SIUE Stuns Notre Dame:
The Fighting Irish were the number two seed and clear favorites to win but the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Cougars played out of their minds. More specifically, sophomore goalkeeper Juli Ross was the hero on the pitch that night. Ross shut down Notre Dame’s chances, including 21 shots at goal, all night, making memorable saves in each half and then in both overtimes to take it to penalties. And the goalkeeper’s 5’7″ frame helped her save two pks taken by Notre Dame’s Katie Uhler and Cindy Pineda.
The winning pk came from SIUE’s Mariah Vollmer, who hadn’t played a single minute of the game but had no problem stepping up in a critical situation when her team needed it. This victory is was only the second time a team from the Ohio Valley Conference has gotten past the first round, and marks SIUE’s first tournament win in program history. The Cougars will face Northwestern University on Friday.
Michigan Falls to Illinois State:
Another massive upset that ended with penalties after the extra time periods did not yield a winner came with Michigan’s loss to Illinois State. Michigan had the momentum after Nicky Waldeck scored an equalizer in the 75′ to force the game into overtime. Then, the score tied at two a piece, Michigan managed to get the ball in the net twice, only to have each goal called back due to fouls. Illinois State’s best chance to take the lead and the game came in the 106th minute off a powerful header by Paige Jarsombeck’s that was saved by Michigan’s Sarah Jackson.
Though both teams netted four pks each, Michigan missed its fifth shot to to give the Redbirds the win. This was the third tournament win in school history for Illinois State, who are on a 15 game winning streak, the longest in school history. The Redbirds will face Duke on Friday in the second round.
NC State Upsets Minnesota:
In its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 20 years, NC State made a memorable return to the big stage this past weekend. Not only did they win, but they beat the Big Ten Conference champions Minnesota. The Wolfpack started strong, firing 10 shots toward goal in the first half while the the Gophers only managed to put up two. The second half saw NC State create several serious chances through set pieces but ended up at the end of regulation with nothing to show for it.
Throughout the two overtimes both teams had a few shots, but neither managed to break through and score. But, what’s another game without nail-biting penalties? Wolfpack goalkeeper Sydney Wootten made two important saves to help her team advance. What’s more impressive about this win is that NC State was without All-ACC freshman forward Kia Rankin, who ranks second on the team in goals, with five heading into this tournament. Reports are she could be available for the second round. NC State will face Pepperdine on Friday.
A Handful of Conference Champions Still Remain:
Out of the 31 conference champions that were crowned last week, only nine remain in the hunt for the title. Some are expected to advance, such as powerhouses FSU, Stanford, Florida, and West Virginia. They beat their respective opponents by a combined score of 14-0 en route to the second round.
A few teams were stunned and sent home packing, however, such as Big Ten champions Minnesota, and Ivy League representative, Harvard. Of course serious title contenders like Georgetown (Big East) and UConn (American Athletic) are on to the next round as well.
Second Round Match-ups/Predictions:
Friday should prove to be quite a day for fans of the women’s game, as a handful of exciting match-ups are set to take place. The first is #3 Virginia taking on defending champions Penn State at 11a.m. The Cavaliers’ leading scorer is senior Alexis Shaffer who has tallied 13 goals and six assists on the year. As for Penn State, they are led by junior Frannie Crouse, who has 12 goals and recorded three assists. it should be noted that the Nittany Lions will be with out several players due to the U-20 Womens World Cup; Kaleigh Riehl, Ellie Jean, Maddie Elliston, Emily Ogle and Rose Chandler. With these pieces missing, i dont see how Penn State can get past the second round. That being said, I have Virginia winning this one, not without Penn State giving them a serious threat.
The second game of the day will be at 3 p.m. when Auburn faces #13 UConn. Auburn has really impressed me this season, led by senior Casie Ramsier with 12 goals and four assists. UConn is no slouch either when it comes to big time players. The Huskies’ leading scorer is a name many fans should recognize from leading the nation in points and in a three-way tie for most goals; red-shirt senior Stephanie Ribeiro, who has accumulated a staggering 21 goals and 13 assists this season. This will be a game for those who love high powered offenses, and I have Auburn just edging out UConn in a close one that could see overtime as well as pks to decide the winner.
The 7 p.m. game will feature Wisconsin against #1 seed Florida. The Badgers will rely on senior Rose Lavelle, a National Team pool member who leads her college team with six goals and four assists. As for Florida, they have one of the fastest forwards in the tournament: Savannah Jordan. The senior has played consistently all year, totaling 16 goals and offering nine assists. Although Wisconsin has a strong group, I have Florida taking this one easily in regulation.
USWNT Finish 2016 with a Pair of Wins:
The United States Women completed the year by defeating Romania in two friendlies over the weekend–the first time the teams have competed–with a combined score of 13-1. Both matches had solid crowds (16k+ & 20k+) and given the high volume of US goals, fans had plenty of reasons to cheer.
While it wasn’t quite the challenge some were expecting, it gave Coach Jill Ellis the chance to bring in youth once again and experiment with her formations. Ellis hasn’t been afraid to change things up after the disappointing Rio finish, and continues to do just that. In these matches, she had the US women play in a three-back system, interchanging Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston, Allie Long, Kelley O’Hara, Ali Krieger, and Casey Short.
While there are many things I might agree or disagree with Ellis about, in my opinion, wasting time on a three-back system is one of the more questionable things she has done with our current personnel. Over the past year our offense seems to have improved, but often at the cost of our defensive play. In a nutshell, it was a difficult year for the USWNT and I hope that 2017 and the start of a new cycle can get us back to being the true #1 team in the world.