Even accounting for the reduction in teams in the upcoming NCAA Tournament from 64 to 48, numbers are still rather thin on the ground for the Aussies in North Carolina for the event. Just three Aussies spread across two teams will feature, with programs at opposite ends of the spectrum involved. Alabama State would have to pull off one of the great upsets in tournament history if they were to topple Penn State in the opening round, whilst for USC, a trip to the Elite Eight would be an absolute minimum requirement, and lifting the trophy is not out of the question. The early rounds of the competition will be streamed live on ncaa.com, before moving to the ESPN family of networks for the College Cup semi-finals and final.
Alabama State (Grace Norbury, Sophie Bui)
1st Round Matchup: Penn State – 9am, Thursday April 29
The only team featuring Aussies to win a conference championship this season, the centralised nature of the tournament opened up a raft of possibilities for Alabama State’s first round opponent. Having met South Carolina in consecutive years due to geographical constraints in their previous two tournament appearances in 2016 and 2017, the Spring 2021 tournament will see the Hornets face a Big Ten team for the first time in school history as they take on Penn State. The regular season Big Ten champions, Penn State not securing a top-16 seed and first-round bye seems almost perplexing given the events of previous seasons, but in this season, anything is possible. Which is the mindset Alabama State will need going into this match. As is the case every year, the SWAC Champions (regardless of team) come into their first-round matchup as massive outsiders. Lopsided losses are not unusual, however Alabama State’s 3-0 defeat to South Carolina in 2017 was one of the closer matches for a SWAC team. There is no way to paint this matchup in a way that shows the Hornets as the favourites, but they are certainly going to give it a red-hot crack, and it will certainly be entertaining. Grace Norbury is likely to start in midfield in her first NCAA Tournament game, having played a talismanic role for the Hornets all season. Meanwhile, Sophie Bui has seen far more limited opportunities but has been dangerous when given the chance, and will certainly provide a spark if called upon.
USC (Talia Grossman)
2nd Round Matchup: Ole Miss or Bowling Green – 8am, Saturday May 1
Having earned a bye through to the second round of the 48-team tournament as the eighth overall seed, backup goalkeeper Talia Grossman and USC have plenty of time off before they play their first tournament game against either Bowling Green or Ole Miss, the former home of Tasmanian wing-back Aimee Medwin. Given that they will be hot favourites in that game regardless of opponent, it may be prescient to look further along in the draw at what may lay ahead for the Women of Troy. Should they get past whichever of the Rebels or Falcons they play in the second round, a highly tricky contest against either #9 seed Duke or conference rival Arizona State potentially awaits in the Sweet 16. Arizona State are one of just three teams to defeat USC this year, which only adds to the intrigue. #1 seed Florida State would await in the Elite Eight, but frankly, one could throw a picnic blanket over the seeds in this topsy-turvy season, with USC having already snagged a pair of draws against #3 seed UCLA this season. If the potent goalscoring duo of Penelope Hocking and Tara McKeown, who have combined for 17 goals in 13 games, are able to fire, supported by Savannah DeMelo and first-season sensation Croix Bethune, there isn’t a defence in the country that can be confident of gaining the upper hand. Having also kept seven clean sheets in their 13 contests, the USC defence also knows how to get the job done, with Kaylie Collins standing tall – metaphorically and literally given the senior is listed at 5’10 – between the sticks with a save percentage of 80.7%. Are USC the favourites to win the whole thing? No, but they weren’t favourites in 2016 either, and that didn’t make a difference as Lulu Pullar became the first Aussie to win a College Cup title.