NCAA Soccer – The First XI for October 20, 2013 – The Biggest One: (2) North Carolina vs (1) Virginia

(2) North Carolina vs (1) Virginia – 1:00 PM

It’s the matchup that’s on everyone’s lips. Though North Carolina’s Crystal Dunn and Virginia’s Morgan Brian are with the USWNT one final time this college season, their squads meet on Sunday in one of the season’s most high profile matchups to date. Virginia rolls into Chapel Hill with a perfect 15-0-0 record, aiming to not just win the program’s first national title but also to become the first team to win a national title with a perfect record since the North Carolina dream team in 2003. UVA certainly didn’t get caught looking ahead on Thursday against NC State. The Cavs pummeled the Wolfpack in Raleigh, putting five past their opponents for their most goals scored in a match since their 6-0 win against Rutgers earlier in the season. On Thursday, Brian had a pretty good sendoff, dishing out three assists, while Alexis Shaffer had a pair of assists off the bench. UVA’s depth continued to shine as well, with Brittany Ratcliffe scoring her ninth and tenth goals in her role as the club’s super sub du jour. The defense also kept it’s second straight clean sheet and its fourth in five games after conceding in three straight at the beginning of league play. It may be a sign that the club’s rearguard is rounding right into form during a punishing stretch run against three league title rivals. It’ll be fabulously intriguing to see how Virginia’s offense copes without Brian in the lineup to pull the strings. Perhaps just as interesting will be how the defense deals with the likes of Kealia Ohai running riot in attack. The ACC title is over the horizon for the Cavs, and three points on Sunday will bring into closer focus.

The worries brought about by the back-to-back losses to Notre Dame and Florida State have faded on the back of six straight wins in which the Heels have scored thirteen goals and conceded just one. Sunday might be the true acid test though, as UNC hasn’t really faced any true contenders since that defeat to FSU back in mid-September. Despite that, UNC’s still primely placed for a run at a #1 seed come the NCAA Tournament, and a win against Virginia would all but lock it up given the club’s previous results against top teams this year. The Heels have back-to-back 1-0 wins coming into this one, having topped Syracuse in a Thursday afternoon matinee in their last match. The defense stole the show, holding Syracuse without a shot in a dominant win on the stat sheet if not necessarily on the scoreboard. The offense put just six shots on goal despite taking twenty-two shots overall, needing Summer Green’s explosive free kick to separate the sides in the end. It market the second straight match with just a single goal for the Tar Heels, and the road probably isn’t going to get easier against a solid UVA defense and without the prowess of Dunn on Sunday. The rewards, of course, are almost incalculable. A way back into the ACC title race, likely clinching a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and perhaps most importantly, a psychological blow against national title rivals. Getting that first shot in against the Cavs would be a big boost, especially since it seems fated that these two are going to meet again, be it in November or December. Or both.

(5) Penn State vs (59) Illinois – 12:00 PM

Scoring titans will meet on Sunday, when Penn State’s Maya Hayes and Illinois’ Jannelle Flaws square off in this big ticket Big Ten showdown. The Nittany Lions, treading water after back-to-back 1-0 defeats in the league, came up with a clutch win at home against Ohio State on Thursday, using their offense to blow right through the Buckeyes in a 4-2 victory. The offense did the talking for the Nittany Lions, as Erica Walsh’s club took the lead after just six minutes and added to it a little under thirty minutes later. PSU’s defense, so often providing trouble for the club this season, would crack though, as the rearguard gave up two unanswered to let the Buckeyes back into the match at 2-2. OSU doesn’t have Maya Hayes though, and the senior forward took her team upon her back and netted a couple of unassisted goals shortly after the Buckeyes had equalized, putting the home side back up for good and helping bring home three priceless points in the Big Ten. There’s little margin of error for the Nittany Lions, and that holds true especially for the defense, which has now conceded in a ridiculous nine straight games. Sunday would be a fine time for a clean sheet, though the high powered Illini and Flaws will undoubtedly have other ideas. PSU really needs six points heading into next Sunday’s potential title decider with Nebraska, but they’re also facing a desperate opponent in their regular season home finale. Fireworks might be the order of the day in this one, with a couple of the nation’s best offenses set to shine on Sunday afternoon.

