(5) Florida State vs (29) Duke [ACC Tournament Quarterfinal] – 1:00 PM
It’s a battle for a #1 seed versus a battle for a seed period, as Florida State hosts Duke in the opening round of the ACC Tournament. FSU made a little history in their first meeting this year on the opening weekend of the league season, winning for the first time ever in Durham against the Blue Devils. That time out, FSU would go down early to a Kim DeCesare goal but hit right back through Berglind Thorvaldsdottir before getting one of their trademark late goals to win it when Kristin Grubka headed home a Megan Campbell free kick. Obviously, a whole lot has changed since then. FSU would blitz the ACC after that win, only dropping points in a draw against Clemson and defeat to league champs Virginia, a run that was good enough to earn them second in the league, nothing to sneeze at given how tough the ACC was this season. They capped it off with a battling 2-1 win over Notre Dame in extra time, made extra special considering they were without the club’s best offensive player in the form of Dagny Brynjarsdottir, who was with her nation for World Cup Qualifying. FSU made it the Late Show again, getting Marta Bakowska-Mathews to put in a dazzling late display with a goal in the eighty-eighth minute to equalize before netting a diving header in extra time to shock the visiting Irish. It might be a performance that nets the club a #1 seed when all is said and done on Selection Monday. Of course, a deep run in the ACC Tournament will help FSU out in that regard, and that starts with a win against Duke. Brynjarsdottir might be back, but even if she is, there’s no guarantee she won’t be travel weary, meaning the Noles may again have to deliver a gritty performance with their offensive talisman missing or in a limited role. Given FSU’s penchant for late heroics though, you get the sense that they won’t be fazed in the least.
Duke saw that first defeat to Florida State as the catalyst to a nightmare run in the league that saw them go winless in six, a stretch that threatened to plunge the Blue Devils under .500 and out of at-large bid contention. Credit to Duke for finishing strong though, going 4-0-1 in a five game stretch to get themselves back over Mount .500 and into the postseason picture. The last game of the regular season? Uh, don’t bring it up. The Blue Devils went to Chapel Hill in only the broadest sense of the word, as they were absolutely pasted by the Tar Heels in a 3-0 defeat. Outshot 19-2 and 7-1 in SOG, Duke was probably lucky to have not lost by a greater margin. It’s a loss that could potentially undermine Duke’s hopes of a late push towards a national seed which were very much in play given their late upward run in the nation’s best conference. For that shot, Duke probably needs at least one win in the ACC Tournament, otherwise, the Blue Devils may have to be content with a good shot at a home game in the opening round of the Big Dance. While the offensive no-show has to be a disappointment, giving up three goals for the second straight game may be the bigger worry. It’s true that Duke did ship those three to Pittsburgh last weekend when the game was already 6-0, but there were no such excuses against Carolina on Thursday. Given the up and down nature of the offense, the defense has to be on its best form if the Blue Devils have any hopes of any type of protracted postseason run. FSU isn’t exactly the most explosive team in the nation, but they still have enough in the tank to make Duke’s ACC Tournament stay a short one if the Blue Devils can’t tighten things up in a hurry.
(2) North Carolina vs (34) Boston College [ACC Tournament Quarterfinal] – 1:00 PM
North Carolina were able to saw their way through rivals Duke in Chapel Hill on Halloween, perhaps serving as a reminder to Anson Dorrance’s squad’s powers when on their game. The Heels were in the ascendancy from the opening whistle, outshooting their opponents by a 16-1 margin in the first half, though they only led by a goal at the break. They’d rectify that shortly after the second half kickoff through Brooke Elby, with Summer Green adding a third later from the spot to complete a dominating rout that saw UNC outshoot their opponents 19-2 overall and 7-1 in SOGs. Perhaps most encouraging was the fact that UNC managed to do it with neither Crystal Dunn nor Kealia Ohai netting a point. Sometimes regarded as a two-person team going forward, Thursday was a valuable reminder as to the danger the rest of the Tar Heel side poses in attack as well. The regular season meeting between these two teams was a blood and thunder affair in Newton that saw Kelly McFarlane net the winner in the sixty-fifth minute. The great equalizer of the turf on BC’s home field made life difficult again, with the Heels able to just edge a close game, though they did pick it up after a bit of a shaky first half. One wonders how these two teams will respond back on natural grass in Chapel Hill. Carolina’s offense may be confident of troubling a temperamental BC defense, but the Eagles will largely count on Stephanie McCaffrey and McKenzie Meehan to supply the fuel up front. Carolina will have to dig deep to keep that duo off the board and will be hoping for more of the same after holding the duo to one shot on goal each in the regular season meeting. A win here would all but seal a #1 seed, which already looks pretty safe regardless of Sunday’s result, though UNC probably wants a win just to be safe.
