Slideshow: 10 players who could rule the pitch in 2017
Defending champion USC bid farewell to most of its top players, but many other College Cup contenders welcome back stars from international play. And then there's Stanford, where the best player in the country will return to the field. <br><br> <i>-- Graham Hays</i>
NCAA stars to watch
Defending champion USC bid farewell to most of its top players, but many other College Cup contenders welcome back stars from international play. And then there's Stanford, where the best player in the country will return to the field.
-- Graham Hays
Joanna Boyles, North Carolina
The question for the Tar Heels is whether an influx of experienced talent matters more than playing as nomads. Beginning with the season opener against Duke, the Tar Heels will play five "home" games in Cary, North Carolina, while Fetzer Field is remade. But the Tar Heels will take that on with players such as Taylor Otto and Jessie Scarpa, who missed last season while playing for the U.S. under-20 national team. And with Boyles, the redshirt senior midfielder who sat out last season because of a knee injury. Technically gifted and rabidly competitive, she is a quintessential Anson Dorrance player. But she is still waiting to play in her first College Cup.
Deyna Castellanos, Florida State
Although interrupted by a star turn for Venezuela in the U17 World Cup, Castellanos' freshman season offered plenty to suggest a full campaign will be every bit as compelling as those of past Florida State imports such as Hermann Trophy winner Mami Yamaguchi and Dagny Brynjarsdottir. She does things that inspire comparisons like this. The goal scorer's potential over a full season alongside veterans such as goalkeeper Cassie Miller, Megan Connolly and Natalia Kuikka might explain why a team ranked a modest 15th nationally was also picked to win the ACC by coaches in what is annually the nation's best conference.
Rachel Corboz, Georgetown
The Hoyas very much want to prove they weren't one-hit wonders in a surprise run to the program's first College Cup. The return of Corboz gives them a chance. Where last season's finalists, West Virginia and USC, lost cornerstone players, Georgetown returns the midfielder who produced 11 goals and 16 assists. So although the Hoyas do need to replace Grace Damaska and Crystal Thomas, responsible for 25 goals between them, they still have a player as good as just about anyone in the nation at helping those around her shine.
Jessie Fleming, UCLA
Last year's wait for Mallory Pugh, the U.S. Olympian who redshirted her freshman season at UCLA and then opted to turn pro, didn't pan out, but the Bruins still found themselves with arguably the nation's most influential freshman. After winning Olympic bronze with Canada, Fleming scored 11 goals as a freshman, including UCLA's only goal in a snowy NCAA tournament game at West Virginia that ended in a penalty shootout and then a loss. She will spend some time with Canada this fall, too, but the Bruins will happily wait for her.
Savannah McCaskill, South Carolina
The SEC is down to one All-American named Savannah because former Florida star Savannah Jordan is now in the professional ranks after a spring in Glasgow, Scotland. McCaskill can handle the spotlight. She enters her senior season with 32 goals, among the most for active players and fueled by a 17-goal junior season that tied her for sixth in the nation. There is a sense South Carolina missed its moment to reach the College Cup by squandering an SEC regular-season title and a No. 1 NCAA tournament seed with a quarterfinal exit. But as long as McCaskill is pouring in goals, that window has not closed.
Casey Murphy, Rutgers
A surprise College Cup participant in 2015, Rutgers kept its head above water a season ago but didn't reach those same heights en route to a seventh-place finish in the Big Ten and a second-round exit in the NCAA tournament. Then again, the Scarlet Knights played last season without Murphy, one of the cornerstones of the College Cup team and the Big Ten goalkeeper of the year that season. Her return from a season spent on U20 World Cup duty is a good place to begin a comeback.
Emily Ogle, Penn State
Plenty of teams can elbow into the discussion, but it would be difficult for any to prove it was more affected by the U20 World Cup than Penn State. In addition to losing stars such as Raquel Rodriguez and Mallory Weber to the pros after its national title in 2015, Penn State lost five players to the American U20 roster. Now those players are back, along with just about everyone who played a major role in State College a season ago. Tying all those pieces together is a job made for Ogle, a U20 World Cup participant who was often overlooked with stars such as Rodriguez around but whose control of midfield drives the team.
Amandine Pierre-Louis, West Virginia
The national runners-up return three players who started on one of the stingiest back lines in the country, including Pierre-Louis. Of course, the fourth player was Kadeisha Buchanan. That about sums up the mystery of West Virginia, which still has a lot in place from last season's historic run but doesn't have Buchanan or fellow Canadian Olympian Ashley Lawrence. In that sense, Pierre-Louis, an all-conference selection who dominated as an outside back but could probably play anywhere on the wing, embodies the challenge ahead even more than proven prolific goal scorer Michaela Abam.
Ally Prisock, USC
The first time USC won a national championship, a wealth of returning talent couldn't save the sequel. So try a different script. As this season begins, only six players remain who were part of the starting lineup that helped USC secure its second title about nine months ago. Gone are Morgan Andrews, Mandy Freeman, Kayla Mills and Sammy Jo Prudhomme. The good news is that someone like Prisock is still present. If the team peaked at the right time a year ago, Prisock may still only be approaching her best as her junior season begins. As good as the imposing defender was a season ago, that's a comforting thought in Los Angeles.
Andi Sullivan, Stanford
Her absence defined the postseason a year ago. Her presence as the coming weeks and months unfold could define the season ahead. With Kadeisha Buchanan now in France and Mallory Pugh in the NWSL, Sullivan is the best player in college soccer by a significant margin. She's also coming off a knee injury that kept her out of the NCAA tournament, and No. 1 overall seed Stanford was upset at home instead of playing for a title in nearby San Jose. It remains to be seen how much she will be on the field for the Cardinal out of the gate, but her progress for a team with no shortage of talent around her will be the story of the season.