closer.
After a winless opening weekend that saw the club score just one goal in the face of stiff competition, Kentucky has since won five in a row, scoring fifteen in that time span (though a 7-0 win over Eastern Kentucky skews those numbers). Though some of the competition has certainly been that in name only, the Wildcats did net a huge win for their at-large hopes by topping Louisville in Lexington last Friday night, 2-0. They haven’t rested on their laurels though, with the club downing Dayton a few days later before putting away a pesky UTSA team on Friday. The imposing duo of Arin Gilliland and Stuart Pope combined for six shots on goal, as well as the winning goal, with the former teeing up the latter for the match’s only strike. For UK to have a successful season, someone needed to step up offensively, and Pope has been one of the SEC’s breakout stars of the first third of the season, netting six after hardly having been a factor on offense in two previous seasons with the club. With Courtney Raetzman an injury concern after playing just four minutes on Friday, the Wildcats might need Pope, Gilliland, and Zoe Swift more than ever to make up for the potential absence. UK’s SEC start is very forgiving for the first few weeks before a much tougher finishing kick, meaning an upset here could be just the impetus needed for a big string of wins that could see an at-large bid in the Wildcats’ sights by the middle of October.
Oklahoma State vs Washington State – 2:00 PM
Things were going well for Oklahoma State through twenty-three minutes against Penn State on Friday. They were up 2-0 on Big Ten powerhouse Penn State and looked to be in a great position for a big upset…and then the Nittany Lions put on a finishing clinic, putting in four unanswered, while the Cowgirls missed out on multiple opportunities for a third goal that could have turned the match on its head. While you certainly wouldn’t begrudge OSU for shipping a lot of goals to one of the nation’s most potent offenses, it’s still another worrying defensive showing in a long series of them. The traditionally stingy Cowgirls haven’t kept a clean sheet since their opening night win against Tennessee-Martin, and have now conceded multiple goals to two straight big name opponents after shipping two to Florida last Sunday. The good news is that Washington State doesn’t possess the type of offense that those two do, though the Pac-12 side does still have enough firepower to trouble a defense with some clearly visible holes like OSU’s. The Cowgirls do have some firepower, and while Courtney Dike has been the straw that’s stirred the drink for much of the year, Allie Stephenson was the one drawing most of the plaudits on Friday after a goal, an assist, and four shots on goal against Penn State. This is probably OSU’s last chance to make a big non-conference statement before league play, and while their profile isn’t bad, another win would certainly ease the pressure before Big XII action starts with game against West Virginia and Texas Tech.
Washington State’s been a mostly anonymous side thus far, as you can probably tell by the fact that this is their first appearance in one of these preview columns. To their credit, WSU has done what they’ve supposed to do with one slight exception in a shock draw with Boise State. The Cougars have, as per their style, strangled opponents with their defense, having not conceded since opening day in a 3-1 win over Seattle. It’s safe to say that things are going to get much harder from this point on, with Oklahoma State on Sunday before a Big West weekend in California next week against Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine, both league title hopefuls. Without question, the Cougars’ offense runs through senior Micaela Castain, who has twice as many shots as anyone else on the Cougars. She also has four of the club’s ten goals to this point, while assisting on three others, underlining her importance to the club’s attacking efforts. You’d guess that the Cougars need at least two of their next three to avoid some serious pressure going into Pac-12 play as far as their at-large bid hopes are concerned. But having eased past UNLV on Friday, WSU may be the more spry of the two sides on Sunday considering OSU had an almighty clash against Penn State. Then again, WSU also is making the long trip from Pullman to Stillwater, and head coach Keidane McAlpine will be hoping his side aren’t heavy legged going into this key clash.
Denver vs Colorado – 3:00 PM
Soccer may be the last thing on many Colorado natives’ minds on Sunday, but this match will go on, albeit shifted to CIBER Field in Denver after flooding has ravaged the Boulder area. It might have taken some of the starch out of this fiercest of rivalries that has extra meaning this season with Colorado’s rise back to relevance. The Buffs come into this one as one of a few clubs with a 100% record left, and a win on Sunday would be another big step towards a return to the NCAA Tournament. It would also provide a little validation, as the Buffs haven’t exactly been a quality win machine thus far. The best side CU’s beaten so far is Colorado College, which is a nice win, but it might not be close to enough to get the Buffs into the Big Dance if they can’t string together some more meaningful wins. CU’s had no problem in stifling their overmatched opponents for almost all of the season, only conceding their first of the season to UT-Martin in their last match last Sunday. On the other end of the pitch, the dynamic duo of Brie Hooks and Anne Stuller have wasted no time in forming a formidable partnership, with the pair responsible for eleven of the team’s thirteen goals thus far. Add in four assists from Madison Krauser, and the Buffs have their fair share of offensive weapons after some seasons struggles in front of goal. The rest of the non-conference schedule looks uneventful, meaning victory here, and the Buffs should be unbeaten with Stanford coming to town in the Pac-12 opener at the end of the month.
