Duke vs UCLA – 1:00 PM
Wins will be on these two teams’ minds come Sunday afternoon after neither emerged victorious on Friday. It’s hard to argue which side is in more need of the victory, though neither will want to leave on the back of a two match winless streak. The home side might feel under more pressure given the full body of their work thus far and the anticipation of ACC play to come. Despite packing what looks like, on paper, an all-star set of attackers, Duke has been surprisingly goal shy thus far in 2013. The Blue Devils haven’t exactly lacked for scoring chances in these matches and also got unlucky with the woodwork on Friday, but it’s hard to look at the highlights and not conclude they were also guilty of some egregious misses in front of goal. Time is running down on the Blue Devils to find all the answers they need on offense, and with league play beginning next Thursday, Duke supporters are likely thirsting for the offensive explosion they were promised at the beginning of the new season. The club shook things up in the lineup a little on Friday, moving Mollie Pathman back into defense and working with a frontline of Kelly Cobb, Laura Weinberg, and Kim DeCesare. It remains to be seen if that’s the grouping on Sunday, though you’d have to think Pathman in defense is a viable option again to try and shut down UCLA’s vibrant attack. Depth is going to be a big issue though. Duke played ten players for over a hundred minutes, and the eleventh, Laura Weinberg, still played eighty-seven. Against a UCLA team that’s as deep as any in the nation, a war of attrition does not favor the Blue Devils.
UCLA got something of a reality check on Friday night against North Carolina. The Bruins had run roughshod over everyone in their path in the first two weeks of the season but hit a brick wall in the form of the Tar Heels in Durham. UNC racked up shot after shot, and the Bruins only stayed in the match as long as they did due to the efforts of junior goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland, who had a sterling performance in goal for the Westwood club. As shaky as the defense looked in their inability to consistently stifle North Carolina’s attack, the offense looked almost as shaky against the ACC side. Lead gun Darian Jenkins put up a bagel in sixty-five minutes with zero shots, while Rosie White and Taylor Smith each had just one shot on goal, accounting for the team’s two shots on goal total. Considering UCLA’s attack looked just fine against Notre Dame a week ago, it’s probably best to write it off as just a bad night at the office, but another bad Bruin showing offensively probably isn’t going to make the faithful feel any better. The defense is probably going to come under more scrutiny though. This UCLA side needs to show it can stop someone really good again, as the likes of North Carolina, Duke, and/or Virginia are likely to be waiting in the NCAA Tournament. And while Rowland was tremendous on Friday, the team as a whole needs to tighten up to ensure she doesn’t have to keep the team in the game singlehandedly again. The schedule eases up considerably after Sunday, but the Bruins will nonetheless want a win to keep themselves in the talk of the nation’s very best as non-conference play rages on.
North Carolina vs West Virginia – 11:00 AM (in Durham, North Carolina)
The machine rolls on. North Carolina was tasked with another big challenge on Friday night and passed with flying colors again. The Tar Heels hadn’t had much in the way of big challenges the weekend before against overmatched Kennesaw State and New Mexico, but UCLA was another matter entirely, with some tabbing the Bruins as a national title favorite if they could have toppled the Tar Heels in Durham. They didn’t. And had it not been for some tremendous goalkeeping, North Carolina would’ve won it in a rout, such was their advantage offensively. The duo of senior Crystal Dunn and junior Alexa Newfield terrorized the UCLA defense, as Carolina put twenty-three shots up, including eight on goal and one off the post. Despite the statistical dominance, head coach Anson Dorrance expressed frustration about his club’s clock management down the stretch with the lead, indicating that there’s still improvement in order despite UNC’s rapid start to the season. On paper, West Virginia, talented as they are, shouldn’t provide as much of a challenge as the vanquished Bruins did on Friday. Then again, just ask last year’s Stanford side how tough West Virginia is on fancied clubs on a Sunday. The Tar Heels will be comfortable favorites again on Sunday, but they also have to be wary of a Mountaineers side that showed they can go blow for blow with a top ACC side in their showing against Duke on Friday.
