Sunday’s Round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament was indeed a sweet one for the home sides, as all the host teams triumphed over their opponents. Notre Dame became the first Atlantic Coast casualty in the tourney bracket, but Wake Forest would soon join them. The remaining six ACC sides advanced to pack three-fourths of the quarterfinal stage while out west UCLA settled an old score with arch-enemy Stanford.
Here’s how this week’s remaining 32 fared:
Region 1 (Charlottesville, Va.)
Virginia (No. 1) 2, Wake Forest 0 – With a sundown kickoff in Charlottesville, two ACC rivals took to the pitch amid near-freezing temperatures as Virginia bet their silky-smooth offense against the Deacons’ notoriously-resolute defense. With Wake’s front line a patchwork of lesser-known forwards these days, it would be up to that stout defense to perform the nearly-unthinkable task of shutting out the nation’s No. 1 attack while hoping for a moment of brilliance on a counter to break through the Cavaliers’ own Formidable Four. From the opening kick, though, it would be all Virginia. The visitors were put on notice a mere two minutes into the contest as the Cavs’ leading scorer Makenzy Doniak broke through the defense, taking a quick shot under Deacs’ keeper Aubrey Bledsoe which just glanced off the near post. As the half unfolded, the center of the pitch became a line in the sand across which the Deacons would hardly venture. The Cavaliers probed and prodded every side of the Wake wall, working all around the perimeter of the 18, throwing outside backs deep into the Deacon third and even advancing their center backs far beyond the middle circle to try their luck. Virginia took six shots total in the first half, testing Wake’s limits, but never managing to completely breach the goal line.
In the second half, the Cavaliers dispensed with the pleasantries. 30 seconds into the half, Alexis Shaffer made a driving run up the right flank, whipping a cross toward the goal mouth which banked off the crossbar, just past the reach of Bledsoe’s mitt. The rebound settled nicely for Doniak arriving in front of goal and she easily poked it in from a few yards out before the keeper could recover. The goal was Doniak’s 19th, establishing a new class record for sophomores while moving her within one of Caroline Miller’s single-season mark of 20 set just last year. Shaffer, a 32nd-minute sub who stayed in to start the second half, earned her eighth assist of the year on the play. Her ninth came only two-and-a-half minutes later as the freshman took a pass from midfielder Danielle Colaprico down the right flank. This time Shaffer cut her pass back toward the top of the box where Morgan Brian, running neck-and-neck with a Wake defender, took it in stride and fired a low shot toward the left side of goal for the game’s second score. Brian’s goal continues a superlative season which should have the junior at the top of the MAC Hermann conversation this year. With 15 goals and 14 assists, Brian’s 44 points are just three off of another high-water mark set last year by Miller: the Virginia single-season points record of 47.
The Doniak and Brian one-two punch had the Deacons reeling, but the visitors still had to hang on for the remaining 42 minutes as the Cavaliers took an additional six tries at goal over the rest of the half. Meanwhile, in Wake’s offensive half, you could hear crickets chirping. Against Georgetown in Friday’s second round match, Virginia rendered the visiting Hoyas offensively non-existent until their first shot at the 85:34 mark. On Sunday, Wake were almost equally invisible with a lone long-distance semi-shot from Riley Ridgik at 85:05 seeming only slightly less futile. The final 2-0 result is Virginia’s 15th clean sheet of the season, tying a program mark set in 2007, as the Cavaliers have outscored their opponents 75-14 this year.
