Best of the 2019 women's NCAA soccer tournament: College Cup field features one Cinderella

Washington State's Mykiaa Minniss celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against No. 2 seed South Carolina. Washington State Athletics

Washington State's Cinderella run in the 2019 women's NCAA soccer tournament will continue in the College Cup.

The Cougars, who beat No. 1 seed Virginia in the second round of the tournament, beat second-seeded South Carolina in overtime on Friday to advance to the final four.

Mykiaa Minniss' goal off a corner kick sent Washington State, the lone unseeded team to reach the quarterfinals, to the national semis, where No. 1 seed North Carolina awaits.

On the other side of the bracket, No. 1 seed Stanford routed No. 2 seed BYU 5-1 on the strength of two Catarina Macario goals. Second-seeded UCLA beat defending champion Florida State 4-0 on Friday, scoring three first-half goals en route to its first trip to the College Cup since 2017.

The College Cup will begin Dec. 6, with the national championship game Sunday, Dec. 8, in San Jose, California. All three College Cup games will air on ESPNU.

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What to look forward to in the College Cup

No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 2 UCLA

The most important result of UCLA's season, at least until the tournament, might have been a 1-0 loss at Stanford in mid-October. After a slump that saw the Bruins tie Pepperdine and lose to Cal and Arizona, a more familiarly competitive rivalry game against the Cardinal showed a team again moving in the right direction.

Those were also the early days of the back-line trio of Kaiya McCullough, Lucy Parker and Karina Rodriguez. That the resurgence came with them playing as a unit isn't a coincidence. The Bruins have three excellent, draft-caliber center backs, with Parker rounding out that group as a transfer from LSU. Playing three in the back puts a premium on communication and limiting errors, which can be risky at the college level (or any level, for that matter). But the ability of those three to do the job makes UCLA even deeper on the attack. The more toys playmakers Jessie Fleming, Ashley Sanchez and Vivian Villacorta have at their disposal, the better.

The problem for the Bruins is that as many dimensions as they have, Stanford has more. For all the talk about Catarina Macario, the Cardinal have 63 non-Macario goals. Only three teams in the nation scored more than that in total, let alone the 95 goals Stanford accumulated with Macario. And the Cardinal will send four players to next month's U.S. women's national team camp, a list that can't yet include Macario as she awaits U.S. citizenship. Those Cardinal players: Madison Haley, Naomi Girma, Kiara Pickett and Sophia Smith. These aren't just Macario's backup singers.

No. 1 North Carolina vs. Washington State

It's nothing new for Stanford and UCLA to represent the upper crust of the Pac-12. They've been College Cup regulars for a long time. What speaks to the growth of the conference as a whole is Washington State's presence in this game. With the league no longer top-heavy, the Pac-12's middle class can compete with just about anyone in the country.

No program is more familiar with this phenomenon than North Carolina. If not solely responsible, the Tar Heels certainly had a significant part to play in the ACC gaining that sort of reputation. Duke, Florida State, Virginia -- all of them had to figure out how to compete or keep getting their proverbial brains beaten in by the 21-time NCAA champions. In fact, the Tar Heels got a taste of Pac-12 progress in their quarterfinal against USC. Banged up and on the road, USC still kept the Tar Heels sweating until the final whistle with a blend of physicality and technique that comes from playing the best competition week in and week out for most of the fall.

All signs point to the Tar Heels reaching the NCAA title game for the second season in a row and the 26th time overall. After all, they beat Virginia even before Washington State did, winning the ACC tournament. They have the cast of future internationals. They are North Carolina. But after playing UCLA, USC and Stanford every year, Washington State isn't likely to be intimidated. The Cougars weren't against Virginia. They weren't against South Carolina. -- Graham Hays

What stood out in the Elite Eight

Washington State stuns the tournament

It isn't supposed to happen, what Washington State's Mykiaa Minniss ensured with her overtime finish off a corner kick. Not when the Cougars faced one of the most difficult first-round games in the draw. But they beat a Memphis team ranked 14th in the final regular-season top-25 poll. Not when they then traveled across the country to face a team ranked No. 1 for most of the fall. But the Cougars beat top-seeded Virginia in the second round, then knocked off a West Virginia program far more familiar with the Sweet 16.