Safety is something Boston College will be dreaming of with a win over North Carolina on Sunday. The Eagles’ position isn’t exactly precarious right now, but it isn’t rock steady either. Sitting just above the bubble, Boston College’s best results on their resume consist of wins over Wake Forest and Duke, which may not measure up to other clubs if they were to get sucked into a bubble fight. There’s no guarantee that BC isn’t going to be safe if they lose, as a defeat to a side with an RPI look North Carolina isn’t bound to hurt them that much, but if things go haywire behind them, the Eagles may still find themselves sweating on Selection Monday. As stated above, Boston College has certainly shown they can hang with North Carolina, though they still have to show they can be that potent away from the turf in Newton. Momentum is building with BC though, as after a dire stretch of one win in five league games, the Eagles responded with two crucial wins against Maryland and Syracuse to not only qualify for the postseason but keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive in the process. The win against Syracuse was a close run thing, with the Eagles needing an extra time goal from McKenzie Meehan, her second of the day and seventeenth of the season, to finally put away ten man Syracuse after a protracted struggle. BC had been the dominant force on the stat sheet, but they almost plunged to a draw in a tense game. One of the league’s most inconsistent sides, Alison Foley will have to be hoping her Eagles can pull it all together for one more big win that would definitively punch their NCAA Tournament ticket on Sunday afternoon.
(1) Virginia vs (49) Maryland [ACC Tournament Quarterfinal] – 1:00 PM
If Maryland comes into Sunday playing like their NCAA Tournament future depends on a result, it may be because that’s precisely what’s on the line against ACC champs Virginia. The Terps’ inconsistent form and spotty resume have seen them drift all the way back onto the bubble going into the ACC Tournament. Maryland hasn’t won back-to-back games since the opening weeks of the season, and that inconsistency could prove costly come Selection Monday. Despite the relatively one-sided nature of this fixture in the recent past, it’s not out of the question to think the Terps have a shot at pulling off the upset on Sunday. Maryland offered up a brief glimpse of Virginia’ mortality by running the Cavs close for much of their regular season meeting, with a late first half goal being the difference between the two sides. True, Maryland was still outshot by a 2:1 margin in both on and off-target attempts, but considering how the Cavs laid waste to most of their opponents this year, it was still a positive sign in showing that Jonathan Morgan’s side could be competitive against UVA. Maryland needed help elsewhere to seal an ACC Tournament spot on Thursday and got it, finishing off a perfunctory win over an overmatched Pittsburgh side while Wake Forest was upset by NC State. Without key offensive cog Ashley Spivey through injury, the Terps got a brace from Alex Doody, who had five shots on goal, and #11 on the season from Hayley Brock, who must be an even bigger focal point of the attack now. The fact that Maryland’s conceded in four straight and six of seven can’t exactly be reassuring against UVA’s thunderous offense, but the Terps have to find an answer if they’re to maximize their chances of keeping their season going beyond Sunday.
Virginia wrapped up their perfect regular season on Thursday night by dispatching rivals Virginia Tech, 2-0. The Cavs have now won nineteen of nineteen and haven’t conceded in six league games for good measure. Those hoping this one will be a close one will point to the fact that Maryland’s one of the few teams to hold UVA to just a single goal this season. Others will grimly point to the fact that UVA has scored multiple goals in all but one game since, indicating that the attack is still going in high gear as the weeks wind on. The win over Virginia Tech might have been a tad deceptive in the sense that UVA didn’t score their second until the final minute of the match. Of course, that’s also deceptive in a sense when you consider that Virginia Tech didn’t even put a single shot on goal in the entire match. Defensive midfielder Annie Steinlage is suddenly turning into an offensive threat for the Cavs, following up her goal against Florida State with assists on both of the goals in this one against Virginia Tech. UVA’s got the league title and a #1 seed in the bag unless the committee is on drugs. There’s defending their ACC Tournament title and keeping their perfect record intact still left to chase though. There’s little reason to believe that Maryland has more than a puncher’s chance despite the one-goal margin of victory in their first meeting. But the Terps are also a desperate team, and if UVA doesn’t come out with a comparable sense of urgency, this one could get very, very interesting.