Illinois looks to be dragging itself back from the abyss after two straight wins following three straight losses had pushed the club to the brink. Even as Vanessa DiBernardo continues to miss time with a sprained knee, the offense continues to drive forward offensively, with Flaws at the heart of the club’s surge towards the postseason. The breakout star for the Illini continued her stunning ascent into the limelight with a hat trick against Northwestern in a 3-1 win to take her to eighteen goals on the season, tops in DI after Thursday. Flaws has come from injury riddled anonymity to turn into one of the nation’s very best scoring threats, keeping the club afloat while DiBernardo recovers from injury. The defense didn’t exactly put on a masterclass against Northwestern, giving up fifteen shots, eight on goal, and the opener, but it still was able to hold fast down the stretch and protect the lead to give the Illini three critical points on the road. The Illini still have some serious work to do to ensure their spot in the NCAA Tournament, but their prospects do look better than they did when the club had just lost to Indiana and sat just a game over .500 a few weeks ago. Eventually getting DiBernardo back will be an invaluable boost, but really, Flaws is the player to watch to see if she can keep her scoring pace going. Illinois has conceded in seven straight though, meaning defense is a real concern, though at the same time, their opponents on Sunday have also been quite forgiving defensively, meaning the meeting at Jeffrey Field could turn into a real shootout. The Illini will probably be good to go if they can get a result on Sunday, and with Flaws in electric form, you wouldn’t doubt their ability to get it done.

(42) UConn vs (24) Louisville – 12:00 PM

Sliding back towards bubble danger, UConn will try and arrest that fall and get themselves on more solid footing on Sunday as they host Louisville. The Huskies’ profile doesn’t really compare with some of their bubble rivals right now, with UConn really needing a result or two in their next few matches against Louisville and Rutgers. It’s not like the Huskies come into this one on a horrible run of form, having beaten Temple and Cincinnati in their last two games, but the club more tellingly fell at the hands of UCF and South Florida at the beginning of the month. Those defeats have helped push UConn down the rankings, a fall they’ll need to rectify if they’re to return to the NCAA Tournament. Thursday’s matchup against the Bearcats really was more difficult than it should have been, as UConn peppered Cincy with shots but couldn’t find the back of the net until Stephanie Ribeiro hit the target in extra time. If the Huskies are that wasteful on Sunday afternoon, it’s probably going to be a long day against a talented Louisville club. Especially when you consider how leaky UConn’s defense has been in the second half of the season. Before the clean sheet against Cincy, the club had conceded in six straight, a potential red flag ahead of their showdown against the likes of Charlyn Corral and Christine Exeter.

Still smarting from losing their likely title decider giants UCF a week earlier, Louisville could have suffered from a hangover against lowly Temple but responded confidently with a 3-1 win over Temple. The Cardinals breezed past their opposition, scoring after just four minutes and making it 3-0 by the half. They’ll probably be disappointed to have lost their clean sheet early i the second half, but at the same time, nobody can argue that it was anything but a total rout. It marked the club’s sixth win in seven, a run that has all but sealed their spot in the NCAA Tournament and put the Cards on course for a challenge for a national seed if they can finish strong. That’s probably contingent on the club winning out in the regular season and making a deep run in the AAC Tournament, but it’s a goal still within reach for the Cardinals. The offense did well to rebound from being shutout for the first time since the early September defeat to Kentucky, and there certainly seems to be potential for more fireworks against a lax UConn defense. Louisville will have to keep it tight at the back themselves though. The club seemed to have slain some defensive gremlins with two straight league clean sheets earlier in the month, but they’ve also conceded in two straight coming into Sunday, a streak they’ll want to nix against the Huskies.