There shouldn’t be any more doubts about West Virginia’s ability to play with the very elite of the nation after Friday’s battling draw with Duke, though their ability to beat the top teams will still come into question until they do it this year, if they can. It’s true the Mountaineers rode their luck at times against a Blue Devils team that put a lot of shots on the board, but WVU were hardly out of their depth and thoroughly deserved the draw they walked away with. There are questions though about the Mountaineers’ ability to hold a lead late in games though. The Big XII side have now taken the lead against both Penn State and Duke and been pegged back in both late in the match. Friday’s blown lead wasn’t as maddening as the two-goal lead they dropped to the Nittany Lions, but it’s still likely a point of concern going forward. While attention may naturally turn towards West Virginia’s scoring duo of Frances Silva and Kate Schwindel, the real matchup to watch might be between a couple of full internationals plying their trade in the college game. Kadeisha Buchanan may be a center-back, but she’s the best defender the Mountaineers have, and she may be in for a bigger man-marking role in trying to stop the unstoppable Crystal Dunn. Keeping Dunn quiet will be vital for WVU’s upset hopes, and Buchanan may be their best option in making that happen and bringing another shock result back to Morgantown.
UConn vs Syracuse – 1:00 PM
OK, raise your hands if you thought this match would have an iota of meaning at the beginning of the season. Former Big East sparring partners collide in Storrs on Sunday in one of the most meaningful meetings between these two clubs in ages. Most figured that the home side had a chance to, at the least, be a creditable side this season in the newly formed AAC, and the Huskies have done little to dissuade anyone of that notion thus far. They played very tough on the opening weekend of the season, just being edged out by a goal by Wisconsin and Stanford before passing an acid test on the road and beating Boston College. The Huskies had two regional mid-major minnows to dispatch after, and the club will look to stay over .500 and extend a three-match clean sheet streak as well. Other than the defensive troubles against Wisconsin in the opener, UConn’s been solid at the back, and another great showing against another ACC side would be promising development indeed. The offense has been a bit hit or miss, but the club still has only been shutout by Stanford, which isn’t exactly a terrible outcome. Rookie forward Rachel Hill has been the name on everyone’s lips so far with both of her goals thus far in 2013 going down as game winners, while junior midfielder Riley Houle leads the team overall with three goals. This is the beginning of a massive five game stretch to close out non-conference play that could make or break UConn’s at-large bid hopes. A win here should give the Huskies some great confidence going forward.
Syracuse has been dealt a murderous beginning to the ACC schedule, with three games against some of the league’s best, all on the road, but the Orange will go into their first season in the conference with some confidence at least after a reassuring start to the new season. The victory over Hofstra could well look very good by the end of the season, while there was no shame in a close loss to West Virginia in the following game. The opposition, other than Patriot League contenders Colgate, has been modest since, but Syracuse hasn’t stubbed their toes, a problem in non-conference play in previous seasons. The difference between Fairleigh Dickinson, Thursday’s opponent, and UConn on Sunday is pretty stark though, with the Orange needing to raise their game by a fair margin if they’re to extend their winning streak to four matches. The defense against top teams could be an issue, with the Orange having conceded two to Hofstra and West Virginia, with UConn posing another stern challenge. The young scoring duo of Erin Simon, who netted a hat trick against Albany, and New Zealand youth international Stephanie Skilton, who has scored in three of the team’s five matches and already looks like a key for the present and future for the Orange. Cuse still has a glimmer of hope for an at-large bid, but considering how daunting the early ACC schedule looks, getting a win here to keep the RPI humming might be key.
Florida vs Oklahoma State – 1:00 PM
Florida did what Florida does to limited teams on Friday evening, ruthlessly dispatching Oklahoma to win their fourth game of the season and second straight since getting waxed by Florida State last Friday night in Gainesville. The Gators will go for three in a row against another side from Oklahoma in the Oklahoma State Cowgirls, who are likely riding sky high after claiming a surprising draw against the Seminoles on Friday. The Gator defense made short work of the Sooner attack earlier this week, limiting the Big XII side to a paltry two shots on goal over ninety minutes of play, especially impressive with Annie Bobbitt sidelined with a concussion. Despite missing key offensive payer Havana Solaun, Florida didn’t exactly have too much trouble on the other side of the ball either, with the game all but over at the hour mark once the club had netted their second of the night. The Sooners did manage to keep Savannah Jordan off the board, though the rookie did still make her presence felt with three shots on goal. The scoring came from the supporting cast though, with Pamela Begic striking early, while the Gators added to their lead through Lauren Smith and Brooke Sharp. A win here, besides being potentially big for the RPI, and Florida will likely be favored for their next three matches heading into a huge showdown in Oxford against a talented Ole Miss side.
