It’s conference season! For those teams looking at at-large bids for the national tournament, this is the continuation of the overall season, but for those playing in one-bid conferences, it’s time to put up or shut up. Get off to a good start here, and you could end up with an unexpectedly high seed for the conference tournament – a bad start could put a side behind the eight ball from the outset. Fortunately, a lot of our Aussies are playing in teams which are in some good form at the moment.
East Tennessee State (Isabel Hodgson)
This week: at VMI – 6am, Saturday September 26; at UNC Greensboro – 4am, Monday September 28
East Tennessee State compiled a 5-4 non-conference record, but the conference season is an all new ballgame, and they start with away games against VMI and UNC Greensboro. Of these sides, VMI are the form side at the moment with two consecutive wins, but UNC Greensboro have put together wins against far stronger opponents. All things being considered, East Tennessee State should fancy themselves against VMI, but UNC Greensboro will be much more of a challenge. Isabel Hodgson has become a fixture in this East Tennessee State side, and her ability to play in both defence and attack will make her a real threat, especially if the Buccaneers look to throw a curveball at their opponents.
Wyoming (Alisha Bass, Annika Clayton, Jessie Gentle, Georgia Rowntree, Candace Sciberras)
This week: v San Jose State – 8am, Saturday September 26; v Fresno State – 3am, Monday September 28
Wyoming have had a couple of real highs and then one very disappointing low but all in all have put together a reasonable season so far with a record that stands at 4-1-3. On paper, they appear to have a fairly relaxed start to their Mountain West conference slate – San Jose State and Fresno State have just three wins between them. If you could predict that Wyoming would play like they did against Kansas in their upset 2-1 win, you could put two ticks in the win column now. But if you replace that Kansas performance with their performance in the loss to Northern Colorado you could just as easily put those two ticks in the loss column. Although the Cowgirls are missing Candace Sciberras through injury, the other four Aussies in Laramie are hitting some real form, with Jessie Gentle especially tearing defences to shreds in parts lately. Georgia Rowntree has also been seeing full games recently after splitting the goalkeeping duties with Cassidy Entsminger early in the season.
Drexel (Emma Heckenberg)
This week: at UNC Wilmington – 9am, Saturday September 26; at College of Charleston – 2am, Monday September 28
Drexel would have known from the start that these games this weekend would prove a test, but it’s doubtful that they, or anyone else, would have expected UNC Wilmington to be doing quite so well at this point. They did get rolled 8-0 by Virginia, but that aside, they’ve put together a 7-3 record against a very decent schedule. Drexel and College of Charleston both have 6-3 records, but neither compare to UNCW’s record. Still, Drexel haven’t really lost any games they would have been expected to win so there is still a bit of ambiguity regarding these matches. It’s no secret though that these will both be even contests and well worth watching. Hopefully we see a bit more of Emma Heckenberg this week; she has seen minutes here and there off the bench but it’s been a bit of a roll of the dice as to which matches she might be seen in.
Hofstra (Emily Hulbert)
This week: at William and Mary – 9am, Saturday September 26; at Elon – 3am, Monday September 28
Hofstra, along with Northeastern, are one of the favourites for the Colonial Athletic Association title this year and they’ve been presented with a tough test to start the conference slate. William and Mary would be considered an outside shot at making a run for the title and have put together a 6-2-1 record in non-conference play, whilst Elon may have played a fairly soft schedule so far, but have still compiled a 7-1-1 record, and you can only beat who’s put in front of you, even when it’s partly your coach’s choice as to who you play. Hofstra knocked off Elon 4-1 last season, but were fairly mauled by William and Mary to the tune of 4-0, so they’ll be looking to avenge that result. Hopefully the start of conference play will see Emily Hulbert see more minutes than she has seen in non-conference play, where half an hour off the bench has become the norm for the Victorian sophomore.
Southeast Missouri State (Jenna Collingridge, Maddy Cornell, Siena Senatore)
This week: v SIU Edwardsville – 10am, Saturday September 26; v Eastern Illinois – 4am, Monday September 28
Southeast Missouri State shook off a 3 match losing streak with a 1-0 win over Arkansas State, and have a real chance to start a nice little winning streak this weekend as they face two teams that they have real chances against. The Redhawks have beaten both of these teams in each of the last two seasons, including a pair of 4-0 wins over Eastern Illinois, and you wouldn’t put it past the Redhawks to put four past the Panthers again this weekend. SIU Edwardsville will pose far more of a test as they have had a couple of reasonable wins so far this year. Maddy Cornell and Jenna Collingridge have had some impact off the bench, but it’s been freshman Siena Senatore who has been setting the world alight in Cape Girardeau, developing into the cornerstone of the Redhawks’ defence. Expect little to change this week, especially if SEMO are to come away with a pair of wins.
