NCAA Soccer: 5 Things You Need To Know
Missed the week that was in college soccer? Don't worry, while we await the game that should settle the ACC regular-season championship when No. 6 North Carolina hosts No. 2 Florida State on Thursday (ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET), we've got you covered with five developments worth knowing from the past week.
1. South Carolina gets a big win -- and avoids a big loss
All you need to know about how much senior goalkeeper Sabrina D'Angelo means to South Carolina is that she's the reason her team's win against No. 5 Florida might not have been the best news of the week in Columbia.
Let's go in order. The Gamecocks pulled off their biggest win of the season, and one of the most notable results of the week in college soccer, with a 3-2 win against the Gators this past Thursday. After watching a 2-0 halftime lead disappear on a goal by Florida's Havana Solaun in the 85th minute, her second goal in the second half, South Carolina bounced back when freshman Savannah McCaskill completed a brace of her own. McCaskill, who totaled two goals in her first 15 appearances this season, scored her second goal of the game off a corner kick in the 89th minute.
South Carolina is setting a torrid pace at the gate this season, averaging 2,922 fans over 10 home games, more than double what was already one of the better marks in the SEC in recent seasons. But four 1-0 losses against quality opponents, including three in front of those home crowds, dropped South Carolina out of the Top 25. The win against the Gators should change that.
So what did D'Angelo do that could trump a season-defining win? It's more about what she hopefully didn't do. With a little less than 10 minutes to play in the first half of Sunday's 2-0 win against Ole Miss, she rose to grab a ball in the air off a corner kick, landed with minimal contact in traffic and immediately crumpled to the ground in what replays showed was obvious pain as she held her left knee. That's a combination that leads anyone to think of three letters: ACL. D'Angelo eventually walked off the field but didn't return. The Canadian international is as good a keeper as there is in the college game. Without her, South Carolina would realistically go from a potentially dangerous postseason team to one that would just be there. But coach Shelley Smith said after Sunday's game that the injury is "not something that will keep her out." If so, that's the result that matters.
2. Kentucky makes Florida's weekend doubly painful
It wasn't a week short on upsets. No. 7 Pepperdine lost at home against San Diego. No. 10 Virginia Tech was similarly stunned at home by Wake Forest. A week after playing the role of David against Penn State, No. 14 Rutgers lost at home in overtime against Northwestern. And that doesn't even count the craziness of a 2-2 draw between No. 24 Michigan and Ohio State in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that had to feel like a loss for the Wolverines when they conceded a 90th-minute equalizer against their arch rivals -- 13 seconds after taking the lead themselves.
Compared with those results, losing on the road against a quality side like South Carolina or Kentucky is forgivable. The problem for Florida is that it lost to both of them. And that may well cost the Gators not just an SEC championship but also a shot at one of the top four seeds in the NCAA tournament and the corresponding opportunity, if a bid is placed, to host the first four rounds. Still, downgrade the Gators at your peril. Florida's possession helped it win on the road against Florida State and Texas A&M and probably should have been good enough for a draw at Stanford. But within that possession, the Gators' inefficiency in the final third, especially in getting the ball to Savannah Jordan, proved costly on the road this past week.
As with South Carolina, credit Kentucky, too. Playing an unfamiliar 3-5-2 that maximized Arin Gilliland's two-way skills, they soaked up a lot of pressure for the first 30 minutes but never panicked. With successive wins against South Carolina, Ole Miss and Florida, the Wildcats should have long since removed any hint of the NCAA tournament bubble from their résumé.
3. A Hermann Trophy campaign in Johnson City, Tennessee
Good luck determining a Hermann Trophy favorite with but a few weeks remaining in the regular season. Reigning winner Morgan Brian played just as well, if not better, in the season's opening months as she did a season ago, but she's in the midst of an extended absence in order to play for the United States. UCLA's Samantha Mewis had a goal and two assists in a rout of Arizona this past week and would make a deserving winner, but the embarrassment of riches in Westwood at the moment means the same could be said for teammates Abby Dahlkemper and Sarah Killion. Then there are Florida State's Dagny Brynjarsdottir, Florida's Jordan, Virginia's Danielle Colaprico, Pepperdine's Lynn Williams, Texas A&M's Shea Groom and more -- the problem isn't a shortage of candidates.