Michigan (No. 3) 1, Notre Dame 0 – After a first half in which neither team were able to convert a handful of dangerous chances, the Wolverines came out with a renewed determination in the second half, putting the ND defense under constant pressure. Nine minutes into the second period, senior forward Nkem Ezurike found a hole in the Irish back line, firing a warning shot off the crossbar. A minute later, the Wolverines were back in the box as Christina Murillo’s free kick from distance sailed just inside the edge of the 18-yard box, bouncing off the hand of a Notre Dame player to set up a Michigan PK. Meghan Toohey converted the penalty to break the ice and put the home side up by a goal. Ezurike was back for another bite of the apple in the 57th minute as the powerful Canadian broke away toward goal, forcing Irish center back Katie Naughton to take her down and accept a yellow card for her efforts. A tackle in the box on freshman Madison Lewis set up another PK opportunity, but freshman keeper Kaela Little was up to the task on her second chance, forcing Ezurike’s attempt wide. Michigan continued to cause the Notre Dame defense fits and, in the 67th minute, Ezurike would put the other half of the center back tandem in a compromising position as Sammy Scofield was dealt a straight red card after she tried to wrestle the Wolverine forward off the ball as the two headed toward goal. Down to ten with the clock ticking away, Notre Dame put together a sustained period of pressure over the closing minutes, but were unable to pull off a miraculous finish.
– Michigan are in the quarterfinals for only the second time in school history and will try their luck in Charlottesville on Friday for their first-ever battle against Virginia. The Cavaliers have turned a difficult corner getting past the Sweet 16, as UVa have been stumped in the 3rd Round eight times in Steve Swanson’s 13 years with the program. A Black Friday victory in the Elite 8 would send the team to the semifinals for the first time since 1991.
Region 2 (Chapel Hill, NC)
UCLA (No. 2) 2, Stanford 0 – There were murmurs over the summer that this could finally be the Bruins’ year to return to College Cup glory for the first time since 2008. The true test, though, was the inevitable face-off with bitter enemies Stanford, a team that has beaten the Bruins seven times over the past four years, including three NCAA tournament dead-ends. Sunday, a different Cardinal side strolled into Westwood for this year’s third-round showdown and a one-loss Bruin team sky-high on confidence faced a humbler Stanford team already carrying five losses into the match, including a 2-1 overtime loss to UCLA in Palo Alto.
The game was slow to develop as the two teams circled around the middle of the park, jockeying for position and testing each other’s defenses. UCLA registered the first shot 13 minutes in and it would ultimately be the winner as the Bruins played a couple of quick passes outside the 18-yard box to set up the decisive strike. Kodi Lavrusky, passed the ball forward to Sam Mewis at the edge of the 18, where the midfielder came out of the box to receive it. Mewis reversed it quickly back to her teammate, now charging full steam onto the ball, who then crushed a swerving missile from outside the top left corner of the box over the outstretched hand of keeper Jane Campbell and into the far right corner of the net. The goal, Lavrusky’s sixth of the year and third game-winner, must have been a bitter pill for Cardinal coach Paul Ratcliffe as the sophomore had originally committed to play for Stanford before siding with the Bruins instead. As the match wore on, Stanford struggled to get a foothold in the game, managing only one shot in the first half as they relied largely on direct passes through the defense to try to break down the Bruins. UCLA, meanwhile, established a smooth passing rhythm and varied their possession-based build-up with occasional direct balls and high pressure from their outside backs to keep the Card defense constantly on their back guessing.
The second half started as slow as the first with Chioma Ubogagu’s shot ten minutes into the second half the first opportunity for either side, only to have Bruin keeper Katelyn Rowland snatch it out of the air to deny the leveler. It would be one of only two shots in the half for the Card as the belligerent Bruin back line handily dealt with their rival’s attempts. In the 85th minute, a stop in the back field would spring UCLA’s fatal blow to their rivals as center back Abby Dahlkemper broke up a dangerous 2-on-1 Stanford attack. With the Cardinal defense still high up the pitch pressing for the equalizer, the Bruins countered quickly, moving the ball from the back line to midfield maestro Mewis. Mewis forwarded the ball on to Taylor Smith, sprinting into a veritable pasture of space. The sophomore drove toward the box and onrushing keeper Jane Campbell, slotting a low pass into the far post before the keeper could cut off her angle. The UCLA defense closed out the match limiting Stanford’s powerful offense to only three shots all day and have yet to concede a goal in the tournament through three rounds.