(18) Florida vs (65) LSU – 1:00 PM

LSU may have lost more than just the SEC lead on Friday night in Baton Rouge, as the Tigers’ defeat to Ole Miss sent it back down the RPI ladder, to the point that the club isn’t even in the bubble picture at the moment. This despite the club having gone 5-0-1 before their first league defeat to the Rebels on Friday. All isn’t lost for the Tigers, but they really need to scramble for results, perhaps winning three or more games in their remaining regular season schedule to stand a chance of bubble scrutiny. The biggest fish left on their regular season slate comes on Sunday when they travel to Gainesville to play a Florida side likely in great spirits after a dominant win over Kentucky on Friday. LSU played out a tense game against the Rebels themselves on Friday night at home, conceding in the first half-hour and then putting together multiple close shaves, only to be denied by goalkeeper Kelly McCormick or the woodwork en route to a close 1-0 defeat. The finishing better come around by Sunday, because if the likes of Summer Clarke and co. aren’t firing true, the Tigers are going to be in trouble in all likelihood with a defense that’s conceded in six of seven league matches not that likely to keep Florida off the board all day long. The rewards for an upset on the road on Sunday are obvious though, as a win would keep their SEC title hopes alive and get them right back in the bubble conversation. Defeat would be a big blow for both of the above with two weeks left before the SEC Tournament.

Their beginning to SEC play may have been a bit rough, with back-to-back defeats to Missouri and South Carolina blotting their copy, but Florida’s been in excellent form since, reeling off three straight wins to get themselves right back in the SEC title picture while also moving into range for a challenge for a national seed. That looked to be very much up in the air going into Friday as wins over Auburn and Mississippi State had gotten them back up the table but had done little for their sinking RPI. The Gators came through with one of their best performances of the season against the Wildcats though, jumping on UK early through a Lauren Smith goal and adding more late in the first half and early in the second to finish with a commanding 3-0 victory over potential SEC title rivals. Considering scoring talisman Savannah Jordan was held to just a single shot on goal, the fact that Florida was able to net three goals was a great sign for the Gators and a very worrying one for future foes indeed. The Gators were able to rotate a whole lot of their players in and out thanks to the comfortable nature of the win, which should give it a big advantage in a war of attrition against LSU, who used a pretty limited bench on Friday night. Most eyes are turning towards a potential title decider next Sunday against Texas A&M, but Florida can’t let their guard slip. As their defeat at Missouri showed, this is a club that can still be plagued by ill finishing at times, and the Gators will want to keep their renewed impressive form on offense and defense going against a motivated Tigers side on Sunday.

(9) Florida State vs (29) Maryland – 1:00 PM

Unbeaten in fifteen matches this season, Florida State will be put to a stern test on Sunday and for the rest of the season in a brutal run-in that will see the club face the Virginia schools and Notre Dame after entertaining the Terps on Sunday afternoon. Currently four points back of league leaders Virginia with four to play, Florida State will be hoping to keep their winning momentum going leading into next Sunday’s showdown in Charlottesville with the Cavs. FSU can’t rest on their laurels though, as they come into Sunday facing an opponent desperate to avoid a slide towards the bubble and .500. It’s been all good for Florida State since their shock 1-1 draw at Clemson at the end of September, as the club has reeled off three straight wins, including an utterly dominant win against conference doormat Pittsburgh in their last match. The Florida State defense made the Panther offense look like a pub team, holding the ACC newcomers to zero shots total in the dominant showing. FSU perhaps didn’t put as many shots on frame as they would’ve liked despite oushooting Pitt 31-0, but they still put four on the board in a plaintively easy win. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that things are going to be just a little bit more difficult on Sunday against a desperate Maryland team with plenty of offensive weapons to wield. After a mini-meltdown against Boston College, the defense has kept two clean sheets in a row. A third would likely mean another win and three more points as FSU tries to push Virginia all the way in the battle for a league title.

