Whilst on the NCAA Division I front, things didn’t exactly go to plan as both teams featuring Aussies went out in the first game, the NAIA Tournament was a different story. Emma Farrelly all the way to the championship game as national powerhouses William Carey and Keiser clashed for all the marbles in a repeat of the 2018 decider.
NCAA Division I Tournament
Alabama State (Grace Norbury, Sophie Bui)
1st Round: lost to Penn State 5-0
Alabama State were always predicted to be right up against it against Big Ten regular season champions Penn State, but a valiant second-half performance saw the Nittany Lions only able to add one more goal after striking four times in the opening 45 minutes. The Hornets weren’t without their chances either, with McKenna Wiscombe putting a shot from a narrow angle just wide early in the second half, and Australian freshman Grace Norbury tallying the team’s only shot on target. However, this was always likely to be Penn State’s day, and indeed it was the Big Ten side that advanced. Penn State would go on to beat #16 seed Vanderbilt 2-0 in the Round of 32 before falling to overall #1 seed Florida State in the Sweet Sixteen.
As per normal service, Grace Norbury was one of Alabama State’s better players on the night, playing 82 minutes. Sophie Bui also reprised her role of impact player off the bench with a seven minute cameo as the Australian duo got a taste of NCAA Tournament action for the first time.
USC (Talia Grossman)
1st Round: Bye
2nd Round: lost to Ole Miss 3-2 on penalties (2-2 AET)
USC came into their game against Ole Miss as hot favourites, and indeed those predictions looked as though they would hold true as the Women of Troy went up 2-0 with goals in the 23rd and 43rd minutes to Tara McKeown and Zoe Burns respectively. However, that would be the last of the scoring from USC as Ole Miss mounted a comeback. Haleigh Stackpole’s 69th minute strike gave Ole Miss a pulse before Ramsey Davis equalised ten minutes later on an assist from Stackpole before the game moved into golden goal extra time. USC were gifted a chance to advance from the spot just two minutes into the first additional period, but Penelope Hocking’s penalty was saved by Ole Miss goalkeeper Ashley Orkus in a cruel foreshadowing of future events. USC had the better of the 20 minutes of overtime, but the game would eventually go to penalties. Goals were hard to come by in the shootout, with Channing Foster’s opening strike for Ole Miss followed by four consecutive unsuccessful strikes before Olufolasade Adamolekun equalised for USC. Three more successful penalties followed, before Orkus saved USC’s fifth penalty from McKeown to hand the Rebels a 3-2 shootout victory to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
Backup goalkeeper Talia Grossman did not feature for USC, but will no doubt be better for the experience of a season learning from goalkeepers Kaylie Collins and Anna Smith, who together form one of the better pairings in college soccer.
William Carey (Emma Farrelly)
Opening Round Semi-Final: defeated LSU Shreveport 3-0
Opening Round Final: defeated Cumberland (Tenn.) 5-1
Championship Round Quarter-Final: defeated Central Methodist 4-0
Championship Round Semi-Final: defeated Marian (Ind.) 2-0
National Championship Game: lost to Keiser (Fla.) 2-1 (OT)
William Carey are one of the powerhouses of NAIA women’s soccer, so it was unsurprising to see Emma Farrelly’s side march all the way to the championship game. The Crusaders dominated their opening round regional bracket, scoring 8 goals and conceding just 1 to earn a bye through to the quarter-finals of the 10-team national championship bracket. Little changed in that quarter-final against Central Methodist, with William Carey scoring four goals in the space of 18 second-half minutes to roll to a 4-0 victory before facing a sterner test against Indiana-based Marian University, the same team that defeated the Crusaders in a shootout in the 2019 semi-finals. There, it would take another second-half burst to turn the tide in William Carey’s favour as goals in the 58th and 73rd minutes secured a 2-0 victory, with Marian’s inability to hit the target with more than two of their 11 shots a factor as the Crusaders peppered the opposition net with eight shots on target.
The win over Marian delivered the Crusaders a chance to repeat their efforts from the 2018 National Championship game as they faced fellow national powerhouse Keiser University. On that occasion, William Carey picked up a 1-0 victory, and took the lead once again in the 33rd minute of this game with the opening goal. However, Keiser would respond from a corner five minutes before halftime, and with the teams combining for just three shots on target in the second half, overtime always loomed large. It would only take one shot in overtime to finish things though, with Keiser picking up the golden goal and the national title in the 95th minute to exact revenge for 2018.
Freshman Farrelly was utilised in a role off the bench throughout the early stages of the tournament, making brief cameos in each of the first three games as William Carey rolled through the early stages. However, the rotation became a lot smaller in the semi-final and championship game, leaving Farrelly without minutes in the crunch games.
Overall, it was far from the best postseason for Australian players, however the news is not all bad. With another season less than four months away, there is plenty of opportunity for a number of teams to bounce back quickly. Amy Sayer and Stanford are highly unlikely to miss the NCAA Tournament for a second time, whilst Grace Watson Carr’s Hofstra side are always among the favourites for the Colonial Athletic Association title and only narrowly missed an at-large bid for the spring tournament. With a number of exciting freshmen on the way, including Adelaide United’s Lara Kirkby heading to Pac-12 school Oregon, there is plenty to look forward to in the future.
Of course, the tournament action isn’t quite complete, with the NJCAA Tournament to take place in early June following next week’s District Championships.