(10) Virginia Tech vs (26) Notre Dame [ACC Tournament Quarterfinal] – 1:00 PM
Arguably the most interesting of the first round ACC Tournament matches, this one will rekindle a rivalry born with a very entertaining regular season this season in Blacksburg. The Hokies would make a statement with their heart stopping victory over the Irish, getting a late goal from super sub Ellie Zoepfl to run out with three points and national kudos en masse as some finally began to take notice of the great work Chugger Adair had been doing in Blacksburg. It had been a very close match until that point, though the Irish were beginning to tip the balance in their direction on the stat sheet until that hammer blow. The Hokies would go on to extend their winning streak to four games and unbeaten run to nine after the win over UND. They’d fade a little bit down the stretch though, losing two of their final three games to Florida State and Virginia to fall to fourth in the final league table. The Hokies have still been fantastic this season though, and a few wins in the ACC Tournament could yet have them in contention for a #1 seed As it stands, VT might still be in with a shout of having a chance at a top two seed with just one result in the conference tournament. Considering getting one of those top two seeds would mean avoiding Virginia until the Elite Eight, it’s obviously a coveted position for both the Hokies and everyone else near that seed line. Defeat here wouldn’t totally erase those hopes, but a victory against a fierce Irish side would certainly be another big feather in their cap.
Notre Dame was certainly wounded by that loss to Virginia Tech in the regular season. It came in the middle of a stretch of five without a win that saw the Irish plunging in both the ACC table and in the RPI. Randy Waldrum’s side was able to mitigate some of the damage with some wins over Boston College and Clemson, but the fact remains that this Irish side has beaten just one side in the uRPI Top 25 all season (though that did come against North Carolina in Chapel Hill). The Irish still have won just two of their past eight, but a win here would put all those struggles in the rear view mirror as the fight for silverware intensifies. I suspect Notre Dame has been itching to get back on the pitch since their 2-1 defeat to Florida State on Halloween likely left a very sour taste in their mouth. The midfield trio of Mandy Laddish, Morgan Andrews, and Cari Roccaro ran riot with five combined shots on goal, but it’d be up to reserve Anna Gilbertson to deliver the opening blow with a goal near the half-hour mark to give the Irish a lead they’d hold until almost the end of the second half. But a pair of goals from Marta Bakowska-Mathews at the end of regulation and in the second half of extra time consigned the Irish to their third straight defeat when heading to extra time. While the Irish’s continued extra time woes have to be a worry, the stat line for the club’s three forwards, Lauren Bohaboy, Karin Simonian, and Crystal Thomas also has to be a worry. Specifically, the fact that none of the three managed to force Kelsey Wys into a save. While the midfield made up for a lot of that, as did Gilbertson off the bench, you get the sense that UND may fall short of their potential this year if the frontline doesn’t fire consistently. A good jumping off point would be Sunday in Blacksburg, where a win would get the Irish right back in the national seed mix.
(24) Washington State vs (14) Stanford – 2:00 PM
After all the hand wringing, Stanford looks like finishing in second in the Pac-12 table if they can just take care of business down the stretch. The Card currently sit in second behind runaway leaders UCLA, but it’s still probably a bit satisfying after some had probably prepared eulogies for the club following their three game home losing streak near the beginning of league play. Since, Stanford’s come back with a vengeance, a gut check win over Utah in Palo Alto serving as the catalyst for a four game winning streak that at least has the Card back in the discussion for a national seed if not necessarily a top two seed. Stanford needs to keep winning though, and victories against Washington State and Cal to close out the season would certainly be a nice argument in their favor come Selection Monday. The Card will probably be hoping for a bit less drama than their last match against Washington, where they needed a goal from Lo’eau LaBonta late in the first half to separate them from the Huskies. It was one of just four shots on goal for the Card. Chioma Ubogagu fired up a bagel with zero shots, and Taylor Uhl still seems to be out of favor, so Courtney Verloo again was probably the most consistent attacker on the team as the only Stanford player with more than a single shot on goal on the evening. With the offense being spotty, the Card really needed the defense to step up, and they obliged, with the first clean sheet in three games and just the second in eight. Washington still had their chances, but the Card managed to bend and not break, netting Stanford a valuable win in the process. With the opposition boasting Micaela Castain and the red hot Cara Wegner, Stanford’s probably going to need another lights out defensive performance if they’re to get out of Pullman with maximum points.