Oklahoma State will likely be coming into this one on a fillip after their 1-1 draw with Florida State. It could’ve easily been so much more after the Cowgirls led their hosts all the way up into the final minute before being pegged back by Jamia Fields in the waning moment of normal time. The disappointment of not being able to hold that lead for the upset win might be very real, but when all is said and done, that draw is still going to be a big result for the Cowgirls. A win over Florida would be equally huge for their at-large bid hopes and might also help in the quest for a national seed if OSU can go on a run for the rest of non-conference play en route to Big XII action. The Cowgirls’ defense certainly wobbled, giving up thirty-one shots on the night and needing some big saves from Rosa Medina in goal and defender Lauren Reyes on the goal line, but at the very least, OSU showed incredibly fight and resolve to go down into Tallahassee and come away with something, something very few teams have done in recent seasons. Courtney Dike continued to look like the real deal for the Cowgirls, scoring the team’s goal with a scorching effort and will be keen to make another impression against fellow rookie sensation Savannah Jordan in Gainesville. OSU was definitely made to work harder than Florida on Friday, with nine players playing over a hundred minutes, so it’s going to be important to keep it tight and not have to chase the game against the deep Gators on Sunday.
Arizona vs Illinois – 2:00 PM (in Tempe, Arizona)
Are you not entertained? It might as well be the Illini’s credo for the season at this point. The Big Ten team is both scoring and conceding at frightening rates, though the bad defense is beginning to outweigh the explosive offense. In a game that didn’t finish until around 2:00 AM on the East Coast, Illinois managed to erase a two goal deficit and come back from 3-2 down, only to see the winning goal come from Arizona State in the second half of extra time. The good news obviously is that the Illini seem to have enough offense to fire blow-for-blow with just about anyone in the nation on this season’s evidence. Junior Jannelle Flaws looks to be turning into one of the Big Ten’s most feared forwards, having netted goals number six and seven in the defeat to Arizona State on Friday. Getting someone other than Vanessa DiBernardo (who scored from the penalty spot against ASU) to be able to score was seen as a huge part of Illinois’ hopes this year, and if Flaws keeps firing, you get the sense that Illinois will be just fine come season’s end. Maybe. The defense has been so mind-bogglingly bad that you wonder just how close to the cut line Illinois will be on Selection Monday, as they’re unlikely to be able to create a lot of distance between themselves and the bubble if they can’t tighten things up. Arizona’s probably going to carry more RPI weight than expected at the beginning of the season, so a win here would go a long way in stabilizing the ship in Champaign.
Arizona, on its face, suddenly doesn’t look like the rebuilding project it might have seemed like at the beginning of the season. At the very least, first-year head coach Tony Amato has made the Wildcats a tough side to beat, as multiple opponents this season can attest to. The one thing Arizona is missing at this point is a win over a name brand opponent the club can hang their hat on. They’ve battled both Ohio State and Kansas to draws in the past two matches but would love to finally get the ‘W’ on Sunday afternoon against the Illini. Arizona showed a lot of resiliency against the Jayhawks on Friday, first waiting out a weather delay and then holding firm under a barrage of Kansas shots until finding a late equalizer from the head of Alexandra Dollar. JUCO transfer Dollar has been a big part of Arizona’s resurgence, with the goal against Kansas being her fourth of the year. The Illini will have to be wary of the combination of Dollar and Jazmin Ponce up top, while Jaden Degracie has made a surprising impact with five assists already in five games this season. The defense gave up a lot of shots against Kansas and is going to have to rectify that against an Illinois side that can pile on goals in a hurry. If Arizona can pull off an upset here, a big stakes showdown with Texas Tech looms next Sunday.
