Eight Aussies across five teams remain in the hunt for a national championship across the NCAA Division II and NAIA Tournaments, and all have a legitimate case as to why they should be considered among the contenders.
At NCAA Division II level, Gannon may be the fourth seed in their section of the draw, but are fresh off a 3-1 victory over #1 seed Charleston. The Golden Knights were good value for their win as Paige Taylor finished as one of ten players credited with a shot as Gannon outshot their opponents 18-8. Due to the regionality of the NCAA Division II Tournament, many of the teams facing off at this stage have already played each other in conference play earlier in the campaign. Gannon’s matchup with West Chester is no different, as these teams met in the PSAC Championship game just a few weeks ago. On that occasion, West Chester secured the victory and the trophy, but the 2-1 result showed how closely matched these teams are and Gannon are certainly in with a shot in this one.
Ashley Hughes and Catawba also faced their upcoming opponents in a conference championship game, and their upcoming matchup with Lenoir-Rhyne will be the third contest between the two teams in 2023. Lenoir-Rhyne won the regular season matchup 2-1, before securing the SAC championship on penalties after a 2-2 draw after extra time. However, although Catawba are yet to find a positive result against the Bears, they have been right in both games. With this game featuring the #1 and #2 seeds in this part of the draw and the winner facing either a #3 or #5 seed in the next round, the draw could really open up for Catawba if they could secure a win.
However, Ayana Aoyagi, Eve Tiktikakis, and Florida Tech could have something to say about that as they are the #3 seed in that matchup against #5 seed Nova Southeastern. As is the case with Catawba and Gannon, Florida Tech finished as runner-up in their conference championship, falling to a 1-0 defeat to Embry-Riddle of Florida in the final. They have also played Nova Southeastern earlier in this season, suffering a 1-0 defeat in a game that saw their opponents win the shot count 15-6, although each team put five on target on that occasion. Aoyagi will have things locked down between the sticks for the Panthers, and if the attack can couple that shooting efficiency with a higher quantity of chances, a potential matchup of Aussie goalkeepers between Aoyagi and Hughes could await.
Two more Aussie goalkeepers feature in the NAIA Tournament, but being on opposite sides of the draw means it will take both sides reaching the final for Zara Board and defender Georgia Little of Keiser to meet Georgia Martell and Cumberlands.
Keiser will kick things off at the final site in Foley, Alabama, facing #1 seed William Carey in their round of sixteen matchup. These teams faced off early in the season, coincidentally at this very venue in the Orange Beach Classic, with two penalties in the final four minutes delivering William Carey a 4-3 win in September. The Seahawks will no doubt be salivating at the idea of delivering revenge at the best possible time after being on the wrong end of that kind of result, and both Australians should be heavily involved as they have been integral to their side’s fortunes throughout the campaign.
Meanwhile, Georgia Martell and Cumberlands enter the final bracket as the #3 seed and will take on Ottawa University of Arizona in their round of sixteen matchup. Unsurprisingly for teams based in Kentucky and Arizona, this is the one game this week that doesn’t feature teams who have already faced off this season. Both teams finished with 14 wins in 18 games, and although Ottawa come in as an unseeded team, they have already knocked off #14 seed Embry-Riddle of Arizona to get this far. Expect to see Georgia Martell just as heavily involved as the other Aussie goalkeepers still involved across both tournaments, as those between the sticks take centre stage at the most important time.
NCAA Division II Tournament
Catawba (Ashley Hughes)
Round of 16: v Lenoir-Rhyne – 7:00AM, Saturday December 2
Florida Tech (Ayana Aoyagi, Eve Tiktikakis)
Round of 16: v Nova Southeastern – 10:00AM, Saturday December 2
Gannon (Holly Gray, Paige Taylor)
Round of 16: v West Chester – 5:00AM, Saturday December 2
Cumberlands (KY) (Georgia Martell)
Round of 16: v Ottawa (AZ) – 9:00AM, Wednesday November 29
Keiser (FL) (Zara Board, Georgia Little)
Round of 16: v William Carey – 3:00AM, Tuesday November 28