Fading towards the bubble at one time after losses to Utah and Oregon State, Washington State has turned things around impressively as well, coming into this one off the back of three straight wins to begin to ease themselves away from danger. In another crunch game on Friday against a desperate Cal side, the Cougars shined, with rising star Micaela Castain pulling the strings with assists on all three of her side’s goals in addition to four shots on goal herself. Midfielder Nicole Setterlund took advantage, netting an equalizer in the first half and the eventual game winner in the second half before Kourtney Guetlein finished things off late to make it 3-1 to the Pullman side. The Cougar defense wasn’t exactly at the top of their game, giving up an early goal to Sandra Ley to go behind early, but they did enough after to tighten up and ensure the offense had a great chance to win it. WSU did impress defensively in their job on Ifeoma Onumonu though. The Cougars essentially erased the sophomore attacking threat from the game, holding her without a shot on goal all game. I suspect they’ll need more of the same on Sunday to hold the likes of Verloo and Ubogagu in check. Their bubble worries seemingly in check, WSU will now look for a strong finish and a late run at a possible national seed.
(51) Arizona State vs (36) Utah – 3:00 PM
Times are tense for these two sides hoping to make the final cut come Selection Monday. The home side are the much more endangered going into this Sunday meeting, with their RPI threatening to sink out of the bubble zone of consideration with two games to play. Technically, ASU still has to get a non-loss out of one of their two remaining games to ensure themselves of staying at .500 ahead of judgement day. To be honest though, ASU might still need a positive result from both games just to be sure they stay in that zone of consideration when all is said and done. Nothing will come easily on Sunday against a Utah side flying in the league right now and also fighting to stay above the bubble mix themselves. The Sun Devils will likely take points any way they can get them at this point, as the beleaguered Tempe side haven’t won in their past five league games. Head coach Kevin Boyd was left fuming over the officiating in a tetchy affair that saw the boss booked, as well as four of his players, including Devin Marshall, again in danger of a one match ban. The positive was that the Sun Devils did manage to break their scoring drought with goals from Blair Alderson and Kaitlyn Pavlovich. The bad news was the two goals conceded to cost the club a few more points. The margin of error is minuscule at this point. A win would help ease some of the pressure ahead of a fierce rivalry game against Arizona. Defeat would probably put ASU’s fate out of their hands in the final weekend of the season.
Opponents Utah are just a sliver above the bubble fray themselves. By a sliver, I mean exactly one spot at last check. The Utes are probably going to be fine in any event given their draw with Kentucky, win against Washington State, and draw with UCLA, but taking anything for granted at this stage of the season is hardly a reassuring way of doing business. What has been reassuring is a stretch including that UCLA draw and two straight wins to elevate Utah up the RPI rankings. The Utes still have scored multiple goals just once in the past ten games, but they’ve tightened up the defense to compensate, with 1-0 wins against USC and Arizona serving as evidence as to the defensive improvement after four straight games where they had conceded. The match against Arizona was a bit of a roller coaster ride in all honesty, as Jazmin Ponce had a bit of a stormer for the Wildcats, managing eight shots and three on goal, though Utes GK Lindsey Luke was again up to the task with eight saves to preserve the clean sheet and the chance for three points. Still, it’d take until extra time for the temperamental Utah offense to deposit it in the back of the net, with Taylor Slattery knocking home the golden goal. Normally, Utah would be up against it a bit having gone to extra time, but ASU went even deeper into the extra frames, so the visitors shouldn’t be any worse for wear. As is the case with their opponents, three points would go a long way into making the final week of the season less stressful. An in-form Utes side will certainly favor their chances of coming back to Salt Lake City with those points.
(16) Santa Clara vs (52) Pepperdine – 4:00 PM
It’s all or nothing for Pepperdine, who probably need a result against Santa Clara on Sunday afternoon if they want to return to the NCAA Tournament. The Waves saw whatever margin of error they had fade to black as they were shocked at state rivals San Francisco on Friday in a 2-0 loss that sent their RPI crashing downward. It largely undid a lot of the good work Pepperdine had achieved after winning three in a row following a dire stretch of one win in four games. While the Waves have to be happy with Texas A&M’s rise in the RPI, Cal’s simultaneous drop has limited any gains for the Waves who are very much on the outside looking in at this point. Really, it comes down to getting a result against Santa Clara this Sunday, as defeat will leave the Waves without any real chances to improve their resume with only lowly Loyola Marymount remaining on the schedule. The Waves’ task is going to be that much harder with Lynn Williams out for the season with a broken arm and with Kristen Rodriguez also sidelined by injury. It was evident on Friday as the offense fired blanks against San Francisco. The defense didn’t exactly help the Waves’ cause either, giving up sixteen shots and eight shots on goal. Without Williams in the attack, it’s highly unlikely that the Waves are going to win any offensive slugfests, which could be a problem against a high powered Santa Clara attack. The defense is going to have to come up with their best performance of the season, because defeat here likely means the end of their season next weekend.