Minnesota vs Ole Miss – 2:30 PM
Everything went to plan for the home side on Friday, as Minnesota continued their perfect start to the season with a 2-1 win over SEC side LSU. The Golden Gophers should have at least answered some of the questions hanging over them after a strong start to the season, albeit a strong start facilitated by a rather modest non-conference schedule the first few weeks of the season. LSU represented a sizable step up in class on Friday, and again, Minnesota passed with flying colors, hopping out to an early lead and then putting away the winning goal late in the second half against the Tigers. Winning close games against solid opposition is a good way to still be playing into November, and the Golden Gophers know their odds of a spot in the NCAA Tournament will continue to rise with a result against Ole Miss on Sunday. Haley Helverson was the heroine on Friday, netting her first goal of the season after racking up a pair of assists in three games beforehand. Katie Thyken, who had fueled the club’s offense beforehand with five goals and two assists, had a bit of a quiet game, but the club’s offensive sparkplug will be looking to make amends against the Rebels on Sunday afternoon. Interestingly, the club opted for rookie Tarah Hobbs in goal after having started sophomore Kristen Knutson the first four games of the season. Whether Hobbs continues to get the nod is up for debate, but she showed great shot-stopping skill, though she also showed she’s far from the finished product. She, or whoever starts in goal, will need to be big again, as Ole Miss comes packing a fantastic offense themselves.
Ole Miss themselves had questions to answer on Friday as they also come in with a 100% record on the back of four straight wins by multiple goals against dubious competition. The Rebels probably opened a lot of eyes against a hotly tipped USC team, playing the Trojans tough and getting a quick equalizer when they had fallen behind just after the hour mark. Rafaelle Souza continued to show why she’s one of the nation’s best kept secrets with a match leading three shots on goal in addition to the Rebels’ equalizer. Considering USC had made mincemeat out of opposing defenses coming into Friday, for Ole Miss to hold the Women of Troy to just a single goal despite seeing the likes of Elizabeth Eddy and Kayla Mills fire multiple shots on target was a very positive sign. Minnesota doesn’t have that brand of star power, but they’re a blue collar, hard working side with no small degree of offensive weapons themselves. They’re also looking to get back into the NCAA Tournament as Ole Miss are, meaning this match could be a crucial one for both’s hopes if they struggle a bit in league play. The Rebels have more than their fair share of weapons, but in all likelihood, they’ll go as Souza goes. If she can assert her dominance on the match, the Rebels will probably have a pretty good chance of heading into next Sunday’s showdown against Memphis unbeaten.
Stanford vs Maryland – 3:00 PM
A respite at last. After navigating a gauntlet of teams aiming for their scalp as one of the nation’s top teams, Stanford was able to ease right past WCC Loyola Marymount on Friday night. It’s right back into the fire on Sunday afternoon though before the schedule eases up once more before the showdown at Santa Clara in a few weeks. The Card may have ended up with a 4-0 win over the Lions, but it wasn’t really a performance fitting of the scoreline, as they put twenty-one of twenty-five shots off target (with one of those coming off the woodwork). A three goal flurry both sides of halftime had Stanford up by three goals after fifty-two minutes and otherwise obscured an offensive performance where way too many shots missed the target. The club didn’t play Chioma Ubogagu, and her absence from the lineup was all too apparent given the number of missed chances. Still, 4-0′s nothing to sneeze at, and what happens once the Card offense really gets clicking? Head coach Paul Ratcliffe will be hoping that comes as soon as Sunday against a Maryland side trying to avoid a weekend sweep. Jane Campbell got the start in goal in lieu of the injured Emily Oliver and did well in goal, with the freshman phenom looking to turn more heads with another stellar performance on Sunday. This one obviously has big implications for national seeding position come November. Not that Stanford needed any more motivation as they look to extend their home unbeaten streak.
