NC State vs Georgetown – 7:00 PM
Tim Santoro’s 4-for-4 so far in his stint as NC State manager, but the new Wolfpack boss faces his biggest challenge by far when Georgetown comes into town on Wednesday night. Santoro probably had a little heartburn in close shaves with Navy (understandable) and Longwood (most definitely not understandable), with NC State winning by 3-2 scores each game. Last weekend was a lot more comfortable, with Georgia Southern and East Tennessee State dispatched with plaintive ease. Perhaps the change in goalkeeper from Karly Gustafson to Mackenzie Stelljes helped, though Santoro may still be waiting to use highly touted Swede Greta Akerlind. ACC fans used to hearing Katie Stengel’s name heard for her Wake Forest scoring exploits now have a second scoring Stengel to follow with sister Jackie doing the damage here with five goals in four games and a whopping sixteen shots and nine on goal already. She’s the clear focal point of the offense, though Caroline Gentry also has three goals so far, and Jessica Baity has two goals and two assists. Georgetown’s the toughest test by far the club has faced, and while no one dares dream of a title challenge in the ACC, an upset here raises the ceiling on the Wolfpack this year considerably.
It’s mostly been injury management for Georgetown so far, as the club has been forced to manage multiple knocks throughout the lineup. The Hoyas have piled together four wins on the bounce to open up the new year, but as with NC State, the level of competition has been decidedly tame. Close wins against William & Mary have preceded blowout wins over Quinnipiac and VCU, but the club will nonetheless be hoping for the return of Daphne Corboz from injury post haste after she’s missed the opening two weeks of the season. Injuries have also delayed the debut for Georgetown of Kaitlin Bast, a major attacking coup after her transfer from Denver. It’s mostly been goalscorer by committee in the wake of all those injuries, though Audra Ayotte has three goals and three assists despite missing two games, while Sarah Adams has also not been shy about pulling the trigger for the Hoyas. NC State might be a bigger RPI fish than previously though, meaning Georgetown will be eager to continue their 100% start to the season. If the Hoyas can’t get some of their injured players back into the mix on Wednesday though, the scoreline might be closer than some could have anticipated.
Arkansas vs Tulsa – 8:00 PM
Anyone expecting an immediate slide from Arkansas in Colby Hale’s second season in charge must be disappointed thus far, as the Lady Razorbacks have won four straight to open up the season. While it must be said that the level of opposition hasn’t been exemplary, there’s something in consistency, and Arkansas has certainly been that early on. The club set a marker early with a 1-0 win over Big XII side Kansas in the opener and have ridden that victory to subsequent triumphs over SMU, Saint Louis, and most recently, Missouri State. The defense has held up pretty well with three clean sheets, though they did conceded two in a topsy-turvy match against SMU on opening weekend. Rookie netminder Cameron Carter has done well enough to monopolize the minutes early in her career, while Ashleigh Ellenwood has shown signs of rounding into the top level forward the lug has needed for so long. Ellenwood, a few years removed from her star turn in WPSL with Chicago, leads the side with three goals and will be looking to keep up the momentum as SEC play approaches. It’s a key week for Arkansas’ previously unthinkable hopes of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Tulsa and Nebraska could add cache to the club’s resume, even without a big name opponent on the slate before league play. The only way then for UA to boost the RPI up is to win and keep winning, which they’ll look to do beginning on Wednesday.
There’s probably been some small sense that this could finally be Tulsa’s year after the stars have seemingly aligned towards them with their returning talent and departures from C-USA going into 2013. The Golden Hurricane didn’t really have a platform to show their best early on this season, topping Houston Baptist and Missouri State early but only by close margins. They’d raise an eyebrow or two with a 3-0 shellacking of Gonzaga last weekend though. True, Gonzaga may not be that great of a WCC side, but Tulsa dispatched them ruthlessly with a goal within one minute and then two late strikes. Senior Bradi Hinch is the only player with multiple goals, netting two of the club’s six so far. Opponents, including Arkansas, are probably more wary of Claire Nicholson though. Still searching for the form that saw her net eleven as a rookie in 2010, Nicholson’s play will be vital for any hopes of an NCAA Tournament bid for the club. Short on truly quality opponents, this is probably going to be Tulsa’s best chance to net a win of some significance outside of the league barring a miracle against Penn State in a few weeks’ time. More to the point, a win here might have Golden Hurricane fans dreaming of a league title in a few months.