Maryland’s a club potentially peering over its shoulder as the final rounds of the regular season approach. The Terps are mired in a stretch of just two wins in their last four, a run that has seen the club sink dangerously close to the bubble and to .500 as the end of the ACC campaign comes. In fact, were it not for a gutty win over Wake Forest earlier in the league season, we’d probably be talking about this game being a must win for Jonathan Morgan’s side to make the NCAA Tournament. Instead it’s still an important piece to the puzzle for a team that still needs a few wins to ensure itself of meeting the .500 minimum for an at-large bid. The Terps are also right on the edge for a spot in the ACC Tournament, currently in a tie for seventh place with twelve points but with plenty of pursuers behind them trying to displace them in the final weeks of the regular season. At least the Terps are coming into this one on the back of a win, having beaten Miami (FL) in Coral Gables after having previously lost four of five. The match against the Canes was a ploddingly dull affair, with the teams combining to turn the crowd comatose with just three shots on goal combined as compared to last season’s insane meeting in College Park. Maryland probably won’t mind the aesthetic critiques though, with Ashley Spivey depositing the only goal of the match early in the second half, with the defense enveloping the opposition and holding stern for the 1-0 win. They’ll need more of the same against Florida State and their very capable offense, though the prospects are questionable to say the least given the club’s defensive record against big clubs this season.

(20) Notre Dame vs (30) Duke – 1:00 PM

After six straight wins, Notre Dame is winless in four and under pressure going into Sunday as they try to maintain their position as a contender for any national seed, much less a high one. Away woes have been plaguing the Irish over the past few weeks, with a shock defeat to Miami (FL) being the catalyst for a three match losing streak, with the club losing at both Virginia clubs last weekend. It’s seen Notre Dame slip both in the RPI and in the ACC table, though, on paper, the schedule does ease up a bit before a big stakes finale at Florida State on Halloween. The Irish had a couple of tight defeats last weekend, losing controversially to Virginia on Thursday before being shot down late in a tight and tense affair with Virginia Tech on Sunday. The Irish actually outshot VT last weekend but only put three of their shots on-target. It was the second time in three games the club had been shutout, but generally, the Irish have looked much, much better at home this season and will surely fancy their chances against a Duke side that’s scrambling to save its postseason life after a league season of struggle. Cari Roccaro played in the midfield against the Hokies, and it’ll be interesting to see her role in this one. Will Randy Waldrum go for the jugular and use her up top to try and kickstart the attack? Or will she stay in a more withdrawn role to try and stifle the Duke attack? The right choice could be the difference between three points and a fifth straight match without a win.

Time is running out on Duke, who came out of a game against Clemson in which they really needed three points with just one. The points in the ACC table are probably less important than a missed opportunity to even up their record and get back to .500 for a potential at-large bid. There’s enough on Duke’s resume to get the club in the field of sixty-four if it gets to that .500 benchmark, but one game under and with four matches to play in the regular season, that’s not a given any more. The draw against Clemson means Duke needs a result against either Notre Dame or North Carolina, presuming they don’t stub their toes against either NC State or Pittsburgh next week. Thursday’s result against Clemson must have been a maddening one for the Blue Devils, as they were on the back foot for the first half but slowly grabbed a foothold and ended up controlling play in the second half and extra time but managing to hit the woodwork four times as they just couldn’t get the go-ahead goal. The only consolation may have been the defense holding fast to salvage a point against the Tigers, keeping Duke from an even bigger mess heading into the final weeks of the regular season. Robbie Church has been in this situation before with Duke teams but never with one as talented as this one is on paper. He knows that his club were perhaps unlucky not to bring home three points against Clemson but also that time is running out to turn some of that luck Duke’s way. Notre Dame may be reeling from their three straight league losses, but they’ve been a much better team at home in league play, meaning Duke will need something special on Sunday to get the win they so desperately need.

(60) South Florida vs (27) Rutgers – 1:00 PM

Their NCAA Tournament hopes fading, South Florida will probably be dead and buried as far as at-large bid hopes go if they don’t get a result against Rutgers on Sunday. Away defeats to Louisville and Cincinnati pushed the club’s NCAA Tournament at-large bids to the brink, with a potential defeat to Memphis on Friday likely to finish off the Bulls’ hopes. USF held their nerve though, topping the Tigers, 3-1, and likely finishing off a potential bubble rival in the process. The Bulls could hardly have hoped for a worse start against Memphis though, conceding to Christabel Oduro after just three and a half minutes. The Bulls ended up buckling down and equalizing shortly before the break through Olivia Chance though. Whatever was said at halftime clearly worked for the club, as USF promptly scored a pair of goals right out of the break and held on for the 3-1 win with Christiane Endler making four saves in the second half to preserve the win. The defense has conceded in four straight coming into this one, not exactly a great sign with Jonelle Filigno back for Rutgers, but USF’s home form has been impressive, with the impetus on them to work themselves into the field. They pretty much have to run the table the rest of the regular season and perhaps win a match or two in the AAC Tournament to stand a chance. Defeat would pretty much end their at-large hopes though, meaning the stakes are quite high for USF to keep their home mastery going on Sunday.

