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NCAA Preview Week 8: Important conference tests

This week is the eighth of the 2017 women’s college soccer schedule. In just three short weeks some programs’ regular season slates will be a wrap, and we’ll be entering conference tournament time. Here’s a look at a few games that could impact those regular season conference standings.

NCAA GAME OF THE WEEK:

No.  9 West Virginia Mountaineers  vs Oklahoma State Cowgirls

West Virginia’s Alli Magaletta celebrates her game-winning goal against Duke last season. (photo courtesy WVU Athletics)

Time: Friday, October 6, 7:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: WVU Livestream

This contest will likely be key in determining the Big 12’s regular season standings and, in turn, the seeding for the conference tournament. Oklahoma State and West Virginia currently sit second and fourth in the conference standings respectively going into Friday’s match. Given the top-heavy nature of the conference, not much may separate them when the regular season slates are completed aside from their head-to-head match.

Offensively, Oklahoma State appears to have the advantage, although West Virginia played a much more challenging non-conference schedule. The Cowgirls are averaging just over two and a half goals a game to the Mountaineers’ average of just under a goal and half a game. Haley Woodward and Taylor Olson pace Oklahoma State with six and five goals respectively. Meanwhile, Michaela Abam leads all Mountaineers with three goals on the season.

Key in the match will be the Mountaineers defense, which features one of the most athletic and physical backlines in the country. Given that the Mountaineers haven’t generated much offense to date, a staunch performance defensively could be necessary for West Virginia to be victorious.

No. 5 North Carolina Tar Heels  vs  No. 15 Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Time: Sunday, October 8, 5:00 pm ET

How to Watch: ACC Network Extra/WatchESPN

The second game to check out this week features two Tobacco Road teams who have found success so far this season. Although the two sides are close in proximity, their starting points this season couldn’t be any different. The Demon Deacons are looking to make their first NCAA Tournament since 2013,  while the Tar Heels 2016 season ended on the final weekend of the season.

Wake Forest has gotten off to a good start in ACC play, however, their wins have come against Syracuse and Pittsburgh, who have each lost a conference game this season by 7-0 scorelines. A result against a top-five school could be critical and telling for the Demon Deacons’ drive to return to the postseason.

For the Tar Heels, sophomore Dorian Bailey has been in great form of late. She’s scored in each of the last four contests including three game-winners. The Demon Deacons, meanwhile are led by senior captain Maddie Huster, who packs more of an offensive punch than older sister Tori, of the Washington Spirit.

No.  16 Florida State Seminoles vs No. 4 Duke Blue Devils

Time: Sunday, October 8, 1:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch:   ACC Network Extra/WatchESPN

The third game this week features another ACC matchup featuring two teams ranked in the top 25. A season ago, the Seminoles got the better of the Blue Devils both times they faced off, getting a 1-0 win during the regular season, and advancing on penalties in the first round of the ACC tournament.

If this season ends up differently for the Blue Devils, the return of forward Kayla McCoy, who missed the two matchups last year due to injury, could be key. McCoy, who’s scored six goals in her own right, adds a more physical element to Duke’s attack which complements the team’s leading scorer Imani Dorsey well.

Going into the weekend, Duke boasts the best goals against average in the conference, having allowed just 7 goals in 12 matches played. Sunday’s contest should be a stiff challenge for the Blue Devils’ defense, however, as they face off against FIFA Player of the Year finalist Deyna Castellanos, who’s averaging a goal per game this season. Her ten goals leads the ACC and is also tied for the most by a power five conference player this season.

At the other end, Cassie Miller, widely considered the best senior goalkeeper in the country, will need to have a good performance in net against a Duke team that boasts an impressive and varied arsenal offensively.

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