North Carolina (No. 1) 2, Texas A&M (No. 4) 0 – Carolina are notorious for their aggressive starts and they wasted no time taking advantage of an exhausted Aggie side coming off a draining double-overtime match less than 48 hours prior. Minutes into the game, a TAMU corner kick went horribly awry as UNC launched a counter-offensive downfield. With Summer Green leading the charge, the sophomore took a shot from 20 yards out, deflecting the ball off an Aggie player and past keeper Jordan Day for a goal less than three minutes in. Shea Groom tried to lead A&M back in the seventh minute with a powerful shot that forced keeper Anna Sieloff into her only save of the first half. Carolina dominated the remainder of the half, outshooting the Aggies 10-3, but the second half would be much more balanced between the two sides.
Fortunately for UNC, they jumped out early again, when a handball in the box a minute-and-a-half into the second period gave Green an opportunity to double the Tar Heel lead. Green has yet to miss from the spot this season and the forward sent Day the wrong way to net her ninth goal of the season. On the other end of the field, Sieloff would be pressed into service almost immediately to defend the lead as Aggie forward Annie Kunz came steamrolling toward the goal, taking a shot which the keeper just managed to push wide of the post. Sieloff, Carolina’s first-choice keeper in the postseason after splitting time with Bryane Heaberlin through the regular season, faced another one-on-one situation just past the 70-minute mark as she came well off her line to tackle Shea Groom right at the edge of the box. The keeper was shown a yellow while midfielder Kelley Monogue eyeballed a free kick from the 18-yard line, but Sieloff rejected the ensuing shot, coming up with another huge save. It would be the last shot for the weary SEC side as the final 20 minutes saw little resistance from the Aggies.
Not lost amongst the celebrations, though, Crystal Dunn came off the field after 16 minutes with another leg injury. The reigning MAC Hermann winner missed the ACC Tournament after aggravating an early-season hamstring injury and it’s unclear whether Sunday’s incident is related. Head coach Anson Dorrance said her early exit was due to the senior planting her leg wrong during the game.
– On Saturday, it’s UNC vs. UCLA, Round Two at Fetzer Field with a 5:00 p.m. ET kickoff. Their first contest this season, on the vaguely neutral ground of Duke University, was decided by a moment of ruthless finishing from Carolina’s Crystal Dunn. With Dunn among several Tar Heels questionable for the game and head coach Amanda Cromwell’s Bruins firing on all cylinders, will UCLA finally have all the pieces in place to knock off the Tar Heels for the first time in program history on their way to the College Cup?
Region 3 (Blacksburg, Va.)
Virginia Tech (No. 1) 1, Santa Clara (No. 4) 1 (Virginia Tech advances on PK’s 4-3) – While the rest of the Sweet 16 games featured little in the way of genuine tension, Virginia Tech’s quarter of the bracket stockpiled enough drama to fuel a Hollywood blockbuster. Temperatures on Sunday afternoon lingered in the mid-20’s in Blacksburg, as Santa Clara’s prodigious offense held the upper-hand statistically through a scoreless first half with a 6-2 shot advantage, but the home team had the better share of possession throughout the half. The second period started with an ambitious shot off the kickoff by Santa Clara and set the tone for a furious 45 minutes as each team came out with a deliberate attacking intent. Ten minutes into the half, Hokie freshman Murielle Tiernan swiped the ball off a Bronco defender’s feet just at the edge of the penalty box, turned and rifled an 18-yard bullet into the opposite corner for the opening goal, her 11th in an exceptional rookie season.