Maryland plummeted back to Earth with a thud in nearby Santa Clara on Friday night, producing a mostly lifeless offensive effort against the Broncos in a 1-0 defeat. An attack that had scored goals for fun en route to entering the day as the nation’s top scoring team instead found themselves without a shot on goal against the WCC favorites at the end of the night. Such a drop off in form has to be deeply concerning for the ACC side with league play looming, and they’ll be desperately hoping to avoid an 0-2-0 weekend by getting a result against Stanford on Sunday. Head coach Jonathan Morgan bemoaned some penalty decisions that didn’t go the club’s way, but the club still struggled to find answers against the Santa Clara defense. If the club can take anything out of the defeat, it’s the fact that they managed to mostly corral a dangerous Santa Clara defense for much of the match. The club’s start in ACC play could be harder, but with very little of note on their non-conference schedule, the Terps really need something to hang their hat on if they want to avoid some stress as the season goes on. Friday’s anemic showing shouldn’t fool anyone. Maryland doesn’t figure to have too many days like that this year, and they do have the firepower to potentially cause a surprise in Palo Alto.
Arizona State vs Kansas – 4:30 PM
The fireworks in Tempe lasted long into the Arizona night on Friday, as a game delayed by earlier weather and the previous match between Kansas and Arizona going to a draw ended up going into extra time itself before the home side emerged victorious in a barnburner. How ASU hadn’t finished in normal time was a giant mystery, as they had barracked Illinois’ goal with shots and netted three times in the process. Of course, the Sun Devil defense, which has a lot of questions hanging over it, first blew a two goal lead and then another one late to send it into extra time. Cali Farquharson would spare the home side’s blushes, but it was probably too close a flirtation with disaster than Arizona State would have liked, especially considering they had been achingly close to winning it earlier after hitting the woodwork multiple times. Farquharson and Devin Marshall ran riot over the Illinois defense on Friday, combining for the club’s four goals, along with seven shots on goal. Farquharson has already ruled the roost for ASU’s offense this season, with six goals already, and with Marshall scoring her first two of the season, there’s hope the duo can terrorize teams in tandem as had been envisioned at the beginning of the season. The defense has been more than a little spotty in games against Illinois and a loss to Texas A&M earlier, which has to be a worry given Kansas does pack a little firepower. This is the middle of a huge three game stretch for ASU’s NCAA Tournament hopes. Another win on Sunday would do the Sun Devil cause a world of good.
Kansas were probably disappointed with the start of their weekend out west, as they coughed up a lead late to go to a 1-1 draw with Arizona in Tempe. The Jayhawks hadn’t exactly done much to inspire in the opener, a 1-0 defeat to a young Arkansas in Fayetteville. KU had gone a long way in overcoming that loss in the following games, winning three straight, with the crowning achievement of that streak a 4-1 pummeling of Purdue back in Lawrence. Arizona looked like another team that was definitely beatable for the Jayhawks, and the stats certainly bore that out, as KU outshot their opponents by a 2:1 margin, though shots on goal were even at eight. The Big XII side had plenty of chances to win it, including drilling the woodwork, but their finishing betrayed them in the end. It remains to be seen if the draw will damage their NCAA Tournament hopes, though Arizona doesn’t look to be the RPI vacuum they’ve been in recent years. The game against the Wildcats also saw the debut of Aurelie Gagnet, with the French youth international coming back from winning the UEFA U19 Championship with her country. Odds are, the Jayhawks will find her a spot in the starting lineup sooner rather than later. She and her teammates will need to buckle down to stop an ASU offense in high confidence after Friday’s win. This could be a crunch game for both teams’ at-large hopes come season’s end, meaning a win could be a boon for the victor’s season.