Not when they had to stay on the road and find a goal against one of the nation's stingiest defenses at No. 2 South Carolina on Friday. But they found the goal, courtesy of a sophomore who hadn't scored one all season and played all 96 wearying minutes against the Gamecocks.

So here the Cougars are, heading to the College Cup for the first time -- the first unseeded team to reach the semifinals since UConn in 2003, when Minniss was barely old enough to kick a soccer ball. And just like the victory against the Cavaliers last week, the Cougars didn't sit in a shell and hope to steal a result on the road. They might have ceded the edge in play to the home team by a smidgen, but going to overtime felt about right for two organized, resolute teams.

UCLA runs rampant

There are as many ways to express the degree of difficulty attached to No. 2 UCLA's 4-0 win at No. 1 Florida State as there were, well, Bruins goals. Consider that Florida State allowed a total of two goals in six NCAA tournament games last season, spanning 560 minutes. UCLA's Chloe Castaneda matched that with two goals in barely 17 minutes in Friday's quarterfinal. The first of teammate Mia Fishel's two scores made it 3-0 before halftime.

Maybe what drives the point home is Florida State's 47-1-1 record in NCAA tournament home games entering the day. UCLA and Notre Dame are now the only teams in tournament history to win at both Florida State and North Carolina. Or maybe it's that the Seminoles had more national titles (two) in the previous seven years than tournament losses by multiple goals (one).

Stanford looks the part of overall No. 1

The story starts where it always starts for the Cardinal, with one of the best players in the history of the college game. And there can be increasingly little debate about that label applying to Catarina Macario. The junior scored the opening two goals in No. 1 Stanford's 5-1 victory Friday against No. 2 BYU and now has 32 goals this season. Only five Division I players have scored more in a season, and only Christine Sinclair did it in the past 20 years. Macario also has 87 points on 32 goals and 23 assists' only Sinclair and Mia Hamm had more in a season. BYU hadn't played anyone like her ... because no one is like her.

North Carolina wins and hopes it didn't lose

Less than a month after being named ACC Freshman of the Year, and less than a week after being invited to a U.S. national team camp, Maycee Bell made good on all the praise by heading home Lotte Wubben-Moy's second-half free kick to secure No. 1 North Carolina's 3-2 win against No. 2 USC. In fact, all three Tar Heels invited to next month's U.S. camp scored against the Trojans, with defender Emily Fox erasing an early deficit and midfielder Brianna Pinto temporarily putting her team ahead 2-1. That's the good news -- throw in Taylor Otto and Alessia Russo and not even the Cardinal have any more top-tier talent playing well at the moment than the Tar Heels.

The bad news? Fox had to be helped off the field, her weight entirely supported by others, after an apparent ankle injury in the second half. Fox didn't return and wasn't captured by cameras taking part in the on-field celebrations after the game. She's on a short list with Macario and UCLA's Jessie Fleming as the NCAA's best players.

"The kids were basically playing for her," UNC coach Anson Dorrance said. "We all want Emily to know that." -- Graham Hays

Three things that stood out in the Sweet 16

Catarina Macario in select company

It was a goal worthy of some history. Macario gathered a pass around 40 yards from goal and accelerated forward with a handful of quick touches. With the last of those touches, she shifted ever so slightly toward the middle of the field and opened up her shooting angle. Then she ripped a 20-yard shot that curled into the top corner of the net.

