BYU and Stanford stay right on track while stars answer national team call
What went down in the 10th week of college soccer? The aim each week is to bring you five stories that defined the week in college soccer, or help navigate the long road to San Jose, California -- site of the College Cup.
BYU and Stanford endure excused absences
That No. 6 BYU and No. 3 Stanford have players that United States women's national team coach Jill Ellis wanted a closer look at speaks volumes about why both teams are near the top of the polls this season in college soccer. It also made life a little more difficult for the Cougars and Cardinal this week.
This past Wednesday, BYU players watched from the stands in Sandy, Utah, as once-and-future teammate Ashley Hatch debuted for the national team (the halftime dance cam enabling BYU forward Nadia Gomes to appear on the stadium's video big board before Hatch did as a second-half substitute). Those same players then went on the road and earned a 2-1 win at San Diego, always a tricky West Coast Conference venue. With only RPI deadweights remaining in their final three games, the Cougars could ill afford a slip in San Diego, Hatch or no Hatch, as they pursue a top-eight seed in the NCAA tournament.
Stanford did BYU one better, not only beating No. 22 Colorado without midfield star Andi Sullivan or goalkeeper Jane Campbell, but also beating Utah without Sullivan again. Neither the Buffaloes, who beat Cal on Sunday, nor the Utes, who tied Cal on Thursday, have lost any other conference games.
Florida State's surprisingly important win
The NCAA selection committee has in recent years demonstrated a willingness to venture at least some distance from the dubiously accurate RPI in seeding its tournament. That said, the odds of landing a top-eight seed in that tournament (and thus the chance to host at least three rounds) are still far better for those teams with corresponding RPI rankings than without.
All of which takes on added meaning when noting the following familiar postseason names entered this past weekend outside the RPI eight: Florida, Florida State, North Carolina, UCLA and Virginia.
None of those teams had more ground to make up than the Seminoles, No. 18 in the RPI, with wins against UConn and Miami their most notable résumé entries. So for a program that can generally afford to use the regular season to tune up for yet another extended NCAA tournament run, there was a lot on the line when Kaycie Tillman headed home just her team's fifth shot for an overtime winner against No. 4 Duke on Thursday.
Watch the Seminoles, ranked ninth in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Top 25, and it is clear they remain a team best avoided in the postseason -- a skilled veteran defensive unit with a young and talented, if not thus far prolific, attack. But when it comes to hosting in Tallahassee for more than the first round, they needed this win badly.
The wins pile up for South Carolina
The lone remaining unbeaten team in Division I, No. 2 South Carolina, clinched the SEC regular-season title with a 2-0 win at Tennessee on Sunday. It is the second regular-season title for the Gamecocks, who also managed it in 2011.
The win in Knoxville came in relatively comfortable, or at least predictable, fashion for a team that has outscored conference opponents 20-3. Savannah McCaskill scored twice in the second half and is now just one goal shy of matching the program's single-season record of 14 goals.
The more revealing result was a 2-1 win at Vanderbilt earlier in the week. South Carolina has trailed for a grand total of 85 seconds this season, which is to the say that the Gamecocks have rarely been in anything but control. They didn't trail in Nashville, either, but they conceded the tying goal with just two seconds remaining in regulation, one of the few instances in the closing minutes in which Vanderbilt even had the ball in that half. Rather than wallow, South Carolina dominated possession in the first overtime and reclaimed the win on Daija Griffin's 97th-minute winner.
Florida Gulf Coast (and soccer fans) gets a scare
If you don't know Tabby Tindell, you have a pleasant surprise awaiting when you do see her -- at this level or the next. The Florida Gulf Coast senior trails only Savannah Jordan in career goals among active players and ranks fourth in assists among the same group. She scored the winner when the Eagles won at Miami this season and was the centerpiece of the team that won an NCAA tournament first-round game a season ago and pushed Duke in the second round.
But Tindell wasn't on the field when Florida Gulf Coast beat North Florida 1-0 on Saturday to clinch the program's seventh consecutive Atlantic Sun regular-season title, a result and a bit of history that prove the program is about far more than one person. The Naples Herald reported Tindell missed the game with an MCL injury, and while school officials said the specific injury was never confirmed, she is expected back in time for the conference semifinal on Nov 4.
Texas A&M makes the most of its crowd
It wasn't win-or-go-home for Texas A&M on Sunday against Auburn, but it was win if the Aggies harbored any hopes of again playing at home. Entering the SEC game, Texas A&M had drawn more than 33,000 fans through its first 12 home dates, its average of 2,782 per game trailing only South Carolina nationally. But in a departure for what has been one of the most consistent and successful programs in Division I, the team itself hasn't been among the nation's best on the field this season.
Struggling to find goals anywhere, the Aggies are winless away from College Station. Serious RPI trouble in the most recent rankings even imperiled a 21-year streak of postseason soccer. So it didn't bode well when the first lead they claimed Sunday lasted barely a minute. Enter Emily Bates and Haley Pounds. Tied 1-1, Bates drew a penalty with a hard run into the box and Pounds converted for an 84th-minute winner.
All of that after the Aggies rallied at home for a 2-1 overtime win against Kentucky on Thursday.