Santa Clara will be looking to keep up their charge for a WCC title and a potential national seed with another win on Sunday. The Broncos have been flawless in the league thus far and have their own title fate in their hands. Since the traumatic extra time defeat against Stanford, the Broncos have gone a perfect 8-0-0 to reignite hopes of a national seed and a league title to go with it. Granted, other than the close match against BYU, the opposition has been pretty weak, but credit SCU for taking care of business, sometimes in brutal fashion (see the 9-0 win against San Francisco). It wasn’t quite that explosive against Loyola Marymount on Friday, but the Broncos still got the job done with minimal fuss. Not for a lack of trying though. SCU put up a ridiculous nineteen shots on goal, forcing LMU keeper Brittany Jagger into seventeen saves. Morgan Marlborough and Sofia Huerta combined for thirteen shots on goal, while the defense pretty much erased any threat from the LMU offense. It goes without saying that, shorthanded though they may be, Pepperdine’s going to pose a much more difficult test on Sunday. The Broncos should be confident though, having pitches four straight clean sheets and having netted multiple goals in five straight games as well. SCU’s claims for a high national seed probably aren’t going to go answered, but getting any national seed might be just as important given how ruthless the pecking order is out West. Beating Pepperdine alone won’t make the difference itself, but it would set up a huge showdown with Portland next week for league supremacy which could in the end prove telling.
(58) Washington vs (45) Cal – 5:00 PM
These two bubble troubled sides may see their fate decided as they square off against each other on Sunday afternoon in Seattle. Cal has got to be wondering what else could go wrong for them after a calamitous few weeks have seen injuries and sending offs ravage the squad. While the team did get Nina Pederson and Ariana Martinez back from injury in their last game against Washington State, they were still without Emily Kruger in goal…which made it particularly problematic when Kathleen Messinger was sent off. It meant a baptism by fire for true freshman Maddie Julian, a towering rookie who hadn’t seen a minute of play before Friday. To be honest, the game was already likely wrapped up, with WSU up 2-1 at the time of the red card, though the Cougars did add an insurance goal after. With Messinger banned and Kruger potentially out again, Julian figures to get the start in what is likely Cal’s most important game of the season. The Golden Bears defense in front of her didn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence in its worst performance of the season thus far, conceding three to the Cougars, marking the eighth time in a row Cal wasn’t able to keep a clean sheet. The offense is struggling for traction as well, with key figure Ifeoma Onumonu not netting a single shot on goal, though the club at least did manage to break their scoring duck through Sandra Ley. Cal’s got to figure it out in a hurry. They really need the win against a fellow bubble rival, and anything but victory may make a win against Stanford in the finale a must for their NCAA Tournament hopes.
Washington’s in an even more precarious position, potentially needing two wins in their final two to get onto the bubble, where they’d surely make the cut after their earlier draw this season at UCLA. The Huskies have gone cold at just the wrong time though, going winless in their last three to see them slide away from the bubble. It’s also dropped them to 7-7-4, though the .500 requirement probably isn’t going to be relevant considering the Huskies need at least one win to even have a sniff of a chance for the NCAA Tournament anyway. UW was presented with a golden opportunity to seal their fate in the good sense against Stanford on Thursday but would fall short, 1-0, despite doing more than enough to give themselves a shot at a result. Despite putting more shots on frame, UW would concede a goal late in the first half that would prove to be the winner, seeing a strong defensive effort go for naught. The Huskies have a painfully erratic offense, as they’ve been shut out in every other game since losing 3-0 to Portland at the end of September! If you believe in streaks, that might be good for UW, as that means they should score against Cal on Sunday. With home advantage and facing a third-string GK making her first start, you’d suspect Washington should be favorites going into this clash. But the Huskies have been a headache to figure out this season, good enough to hold UCLA to a draw but bad enough to draw with the likes of Oregon State and Arizona. If the good UW shows up, they should keep the three points in Seattle. If the bad UW shows up, they may well need a win against WSU and a miracle around them on the bubble next weekend.