The opening goal in top-seeded Stanford's 2-0 win against fourth-seeded Penn State was all the Cardinal really needed. It was also Macario's 30th goal of the season. She's the first player to reach 30 goals since Penn State's Maya Hayes in 2011 and joins Hayes, Christine Sinclair, Abby Wambach and Tiffany Weimer as the only players to get there in the past two decades. As good as Sinclair's West Coast Conference was in its heyday, none of those players had to play in the nation's best conference. Macario also trails only Mia Hamm, Sinclair and Lisa Cole for the NCAA single-season points record. Sinclair and Wambach had been the only players this century to crack that top 10.

David proves Pac-12 is Goliath

Washington State began the tournament on the fringes of relevancy, ranked essentially 37th in the nation as the next-to-last team receiving any votes in the United Soccer Coaches Top 25. It was a surprise first-round host against a Memphis team ranked 14th in that same poll and wondering why it got sent to the wilds of the Palouse. The Cougars then beat the Tigers, stunned No. 1 seed Virginia on the road in the second round and ousted West Virginia with a 3-0 win Sunday. So here the Cougars are in their first Elite Eight.

As the lone unseeded team in the quarterfinals, it's an underdog story. But watch someone as gifted as Morgan Weaver, the senior who scored two goals against West Virginia and has 41 in her career, and it's easy to conclude that the Cougars might not have been such an underdog if they came through an easier league than the Pac-12. With half of the tournament's remaining teams, including the one responsible for eliminating Virginia, the Pac-12 has an ironclad case as the best conference in the nation this season. And as was the case against Virginia, Washington State didn't steal a win away from a more pedigreed West Virginia. It earned the result, looking very much like a team that learned the lessons of playing Stanford, UCLA, USC and the rest.

No. 1 Florida State survives

With its patient possession, Florida State is annually among the more maddening teams to play. The Seminoles rarely let their opponents have the ball and often don't seem in any hurry to score themselves. It can make teams, well, want to foul them 29 times. But most teams don't. And it didn't work out well for South Florida. Rallying from a goal down early in the first half, Florida State beat USF 2-1 and withstood all those fouls from its in-state rival. The 29 fouls were a USF record. And while the NCAA doesn't exactly advertise foul records, you get some sense of context knowing that the second-highest total in 24 games this weekend was Arizona's 17 fouls (in a game that went to overtime). USF also received six yellow cards.

To be fair to the Bulls, who also committed 19 fouls in a loss against the Seminoles a season ago, their play Sunday was more physical than malicious. But the frustration as Florida State kept the ball -- and thereby kept USF from playing through Evelyne Viens -- was evident. The Seminoles were in typically pragmatic postseason form, pulling level on Jaelin Howell's goal just before halftime and taking the lead early in the second half on a Deyna Castellanos spot kick. -- Graham Hays

Best of the second round

No. 1 seed Virginia bows out

The best program yet to win a national title will retain that label for at least another year. This time, Virginia's season ended at the hands of MacKenzie Frimpong-Ellertson, the daughter of a former United States women's national team player, whose late goal helped Washington State stun the Cavaliers 3-2.

Virginia was ranked No. 1 in the country for eight weeks this season and allowed eight goals in 21 games entering Friday's encounter. Yet after trailing for less than three minutes in their first 19 games, the Cavaliers faced three deficits against the Cougars. And the Pac-12 visitors made their lead hold up after Frimpong-Ellertson bundled home a scramble ball in front of goal in the 82nd minute. Now a freshman for the Cougars, Frimpong-Ellertson was just 6 when her mom, Tina, played for the U.S. in the 2007 World Cup. She was a toddler when Tina became the University of Washington's all-time leading scorer. But it took her mom four seasons to guide the Huskies to the Elite Eight. MacKenzie Frimpong-Ellertson will have a chance to do it on her first try when Washington State, fueled by goals from Stanford transfer Averie Collins and all-Pac-12 forward Morgan Weaver, faces West Virginia on Sunday.