That includes the one playing her soccer in Johnson City, Tennessee.
No, East Tennessee State's Hannah Short isn't going to win the Hermann. And that's fair. (Besides, if Sarah Hagen couldn't get a sniff during her run at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, no player from beyond the mainstream will.) But Short is in the midst of a season worth celebrating. The nation's leading scorer, as fellow Englishwoman Rachel Daly was a season ago, she continued to pull away from the pack with a hat trick in East Tennessee State's 7-0 win against VMI this past week. Her 23 goals this season are six more than any other player (Austrian teammate Sarah Zadrazil, another of 13 European players representing six FIFA federations on the roster, leads Division I with 18 assists). Obviously, Short isn't piling up her goals against Top 25 opponents, but it's not as if East Tennessee State is a giant itself. As it seeks its first trip to the NCAA tournament, its 14 wins so far this season are already a program record.
And Short's contributions don't stop with the goals she scores.
When East Tennessee State took the field Sunday against UNC Greensboro, a game between teams in second and third place in the league, Short lined up in the back line. Primarily a defender until this season, all those goals have come while she's split time between forward and defender. She didn't score Sunday, but UNC Greensboro didn't score much against her in a 3-1 loss.
4. The Big 12 road goes through Morgantown
It was No. 9 Kansas, unbeaten in its first four Big 12 games, that controlled its own fate when the week began. But a failed clearance set up a Texas Tech goal just before halftime in Friday's game between the Jayhawks and Red Raiders, and that proved to be the game's only goal. Regret proved a theme for the Jayhawks. Another missed clearance on a corner kick set up the opening goal for West Virginia's Kate Schwindel in Sunday's game at Kansas. Schwindel added a second goal, and the 2-0 win moved No. 16 West Virginia to 4-0-1 in the league, tied on points with Oklahoma State (4-1-1) but with a game in hand as the Cowgirls visit Morgantown on Friday.
If the Mountaineers win their final three games, all at home, they win the league for the third time in as many tries.
West Virginia didn't dominate Kansas, not like it did in a 3-0 win at cellar-dweller Iowa State days earlier, but it rarely let itself get stretched against a potent offense. That's increasingly par for the course. After allowing seven goals in its first three games, including losses against Penn State and Duke, it has allowed just five in the past 12 games.
5. The nation's other unbeaten team slips but doesn't stumble
Both UCLA and DePaul play in large cities. Both are unbeaten. And that's about where the similarities end.
From the program's inception in 1996 through the 2012 season, DePaul lost an average of 12 games a season. It never lost fewer than seven games in that span and won double-digit games just four times. Even as the tide turned under Erin Chastain, the coach who probably gets tired of hearing she is Brandi Chastain's sister-in-law, it was slow going. Literally. Last season's 13-6-2 record was the third winning record in five seasons, but that success was also earned by inviting the kind of gridlock more common on Chicago streets at rush hour. DePaul scored 25 goals in 21 games a season ago and took 133 fewer shots than its opponents. Yet those opponents scored just 15 goals.
So while a week that included a draw at Butler might not seem to underscore that DePaul (13-0-3), which last week checked in at No. 31 in the RPI, is not UCLA, consider the context. And consider how the team remained unbeaten.
Trailing 2-1 in the closing minutes at Butler, DePaul got a goal from Abby Reed off an assist from Alexa Ben and salvaged a draw. Reed is a sophomore transfer from Indiana State who shares the team lead with 10 goals; Ben is a freshman who leads the team with nine assists. The script was slightly different Sunday at Marquette, but when the Blue Demons squandered a 2-0 lead, it was Ben, after earning the corner kick against the run of play in overtime with a strong run to the end line, who got a foot to a loose ball in a scramble in the box and provided the winner.
The Blue Demons have honest-to-goodness firepower, which gives them a chance to win every time out. Or at least not to lose.