NCAA Division I Tournament Preview

Twelve weeks of college soccer have come and gone, and we have arrived at the NCAA Division I Tournament. Six Aussies across five teams are in the field of 64 this season, with auto-bid winners Hofstra and Grand Canyon joined by at-large selections USC, Stanford, and Butler. Butler were almost certainly one of the final teams selected for the tournament, whilst Oregon may have a case to feel aggrieved at not receiving a berth as they fell just on the wrong side of the bubble. USC with their pair of American-raised Aussies look to be the best chance of a title as they hold a #3 seed in their chase for a first title since now Brisbane Lions AFLW player Lulu Pullar won a championship with the Trojans in 2016. Intriguingly, the Trojans side featuring Isabel Rolley and Talia Grossman will take on Sandra Hill and Grand Canyon in the first round, so we are guaranteed at least one Australian in the second round.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the teams’ first round matchups…

Butler (Claire Farrington)

First Round: @ Wisconsin – 10am, Saturday November 13

Butler must have been one of the last teams selected for the NCAA Tournament, so it is little surprise to see they’ve been sent on the road to face Wisconsin in the opening round. However, it is the Bulldogs who have the higher RPI ranking and 15 wins to Wisconsin’s 8, although Wisconsin’s record is helped significantly by their strength of schedule. Butler possess the far more potent attack of these two teams, averaging an even two goals per game, but both defences give up less than a goal per contest, so the attacks will need to be firing at both ends. Hopefully this game also sees the return of Claire Farrington to the starting lineup after the former Brisbane Roar defender came off the bench in the Bulldogs’ last game.

For the Bulldogs, a win would give them their first in NCAA Tournament history, having been knocked out in the first round in 2015 and 2017 in their two previous appearances. Should they defeat Wisconsin, a likely matchup with UCLA in the second round as the Bruins face UC Irvine, whilst a Sweet Sixteen matchup with conference nemesis Georgetown potentially looms should both teams get through their first two games successfully.

Tale of the Tape:

Grand Canyon (Sandra Hill)

First Round: @ USC – 8am, Sunday November 14

Having reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history, Grand Canyon were rewarded with a trip to Los Angeles to face #3 seed USC in the opening round. Although they may not have played the same level of schedule that USC did, the Lopes actually have a better scoring average than their more fancied opponents, tallying 2.86 goals per game on their way to the WAC title. Moreover, their defence conceded fewer goals per game than USC. However, the Trojans will be by far the best opponent that Grand Canyon have faced this season, and they’ll have to play on the road at McAllister Field in Los Angeles. However, as the underdogs, Grand Canyon have nothing to lose, and it is very dangerous to fight someone who has nothing to lose.

Sandra Hill has seen minutes off the bench in the majority of games this season, missing out on playing time on just five occasions. For a player who has been such an integral part of getting Grand Canyon to the point where they have reached their first NCAA Tournament, there are few players who would be more deserving of seeing the pitch than the Cambodian national team player in her final year of college soccer.

Tale of the Tape:

Hofstra (Grace Watson Carr)

First Round: v Providence – 5am, Sunday November 14

Hofstra secured a fourth CAA title in five seasons on the weekend with their championship game victory over Northeastern, and the opening round of the NCAA Tournament sees the Pride host Big East side Providence as they look to demonstrate that conference affiliation means little if your team is good enough. Despite regularly reaching the tournament over the last few seasons, the Pride have yet to advance past the second round in any of their last four appearances, and the goal for this team will be to change that trend by defeating both Providence and their Round of 32 opponent, which will be the winner of the game between #2 seed North Carolina and South Carolina.

As one of the backup goalkeepers to permanent starter Skylar Kuzmich, it is unlikely we will see Grace Watson Carr take to the pitch, but you never know what can happen in football.

Tale Of The Tape:

Stanford (Amy Sayer)

First Round: @ Santa Clara – 8am, Sunday November 14

The fact that this game is a first-round matchup is yet another example of why the NCAA needs to do away with geographical constraints for first-round matchups and seed the tournament properly. However, the matchup between the two most recent national champions is what we’ve been delivered and it has the makings of a blockbuster. Santa Clara’s title defence has had its ups and downs, whilst Stanford are still building after the mass exodus of NWSL talent following their 2019 championship.

This game really could go either way. Neither team has been spectacular this season, but have put in solid if unremarkable campaigns. With Stanford ranked #31 in the RPI and Santa Clara at #32, it really is difficult to split them. Perhaps Amy Sayer, in her role as a game-changer off the bench, can be the spark that Stanford need to get them through a first round contest between two good teams, neither of which really deserves to be knocked out in the first round. But until the NCAA decides that competitive fairness is more important than penny-pinching on geographically-based matchups, things like this will continue to happen.

Tale Of The Tape:

USC (Talia Grossman, Isabel Rolley)

First Round: v Grand Canyon – 8am, Sunday November 14

We’ll never know if their final day loss to UCLA cost USC a #2 seed, but the team from Los Angeles have been slotted into a #3 seeding spot for the tournament and will face Grand Canyon in the opening round. With only three losses this season, all of which came against RPI Top 30 teams, USC come into this game against Sandra Hill and Grand Canyon as the favourites, but perhaps not the prohibitive favourites you would expect considering the relative pedigree of each team. However, with an attack that has smashed home almost three goals per game against an elite schedule, one would expect the Trojans to advance here. Should they do so, they will face the winner of Penn State and Monmouth, and if Hofstra can muster two wins, there is the chance of an Aussie v Aussie matchup in the Sweet Sixteen.

As backup goalkeeper, Talia Grossman is not expected to feature for USC, but hopefully Isabel Rolley sees some playing time off the bench after featuring in 12 games to this point and putting in some solid performances whilst averaging around 35 minutes per contest.

Tale Of The Tape:

About Lachy 383 Articles
Founder of College Matildas. An Australian women's football fan who also happens to be a college sports fan. Often found at A-League Women or NPLW games.

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