The Scarlet Knights should have Jonelle Filigno back as they try and cure their road woes against USF. The Canadian’s sending off against SMU a week ago meant her side was without their top scoring option against UCF in a crucial league match on Friday. Rutgers looked to be just fine when Erica Skroski opened the scoring against the opposing set of Knights on Friday, but it was largely downhill from there. UCF cranked up the offense in the second half and scored two goals in quick succession while riding out a pretty functional 2-1 win. While Rutgers put up a valiant fight against the likely league winners, any doubts as to how important Filigno is to this team should’ve been removed by the defeat. Rutgers is pretty much in limbo as far as the RPI is concerned at the moment. Barring a total meltdown down the stretch, the Scarlet Knights look good for the NCAA Tournament but the odds of them actually moving into a national seed look slim as well. Rutgers should be very wary of traveling to a very motivated opponent on Sunday, but the Scarlet Knights will likely find motivation in trying to round themselves into form before the AAC Tournament, where they might find more luck in trying to bring in a much coveted major trophy.

(37) Arkansas vs (35) Tennessee – 2:00 PM

Just as they were beginning to look a bit of a spent force with four losses in five games coinciding with the end of non-conference play and beginning of SEC action, Arkansas has now won two of three and are back alive in the postseason hunt. Truthfully, Arkansas haven’t been in bubble trouble for a while, but their status for qualifying for the SEC Tournament has certainly been in more doubt given their up and down league form. You’d think they still need a few wins in the remaining four league games to lock down a spot in Orange Beach, but there certainly aren’t any gimmes left on the schedule. Certainly not after the club’s heart stopping win against Vanderbilt on Friday night in an instant classic from Nashville. Cheyna Williams had her way with the Arkansas defense, scoring twice and assisting on two other goals as the Lady Razorbacks fell behind on four different occasions. Credit Arkansas for a never say die attitude though, and Ashleigh Ellenwood herself had a pair of goals and an assist in the winning effort. It was only fitting that Ellenwood was responsible for scoring the winner in extra time after the club had equalized for a fourth and final time with less than ten minutes to play in regulation. The defense has been absolutely horrific in the past few weeks, with the club conceding thirteen in the past four, and you have to figure the offense can’t compensate for all of that bad defending if they keep letting goals in at that rate. Against a club with Hannah Wilkinson and Caroline Brown, a similar defensive effort could see Arkansas come home with a heavy defeat, though the Lady Razorbacks’ fighting spirit also makes three points a very real possibility if Friday didn’t drain them too much.

Tennessee themselves are beginning to look weary as they slide towards the bubble thanks to some poor league form. Since upsetting Texas A&M on the opening day of the league season, Tennessee has won just one of six games and now has just a single point in their last three after a 1-1 draw against Auburn on Friday night in Knoxville. It actually could’ve been much worse for the Lady Vols, as they went into the final two minutes down to the Tigers by a 1-0 count staring down the barrel of a defeat that likely would’ve plunged them into severe bubble trouble and just as much SEC Tournament trouble given their lack of wins in the league thus far. As it stands, UT’s in danger in both regards, though their path to the NCAA Tournament is probably safer with the club’s earlier win at UCF. They’ve got it all to do to make it to Orange Beach though, and with Florida looming next Friday night, they certainly can’t afford to spurn any opportunities to pick up three points, especially against a club like Arkansas in much the same predicament as they are. One wonders how fresh the Lady Vols will be for this one, forced on the road after a home match on Friday. Adding to the stress is the fact that the club went through extra time and played just one reserve for more than ten minutes. UT’s going to have to dig deep on Sunday against an Arkansas team that should be flying after their dramatic win in Nashville against Vanderbilt and that’ll be looking to cap off a perfect weekend at the Lady Vols’ expense.