Derby rivals Denver also enter with a perfect record, meaning something’s got to give on Sunday afternoon. The Pioneers don’t exactly have a standout win either, but victories over Colorado College and UC Irvine are valuable assets to carry into November, and a win over Colorado could be the most valuable prize of all if Denver are chasing an at-large bid. The Pioneers’ defense hasn’t been quite as stout as their rivals’ so far this season, but outside of a bit of a struggle against UCI, they’ve been rock solid and come into this one having not conceded in their past two and five of their past six. It’s the offense that’s almost always the attraction for Denver though, and just one side so far has been able to hold them to less than multiple goals this year. The scoring hasn’t been as diverse as it has been in earlier seasons, but the Pioneers have two deadly weapons in Kristen Hamilton and Nicholette DiGiacomo, who both have four goals through six games so far. Denver’s got some other chances down the road to make their non-conference resume stand out, with trips to Nebraska and BYU ahead, but they’ve also got a rather steep road to climb with their new conference rivals unlikely to help their RPI that much. As for Sunday, these two sides look like doppelgangers at this early stage of the season, boasting great attacking duos and tough defenses. That probably means a close match on Sunday, whether its a shootout or a defensive slog.
Arizona vs Texas Tech – 4:30 PM
Arizona has been mighty impressive under first-year boss Tony Amato, coming into this one unbeaten, but the Wildcats are still looking for that one big win to truly signify the end of the days of underachievement that have plagued the program for ages. The Wildcats have come so, so close on multiple occasions with draws against Ohio State, Kansas, and Illinois, but just haven’t been able to come up trumps just yet. They’ll get one more chance on Sunday against a fancied Texas Tech team before league play starts with a murderous opening stretch against UCLA, Stanford, and Cal to open things up. Arizona barely had to break a sweat to roll over an overmatched Southern Utah side on Friday night, crushing the Big Sky team, 6-1. Amato got to use pretty much everyone on the bench on Friday, using twenty-seven players and getting goals from five players in the rout. The duo of Jazmin Ponce and Alexandra Dollar have fueled the club’s offense thus far, even with the latter playing under a half off the bench on Friday. With no clean sheets in the club’s last three though, defense might be the bigger issue immediately for the Wildcats, especially against a Red Raider side with serious weapons. Arizona should have the fresher legs after Friday though, and that might make all the difference as they Wildcats search for their biggest win in ages.
Texas Tech’s been mostly out of sight and out of mind this season with a whole lot of matches against middling foes, though the club did notch two wins against Big West opposition last weekend. That was a good rebound after the Red Raiders were left red faced just a week before when Long Beach State found two goals with just a few minutes remaining to emerge with a shocking 3-2 win. Still in desperate need of a quality win coming into this weekend though, TTU fans were able to breathe a bit of a sigh of relief when the club was able to emerge with a 1-0 victory in extra time over Arizona State after a game short of on-target efforts. Sophomore Briana Rohmer probably wasn’t the most likely heroine from off the bench, but they all count the same, with the super sub giving TTU their biggest win of the season. The Red Raiders had really needed something special too, as they managed just three shots on goal total in a rather off-song effort offensively. The Big XII side has plenty of viable weapons though, including Hayley Haagsma, who might be having a breakout season with three goals and three assists this year, as well as sophomore Janine Beckie, who’ll be looking to justify the hype after last year’s fantastic rookie season. With Arizona having a fine season thus far, this presents an unexpected opportunity for Tom Stone’s side to boost their non-conference RPI before another set of games against Big West foes next weekend. Though they’ve got the talent advantage, as stated above, TTU also was made to work much harder for their Friday win and will be facing a jacked up opponent on enemy territory on Sunday.
Ole Miss vs Memphis – 8:00 PM
If you had to guess that one of these teams would struggle Friday and one would score six goals, you’d probably guess that the Tigers would’ve been the former, tasked with facing a desperate Alabama side. But Memphis ripped the Crimson Tide to shreds in a 6-0 mauling that did not flatter the AAC side given their ruthlessness. Memphis scored with six of their eight shots on goal, including getting a brace from the fiery Christabel Oduro who upped her goal total to five to match that of teammate Valerie Sanderson, who scored the Tigers’ sixth on Friday. Those two have done almost all of the scoring this season for Memphis, but considering they’ve combined for ten goals, having the duo being so dominant hasn’t been the worst thing in the world for the Tigers. Add in promising netminder Maryse Bard-Martel, and you’ve got a Memphis side well poised for a run at an at-large bid this season. The club’s win over Missouri earlier in the year could loom large, while that victory in the opener against Samford could also be worth more than expected initially given the Bulldogs’ similar success against SEC foes. Ole Miss could be another big scalp on Sunday, and Brooks Monaghan’s side will be eager to pick up their fourth win in a row before a non-conference ending trip to Florida next weekend.
Opponents Ole Miss had to huff and puff a bit more than they would’ve liked on Friday against Kennesaw State in a red hot atmosphere on the road. The Rebels actually found themselves down by a goal near the hour mark when they conceded a penalty after a bodycheck in the area, with Suzanne Arafa netting from the spot. The Rebels wouldn’t be down long though, with Olivia Harrison charging through virtually the entire KSU defense to equalize, before Mandy McCalla gave Ole Miss the lead from the spot in the seventieth minute. The win was still a vitally important one though after a winless weekend in Minnesota, with the draw against USC not looking as great as it once did given the Trojans’ struggles over the past few weeks. That’s the best result Ole Miss has by a mile though, a situation the Rebels might need to rectify for their at-large bid hopes. Memphis presents a great opportunity to boost the RPI before what suddenly looks like a titanic clash against Arkansas in the SEC opener on Friday. The defending was a bit uneven on Friday against KSU, and Ole Miss knows they’ll need better to defend their turf against the Tigers. Of course, Ole Miss’ trinity of offensive threats, Mandy McCalla, Olivia Harrison, and Rafaelle Souza has plenty to offer on offense themselves, though they’ll need to convert some of the chances they spurned on Friday. It might not be the most glamorous fixture on Sunday, but the result of this regional rivalry showdown could bear some of the most postseason weight come season’s end.