(Featured Image Credit: University of Wyoming Media Relations)
It may be conference tournament season, but ironically enough the team with the best shot at a title won’t actually be playing in a tournament at all. That team is Beattie Goad’s Stanford outfit, whose Pac-12 conference champion is decided on league results. Coming into the final week, Stanford are tied atop the standings with USC, but have a rescheduled game against Arizona State in their pocket and as such are the only team to play two games this weekend. First up, the Cardinal take on local rivals California on the road at Berkeley, and with the Golden Bears sitting in 11th spot in the 12-team league, a win to clinch no less than a share of the title looks especially likely for a Stanford team that continues to roll on during an undefeated streak that now stretches the best part of two seasons. Stanford can then secure the title for themselves against Arizona State, where any points would be enough to make the result of USC’s game against third-placed UCLA game moot in terms of Stanford’s position.
Speaking of UCLA, Teagan Micah’s Bruins will play that game against local rivals USC at the StubHub Centre, home of the LA Galaxy, in a game that drew a crowd in excess of 10,000 last season when played on campus at UCLA. A win is the only way that UCLA can mount an unlikely challenge for the Pac-12 title, but even if Stanford’s results don’t go their way, a win against another top team will do wonders for their seeding in the NCAA Tournament.
Rounding out the Pac-12 is Isobel Dalton and Colorado, who need to get a result against Utah in their final match of the regular season to secure their own NCAA Tournament spot. As it stands, the Buffaloes are just about in, but dropping points to a Utah side that sits well below them in the RPI rankings would just about destroy any chance of Colorado holding onto that tournament spot. After a 16-game unbeaten run to start the season, making the tournament is essentially non-negotiable for the Buffaloes at this stage, but they’ll have to put in the work to get there, particularly after Utah were able to snatch a draw against USC last week.
Moving onto conference tournaments, two teams have already secured their spots in championship games in tournaments that started last weekend. Monique Iannella and Grace Watson-Carr’s Hofstra put together a pair of 1-0 wins against Delaware and Northeastern to secure their passage through to the CAA Championship game against James Madison, whilst an Albany side featuring Claire Urquhart has only Massachusetts-Lowell standing between them and a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Meanwhile, four other teams have made their way through to conference tournament semi-finals and find themselves two games away from capturing a conference championship and an NCAA Tournament berth. Caitlin Cantrill’s LSU side have probably done enough to secure an at-large bid regardless, but will still want to capture the SEC crown. They’ll face national title contender South Carolina, whilst in the Big 12, Demi Koulizakis and Texas Tech are in the same boat with a solid record to this point and a game against potential national #1 seed Baylor in the semi-finals not threatening to do any damage to their CV even if they were to suffer a loss.
Ashleigh Lefevre and Illinois sit right on the bubble, and facing Penn State in the Big Ten semi-finals not only gives the Illini a chance to reach the conference championship, but also really bolster their CV against a team that sits in the top 25 of the RPI rankings. Like LSU and Texas Tech, they may not need a conference title in order to reach the NCAA Tournament, but they Isabel Hodgson and East Tennessee State, on the other hand, are in a completely different situation. Completely out of the race for an at-large bid, winning the Southern Conference championship is the only way the Buccaneers are going to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament. They’ll face #2 seed UNC Greensboro in the semi-finals, and whilst the yearly body of work suggests that ETSU come in as underdogs, they do have a win against UNC Greensboro this season under their belts.
Five more teams start their own conference tournaments this week, but we can only see a maximum of four champions from this set as Sam Roff’s Fairleigh Dickinson side and Shelby Milton’s St. Francis outfit both reached the Northeast Conference tournament. The two sides faced off in last year’s championship game, with St. Francis emerging victorious on penalties, and with one team in each of the semi-finals in 2018, there is no reason the same matchup can’t occur again in this year’s tournament.
Lauren Featherstone and North Dakota State will also start in the semi-final round in the Summit League’s four-team tournament, facing Denver in the 2 v 3 matchup. All the numbers point towards a Denver victory in this one, but North Dakota State ran the Pioneers close in their regular season contest, falling 3-2 in a barnburner of a contest.
The Australian quartet at Wyoming earned their way to the semi-finals of the Mountain West Conference tournament through their regular season performance, securing a bye as the 2nd seed in the six-team tournament. The Cowgirls will take on fellow co-champions New Mexico, who defeated Colorado College in the 3 v 6 matchup earlier in the week. With the teams tied atop the table in the regular season, this looks certain to be a tight one, but Wyoming did defeat New Mexico 3-2 in the regular season.
Sandra Hill’s Grand Canyon and Gaby Bentley’s Old Dominion have also reached the WAC and Conference USA tournaments respectively, but if they’re going to secure an unlikely conference title, it’s going to happen the hard way as both will start in the quarter-finals. Grand Canyon will face Utah Valley in their first game of the WAC Tournament, and will start as slight favourites despite playing out a 0-0 draw with the Wolverines just 10 days ago. Meanwhile, Old Dominion will face Louisiana Tech in the 4 v 5 matchup in Conference USA. This is a game in which Old Dominion will start as slight favourites, but Louisiana Tech will be confident after winning their regular season matchup 3-2 in late September.
Albany (Claire Urquhart)
This week: v Massachusetts-Lowell – 5am, Monday November 5 (America East Conference Championship Game)
Colorado (Isobel Dalton)
This week: v Utah – 8am, Saturday November 3
East Tennessee State (Isabel Hodgson)
This week: v UNC Greensboro – 9:30am, Saturday November 3 (Southern Conference Tournament Semi-Final)
Fairleigh Dickinson (Sam Roff)
This week: @ Central Connecticut State – 4am, Saturday November 3 (Northeast Conference Tournament Semi-Final)
Grand Canyon (Sandra Hill)
This week: @ Utah Valley – 8am, Thursday November 1 (WAC Tournament Quarter-Final)
Hofstra (Monique Iannella, Grace Watson-Carr)
This week: @ James Madison – 4am, Sunday November 4 (Colonial Athletic Association Championship Game)
Illinois (Ashleigh Lefevre)
This week: v Penn State – 2am, Saturday November 3 (Big Ten Conference Tournament Semi-Final)
LSU (Caitlin Cantrill)
This week: v South Carolina – 10am, Friday November 2 (SEC Tournament Semi-Final)
North Dakota State (Lauren Featherstone)
This week: v Denver – 10am, Friday November 2 (Summit League Tournament Semi-Final)
Old Dominion (Gaby Bentley)
This week: v Louisiana Tech – 10am, Thursday November 1 (C-USA Tournament Quarter-Final)
St. Francis University (Shelby Milton)
This week: v Mount St. Mary’s – 7am, Saturday November 3 (Northeast Conference Tournament Semi-Final)
Stanford (Beattie Goad)
This week: @ California – 9am, Saturday November 3
Texas Tech (Demi Koulizakis)
This week: v Baylor – 8am, Sunday November 4 (Big 12 Conference Tournament Semi-Final)
UCLA (Teagan Micah)
This week: v USC – 1pm, Saturday November 3
Wyoming (Indianna Asimus, Annika Clayton, Jessie Gentle, Caitlin Pickett)
This week: v New Mexico – 10am, Friday November 2 (Mountain West Conference Tournament Semi-Final)