(47) Clemson vs (11) Wake Forest – 2:00 PM

If you would’ve told Clemson they’d be potentially one win away from an NCAA Tournament berth at the beginning of the season, I’m sure even they’d give you a few funny looks after the nightmare of the past half decade. But here they stand, likely in the field of sixty-four if the season ended today. Of course, the season doesn’t end today. Clemson still could finish under .500 with a protracted run of losses, but one more win guarantees a finish at .500 and eligibility for an at-large bid. If that win comes on Sunday, the Tigers will likely be in the field of sixty-four regardless of what happens in its regular season games the rest of the way. Though that may be the case, Clemson also has won just one of their last five, albeit against some of the nation’s very best. They rode their luck in many ways against Duke on Thursday, as the desperate Blue Devils rattled the woodwork on four occasions before both teams settled with a point from a 0-0 draw. It probably suited Clemson more than their opponents, but one wonders how much the extra time effort took out of them. The Tigers are facing an opponent desperate for points themselves as they try to climb into the ACC Tournament positions in the waning weeks of the regular season. Under normal circumstances, Clemson’s anemic offense, which hasn’t scored multiple goals in the league since the Pittsburgh win in mid-September, would be a concern, but Wake Forest is also down in firepower through injuries, meaning this one will likely be tight and tense as Clemson’s showdown with Duke was on Thursday. Three points for the home side would be another momentous achievement for head coach Eddie Radwanski’s side, which has defied the odds all year.

Wake Forest has battled valiantly in the past couple of games with out their top two offensive options in Katie Stengel and Rachel Nuzzolese. The loss of Stengel after the Notre Dame game in particular could prove to be an unbelievable blow to the Demon Deacons, as the club is now mired in a slump which has seen the club win just one in six after beginning the season unbeaten in eight. It’s seen the Demon Deacons slip from a position of strength in their pursuit of a high national seed to being in a fight to just make it into the ACC Tournament. Wake’s spot in the NCAA Tournament looks to be safe in any event, even if they miss out on the ACC Tournament, but the club could miss out on a national seed if their slide continues. They looked to be making do after a half on Thursday against Virginia Tech on the road, having scored early through Kendall Fischlein before being pegged back to go into the half tied at 1-1. But Virginia Tech found another gear after the break and outshot their opponents 14-3 in the second half and extra time, netting a golden goal near the end of the first half of the extra frames. It sent the Demon Deacons back to the drawing board ahead of Sunday. The schedule looks to be forgiving with Pittsburgh and NC State coming up in the final weeks, but taking anything for granted with a club that looks very limited offensively now would be a mistake. A win against Clemson on the road would certainly set a few minds at ease, though regardless of the result, Wake looks to appear to have a tough road ahead from here on out.

(44) DePaul vs (7) Marquette – 2:00 PM

Sometimes all you have to do to make your Big Dance dreams is to avoid the bad result. OK, DePaul has losses to Valparaiso and Providence and a draw with Wisconsin-Green Bay, but they’ve been outliers in a real solid campaign for the Blue Demons. The crowning achievement’s been a draw at Georgetown, which is probably going to be enough to get the club into the NCAA Tournament should it end up on the bubble come season’s end. They’re right on that line right now thanks to four straight wins in the league, and a win on Marquette might well wrap up an at-large bid on Sunday afternoon. Yeah, that seems a pretty tall task for the home side on Sunday, but who would’ve thought this DePaul side could’ve gone and grabbed a draw at Georgetown earlier in the season? The Blue Demons are certainly in form after winning their fourth straight against Butler on Thursday. DePaul was opportunistic in their finishing despite being outshot 18-6 overall, though only 4-3 in shots on goal. Elise Wyatt scored her sixth of the season just before the hour mark to give the club all the offense they’d need to net the win. DePaul’s defense has been fantastic during the club’s winning streak, just conceding one goal in the past four games. It’s not totally been a product of the team’s opposition either, as the club has only conceded multiple goals once this season and even held Georgetown’s attack to just a single goal. They’ll need even better from the defense to stop a red hot Marquette offense, but the rewards for victory are substantial.

