After a couple of weeks out through injury (yes, I was injured, not just lazy), we’re back for the business end of the season! The regular season is done, conference tournaments are in the books, and it’s time for the NCAA Tournament. This year, four teams with Aussies will be involved: Albany (Claire Urquhart), Hofstra (Emily Hulbert), Murray State (Nyomi Devine, Harriet Withers), and Washington State (Tia Gavin), with all bar Washington State travelling to face their first round opponents.
Albany (Claire Urquhart)
First Round: at Penn State – 10:30am, Saturday November 14
Albany RPI: 188
Penn State RPI: 2
This game is, on paper, the third biggest mismatch in the entire first round of the competition, with 186 spots in the RPI rankings separating the two sides. Unfortunately, it’s Albany who are on the wrong side of that ledger. Penn State have compiled a 16-3-2 record whilst facing the sixth toughest schedule in the nation. Conversely, Albany’s record for the season is 11-8-1, with a schedule that sits at 227th in the strength of schedule rankings. With the likes of Britt Eckerstrom in goal, and Mallory Weber and Megan Schafer up front for Penn State, Albany will have to pull out all the stops if they are to somehow come away with an absolute boilover victory in this one. Unfortunately, we are unlikely to see Claire Urquhart play, but it’s still her team and we’ll still be supporting them.
Murray State (Nyomi Devine, Harriet Withers)
First Round: at Ole Miss – 12:30pm, Saturday November 14
Murray State RPI: 94
Ole Miss RPI: 29
It’s been an absolute dream of a conference season for Murray State in 2015, going undefeated in both regular season and tournament play on their way to booking their spot in the national tournament. Ole Miss were defeated by eventual SEC finalist Texas A&M in their own conference tournament, but did enough throughout the season to easily snag an at-large bid in the tournament, going 13-5-2 this season. Murray State are the clear underdogs in this one, but the Racers are riding high and if there’s any time that they’re going to cause a boilover, it’s now. Expect Harriet Withers and Nyomi Devine to both have significant impact as the Aussies continue their roles as integral parts of the Murray State side, with Harriet recently being named Ohio Valley Conference Offensive Player Of The Year.
Hofstra (Emily Hulbert)
First Round: at Georgetown – 5:00am, Sunday November 15
Hofstra RPI: 21
Georgetown RPI: 37
Hofstra are travelling to Washington, D.C. to play Georgetown, but it is the Pride who rank higher on paper. With a 13-5-1 record compared to Georgetown’s 11-5-3 against almost identical strength of schedule numbers, Georgetown’s slight edge may come in the fact that they have a win over RPI #32 St. John’s. With a senior class featuring the likes of star player Leah Galton, expect Hofstra to go all-out to prove that they are one of the top teams in college soccer, especially after last year’s snub. This could be one of the closest games in the entire first round, but Hofstra may just have the edge in this one. Expect to see Emily Hulbert off the bench in her usual supporting role, playing half an hour or so and giving the starters some vital rest.
Washington State (Tia Gavin)
First Round: v Northwestern – 12:00pm, Sunday November 15
Washington State RPI: 28
Northwestern RPI: 44
Washington State’s second half of the season wasn’t quite as good as their 8-0 start, but the Cougars did finish with three wins on the trot to come into the national tournament on a high, especially having defeated arch rival Washington in their final game. Those wins kept Washington State in the top 30 in RPI and in line to host their first round game, which they will do against Northwestern. The Wildcats didn’t have any long winning streaks like Washington State did, but they did put together three wins in a row on three occasions this season on their way to a 13-5-2 record. Washington State will have the edge, but Northwestern have a good record on the road, whilst the Cougars are just 5-4 this season in Pullman. It’s unlikely that we will see Tia Gavin play significant minutes, but she has been able to provide valuable help in cameo roles off the bench, so we may yet see an impact from the freshman striker.