Alabama State (Shelbi Vienna-Hallam)
This week: v Howard – 10am, Saturday September 26
As has been the case for most teams in the SWAC, the non-conference schedule was a tough few weeks, and Alabama State were no different. However, the Hornets are considered one of the higher teams in the SWAC and this match against Howard could be one of the best matches on the SWAC schedule. Howard will be the favourites for this, as they have knocked off a few teams that many SWAC teams could only dream of beating, but Alabama State will not be without a chance. Shelbi Vienna-Hallam has played a bit in attack recently, and her positioning in this game may will be an indicator of the side’s mentality for this one – do they play the Tasmanian up front and go for it, or will she play in defence in an attempt to shut down the Howard attack?
Winthrop (Jai Jackson)
This week: at Gardner-Webb – 9am, Sunday September 27
Winthrop had an unfortunate loss in midweek to UNC Asheville, and things aren’t set to get any easier in this away game at Gardner-Webb. Both sides have had three wins and four losses so far this season, with Gardner-Webb having perhaps played a slightly tougher schedule. Like the UNC Asheville game, expect this one to be close, but the Winthrop attack will have to do better than last week after being shut out, and recapture the form they had against the likes of Citadel two weeks ago when they won 3-0. Jai Jackson has come off the bench and been used in various roles – her effort against East Tennessee State in a deeper central midfield role than usual was especially impressive and it would be encouraging to see her used in that role more often.
Albany (Claire Urquhart)
This week: at UMBC – 3am, Monday September 28
Well, what a difference a couple of years makes. In 2013, UMBC had an Australian in the form of Lilly Rydon and rolled through the America East conference whilst Albany had two wins all season. Now, Albany have an Aussie and whilst they aren’t yet what UMBC were then, UMBC are even lower in the pecking order. Albany have compiled a relatively solid 5-5 record so far this year, whilst UMBC are sitting at just 2-7-1 and have lost to some pretty ordinary teams, too. Albany will be favourites in this one to start the conference season on a high with a win. Hopefully Claire Urquhart can get some playing time in this one – she’s been solid in her performances so far but hasn’t been seen in a few games.
Creighton (Anastasia McCleary)
This week: at Marquette – 4am, Monday September 28
You can’t fault Creighton’s 8-3 record so far this season, but the Big East is a whole new kettle of fish, or birds as it were this week as the Bluejays take on Marquette’s Golden Eagles. Marquette have only compiled a 3-4-3 record so far this season, but have played seven RPI Top 100 teams in comparison to Creighton’s sole Top 100 opponent in Seattle. Therefore, it’s a bit hard to gauge where these teams are, but despite the side’s differing records, Marquette may just be favourites. Anastasia McCleary is still coming back from a slight twinge and her minutes are still up in the air, but expect these to increase as she returns to full fitness.
Murray State (Nyomi Devine, Harriet Withers)
This week: v Saint Louis – 4am, Monday September 28
Murray State had a midweek win over Eastern Kentucky in which Harriet Withers scored the opening goal, and they’ll be looking to kick on in this interesting non-conference match wedged into the conference season against Saint Louis. These sides are almost identical in record at the moment – both sit at 5-3 for the year, and are within 20 spots of each other in the RPI rankings. Both Harriet Withers and Nyomi Devine will be required to do a lot as per usual, but Nyomi especially will be tested by the Saint Louis attack, which scored four goals or more in three of its wins, whilst also going down 4-3 in another.
Washington State (Tia Gavin)
This week: at Arizona State – 4am, Monday September 28
Washington State missed out on a perfect non-conference season by virtue of last week’s 2-0 loss to Portland, but they have a real chance to bounce back this week against Arizona State. The Sun Devils haven’t enjoyed quite the same success as Washington State, compiling just a 4-3 record so far, although in some of those games they were outmatched from the outset and never really expected to win. Still, Washington State’s schedule hasn’t exactly been full of scrubs and they will be expected to win this one. Tia Gavin has been creating real troubles off the bench in her appearances so far, and impact off the bench may well become her modus operandi as her freshman year continues, though it would be great to see the Sydneysider get a start.
Colorado (Kahlia Hogg, Alex Huynh)
This week: v California – 5am, Monday September 28
Colorado have had a good start to the season, going 6-2-1 so far, but now they run into one of the form teams in the country in the form of California, once home to US national team striker Alex Morgan and Perth Glory fullback Bronwyn Studman. With a 6-1-2 record, including a draw against North Carolina which is that side’s only non-win this season, the Golden Bears will be confident of securing victory. Colorado have plenty to be confident about as well though, with five wins in their last six games. Alex Huynh has been more than solid for Colorado, and hopefully Kahlia Hogg will be back this week after what has turned into a slightly protracted absence from the side.