Marquette all but won the league title when they crushed Georgetown last week to keep up their 100% record in the league, and they added to that record when they edged past Seton Hall on Thursday. The defense kept Seton Hall at bay for much of the match, while the offense got the lone goal in the match through Liz Bartels just after the halftime break. The attack didn’t exactly overwhelm the Pirates, netting just six shots on goal, but it was still enough to get the job done, even if it was the first time in four matches the club didn’t net at least three goals. Marquette has now won eight in a row and twelve of thirteen to shoot up the RPI rankings like a rocket and put themselves in the frame for a #1 national seed if they can keep the wins coming. That might be dependent on Marquette running the table the rest of the way up until Selection Monday, but you wouldn’t exactly rule it out the way the Golden Eagles are rolling over teams. The offense isn’t the only thing that’s rolling, as the defense has also tightened things up significantly since some woeful showings earlier in the season. Since shipping two to Louisville, the club has conceded just two goals in seven matches, including keeping three straight clean sheets going into Sunday. The league title looks like a mere formality at this point, but Marquette can’t take their foot off the accelerator against a DePaul team aiming to improve their NCAA Tournament resume on Sunday.

(31) Ole Miss vs (15) South Carolina – 2:00 PM

With a golden chance to take a step forward in the league title race in the SEC, South Carolina instead stumbled on Friday in a defeat at league upset specialists Missouri. It broke a run of five straight wins in the league that had sent SC soaring back towards the summit of the SEC after their upset at the hands of Georgia in the league opener. The Gamecocks would be hit first near the half-hour mark when Taylor Grant scored after a corner kick, putting South Carolina on the back foot right off the bat. SC would fight back towards the end of the second half with Paige Bendell equalizing with her first of the season, though there was no containing Mizzou, with the Gamecocks conceding a winner to Alyssa Diggs. Carolina did a better job than in past matches in creating chances, with eight shots on goal, including four from reserves, but again, the club’s scoring rate continues to be a problem. Add that in with the elements and a desperate opponent, and it’s not hard to see how the Gamecocks ended up coming away from Columbia with nothing to their name. It’s not exactly rocket science to see that both times South Carolina has conceded more than a goal this season they’ve lost. That’s pretty concerning with Ole Miss’ attack boasting more than a few weapons. Carolina’s defense has also been a bit leaky in the league, keeping just two clean sheets in seven. They’ll likely need much better if they want to lift a league title in a few weeks’ time. With some of the league’s underachievers coming up though, three points on the road could give SC a big advantage in the title race going forward.

Standing in their way on Sunday afternoon is an Ole Miss side with multiple motivations against the Gamecocks. Outside of the league, the Rebels will see victory over Carolina as their best bet for sealing up an NCAA Tournament berth after they’ve spent much of the past few weeks straddling the bubble, likely out of the Big Dance if they end up there at the moment considering their lack of quality results. The Rebels have instead had to count on winning and winning often to lift themselves above the bubble zone. They really needed the win at LSU they got on Friday with Rafaelle Souza continuing her fantastic season by putting three of her club’s four shots on goal and netting the match’s only goal after a corner kick. The Rebels had to get some big saves from Kelly McCormick and had the post to thank for for keeping a Summer Clarke effort out. With the Rebels able to keep one of the SEC’s deadliest scoring threats off the score sheet in Clarke right after they shut Vanderbilt’s offense down, they have to be in confident mood going into the clash against a sometimes offensively challenged South Carolina side. But the Rebels will be wary of a backlash from a SC side that doesn’t lose back-to-back games all that often. It might be one of the day’s most intriguing clash of styles, with Ole Miss looking to turn up the heat offensively, while South Carolina tries to smother the Rebel attack with their formidable defense.

Other Matches to Watch:

(43) Georgia vs (48) Texas A&M – 3:00 PM – Georgia was able to crush Mississippi State at home on Friday to arrest their slide but know a much bigger challenge awaits on Sunday. Texas A&M used a dominant win over Alabama and losses from many title rivals to ascend to the top of the league. They aren’t out of the woods for an at-large bid yet though, knowing three more points here will be vital for those hopes.

This entry was posted in NCAA Women's Soccer on by Chris Henderson.

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