Portland vs Wake Forest – 5:30 PM
Portland’s win on Friday wasn’t a thing of beauty, but the Pilots will probably take it, as the 1-0 triumph over Central Michigan extended their unbeaten run to the beginning of the season to four matches. Extending it to five will take a much better showing though, as the opposition is ACC stalwart Wake Forest, who themselves won a 1-0 game against a struggling Washington side on Friday. That the Pilots needed to wait until the eighty-second minute of play for an Ellen Parker goal to take a lead they’d hold for good. The defense was able to all but totally stifle a pretty toothless Central Michigan side, holding the visitors to just a single shot on goal. Portland’s like of cutting edge in front of goal has to be rankling some of the Merlo faithful, especially as one of last year’s best threats up top, Amanda Frisbie, continues to hold the fort down at center-back. Rookie Danica Evans didn’t have a shot on goal on Friday, and if she stays cold, the pressure to get Frisbie back into the attack may increase. UP’s going to need everyone they can get on defense to try and keep Wake Forest’s Katie Stengel at bay though with the senior forward in excellent form. Portland should be favored in their next seven at least after this one, all the way up to a potential title fight with Pepperdine in Malibu in mid-October. Needless to say, this one’s big, and Portland might well need a win to stand a chance of a high national seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Wake Forest have started out the new season on an absolute scorcher, winning their first four games, with that mark potentially having been five with the Demon Deacons having also had a game against Louisville abandoned due to lightning. The weekend started out pretty well for the ACC side, as they eased past Washington on Friday in Portland. It probably wasn’t as easy as the Demon Deacons would’ve liked though, with the winning strike coming in odd fashion, directly off a corner kick through, who else, Katie Stengel. Stengel’s been her brilliant self thus far with a hand in seven of the nine goals Wake’s scored, with four goals and three assists. Naturally, she’s going to be front and center to the effort for the Demon Deacons going forward again in this one. The Demon Deacon defense has done pretty well thus far, though they did have some problems in containing Washington attacking midfielder Lindsay Elston, giving Portland a hint perhaps in their strategy of attack on Sunday. Florida State looms as the ACC opener in less than a week, meaning the Demon Deacons will want to close out non-conference play with a flourish. As stated above, this one’s big for high national seed purposes. If Wake can pick up a win on the road against a highly ranked Portland side, their chances for such a seed will increase dramatically.
Texas A&M vs Baylor – 8:00 PM
The Battle of the Brazos has always inflamed passions on both sides of this rivalry regardless of conference affiliation, and this season’s edition of the derby figures to be as feisty as any with both sides jockeying for positioning in the national hierarchy. The Aggies certainly made a great case for themselves on Friday with a breakout performance on offense as they thrashed San Diego to the tune of 6-1. It was a much needed response after the club’s defense had looked painfully vulnerable to Pepperdine and Lynn Williams the previous Sunday. The Aggies absolutely blitzed the Toreros’ goal, putting a whopping sixteen shots on frame en route to destroying the WCC side. Kelley Monogue was the starring attraction with goals #2 and #3 for the club in the second half, and if she can keep scoring, the Aggies are going to be in very good stead the rest of the season. Though the offense seems to be in better shape after Friday night’s performance, the defense continues to be a bit of a worry, conceding for the third straight game and fourth of five that the Aggies have played. Jordan Day really saved A&M’s bacon in goal, and she might have to be big again between the pipes for the home side on Sunday. Baylor’s far from a toothless side in attack, and A&M really has to clamp down to give themselves the best chance of victory. The last week of non-conference play shouldn’t be that taxing (though Cal Poly’s having a great season so far), meaning this could be a big swing game for A&M’s national seed hopes.
Baylor passed a big test on Friday by taking down Missouri, their biggest challenge of the season by far up to that point. The Tigers may have had a lot of offense, putting up sixteen shots and seven on goal, but Michelle Kloss in goal was able to repel six of them, while the Bears did damage on the other side of the ball through Alex Klein and Natalie Huggins. Rookie Ashley York probably had more trouble in this one than Baylor would’ve liked, with just one shot on target, and she’ll surely be looking for better fortunes in front of goal on Sunday night. The Bears had thrown up four clean sheets before Friday, so there’s reason to have faith in the defense, though A&M has the best offense the club has faced by far on paper. This fixture almost invariably throws up a bruising affair, which plays to the Bears’ strengths, but if it gets into a goalfest, Baylor might not have the guns to keep up through ninety minutes. If Baylor does find themselves victorious, they could well string off a series of wins and head into a potential title decider in late September against West Virginia unbeaten with a high national seed also a possibility.