Penn State wins a thriller

What Virginia couldn't pull off, No. 4 Penn State managed in escaping an upset bid out of the Pac-12. After erasing Arizona's two-goal lead early in the second half, Penn State saw the Wildcats reclaim a 3-2 advantage with a little more than 20 minutes to play. The Wildcats still held that edge as the clocked ticked inside three minutes to play in regulation -- until Sam Coffey made a strong run on the left side and steered home her second goal of the game to send it to overtime. The high-profile transfer played just one tournament game in two seasons at Boston College. She has three goals in two games for Penn State this tournament. Penn State's Frankie Tagliaferri then ended it seven minutes into overtime.

The Big 12 didn't have the best of days

The conference that somewhat surprisingly received three national seeds saw two of those seeded teams ousted in second-round upsets. Already down a goal when it conceded a penalty kick and saw a player sent off with a red card early in the first half against Santa Clara, No. 3 Oklahoma State never got a foothold in a 3-1 loss. No. 4 Texas Tech rallied once from its own early deficit against Michigan, but two headed goals from Wolverines freshman Danielle Wolfe in the second half doomed the Red Raiders in a 3-2 loss.

And while both teams were unseeded, West Virginia escaped what would have been one of the day's bigger surprises when Alina Stahl's goal with a little more than four minutes to play in the second overtime period gave the Mountaineers a 1-0 win against Central Connecticut State. Only No. 3 Kansas put its best foot forward among the Big 12 teams, with a 3-0 win against Xavier setting up a meeting with quietly stifling No. 2 South Carolina in the third round. -- Graham Hays

Best of the first round

No. 1 Stanford rolls to record win

The NCAA postseason team record for goals in a game fell after barely more than an hour. Hermann Trophy favorite Catarina Macario matched the NCAA tournament single-game record with five assists -- and did so within the game's first 29 minutes. For good measure, she later matched the single-game record with four goals.

Stanford's 15-0 win against Prairie View A&M was so lopsided as to descend into the decidedly uncomfortable. Only five of the previous 10 national champions scored more than 15 goals in their entire NCAA tournament runs. The Cardinal went deep into their roster -- each of seven subs played at least 41 minutes and no starter played more than 60. Beyond that, a mismatch was unavoidable. And Prairie View A&M, which qualified for the tournament as Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament champion and regular-season co-champion, deserved its chance to compete.

Macario is now tied for the eighth-best single-season total in NCAA history, with 77 points on 27 goals and 23 assists. The only woman ahead of her who competed in college this century is Christine Sinclair, the Canadian legend soon to break the all-time international goals record.

Amanda McQuillan has Rutgers' number

For the first time since 2015, just one seeded team fell in the first round. No wonder there were so few surprises, if upsets required underdogs to go to the lengths that Central Connecticut State's McQuillan did in knocking off fourth-seeded Rutgers.

In her first college start in August, the Irish youth international was credited with nine saves and helped CCSU take Rutgers to overtime before finally conceding defeat. On the same field, the Scarlet Knights never figured her out Friday night. McQuillan made 10 saves, including a full-stretch tip to save a goal with a little more than five minutes to play, and Erica Bardes scored in the 89th minute on what might have been intended as a cross from outside the box to secure a 1-0 win.

McQuillan's 19 saves in two games against Rutgers this season are just five fewer saves than Stanford's entire goalkeeping group has through 20 games this season.

Viens earns the spotlight

South Florida's Viens scored an NCAA tournament hat trick and somehow lost ground in the national scoring race. That's the weirdness Stanford's record rout wrought. But it doesn't detract from what the active career leader in goals scored did to make sure she gets at least one more week on the field.

Viens' natural hat trick gave USF a 3-0 lead at Florida en route to a 4-2 win. It was not only USF's first win in seven games against SEC schools, but it hadn't even scored against the Gators in the past three games in the series -- including earlier this season.

The Canadian national team has been curiously slow to embrace the Quebec native. But just five goals shy of the NCAA's all-time top 25 scorers, she's doing something right down here. -- Graham Hays