Following the goal, Santa Clara launched an all-out assault on the Hokie defense and, just over a minute later, Sofia Huerta was off and running toward Tech’s goal, looking for the equalizer. Hokie keeper Dayle Colpitts came out to the edge of the box to smother Huerta, but the Mexican international bypassed her, going wide right to get around the keeper. Huerta’s path took her too far away from goal, though, giving the defense time to regroup and block the forward’s incoming shot to maintain the lead. Colpitts broke up another golden opportunity in the 62nd minute as Morgan Marlborough was in on goal off a feed from Julie Johnston, but the forward’s leading touch put it right into the keeper’s path and she dove on it as they two players collided. Huerta finally hit paydirt two minutes later. Chesting down a high deflected cross at the top of the 18, Huerta let it bounce once, then pivoted and fired a stunning half-volley into the opposite corner for a highlight-reel equalizer. The middle third of the pitch turned into a vacant ghost town over the remaining 27 minutes as the two teams tirelessly went from end-to-end, but neither could produce a game-winner by the end of regulation.
The adrenaline which propelled an exciting second half spilled over into the overtime period as well, with Santa Clara firing off two shots in rapid succession within seconds of kickoff. The Broncos had another clear look at goal two minutes later when a pass across the face of goal found Johnston in front of an empty net where seemingly any touch would have ended the drama, but the midfielder somehow skied her shot over the frame. The two teams combined for six shots in the ten minute session in what seemed like a Reader’s Digest version of the previous 45 minutes’ breakneck pace. Three minutes into double overtime, Huerta was off to the races once again, getting through the defense for another one-on-one with Colpitts, but the Hokie keeper ran out to meet the forward, blocking Huerta’s low shot from 15 yards out.
Still tied after 110 minutes of action, the final act commenced and again it was the Hokies’ soon-to-be-legendary keeper Dayle Colpitts, so often under-appreciated amongst her fellow ACC goalies, who shined in the spotlight. Morgan Marlborough seemed a sure thing on the opening PK, having converted all three of her previous attempts this season, but Colpitts guessed correctly and dived left to parry the Bronco forward’s shot wide. On Santa Clara’s next attempt, Colpitts went the opposite way, dumping freshman Jordan Jesolva’s shot off to the right. Santa Clara keeper Andi Tostanoski blocked the Hokies’ second shot to keep her team in it after two rounds. After each side hit their third attempts, Colpitts guessed right again on Santa Clara’s fourth try and freshman Murielle Tiernan stepped up again for the Hokies, burying the decisive kick to end a fantastic contest.
Duke 2, Arkansas 2 (Duke advances on PK’s 5-3) – As the nail-biter in Blacksburg played out, another theatrical performance took place simultaneously as unseeded underdogs Duke and Arkansas took their game to the wire and beyond as well. Host side Duke pounded the Razorback defense early in the match, putting up six shots in the first 20 minutes while Arkansas struggled to get out of their own half. The Blue Devils finally went up in the 37th minute as Christina Gibbons went on a marathon run down the right flank, hanging a left as she neared the endline and, still unobstructed, drove straight into the box. With senior Kim DeCesare open in front of goal, the freshman dished it off to her teammate for an easy tap-in.
Arkansas were more composed in the beginning of the second, putting some pressure of their own on the home side before equalizing through Ashleigh Ellenwood’s header off a corner kick. DeCesare upped the ante with her second score in the 74th minute, heading in Mollie Pathman’s cross from the left flank to go back up by a goal. Arkansas weren’t quite done though as Ellenwood connected with Alexandra Fischer for the equalizing goal two minutes later. By the end of double-overtime, Duke had taken 26 shots, with more than half on-frame while Arkansas managed only ten shots total, but the teams went to penalty kicks tied two-all.
In the penalty kick round, each team pulled an ace out of their sleeve, with Arkansas back-up keeper Taylor Erwin subbing in for her team while Ali Kershner, hero of the Blue Devils’ first-round shootout victory over Colorado College, came in off the bench to hold the line for Duke. Shooters converted in the first two rounds, but Kershner made an easy grab on Jessie Givens attempt. Duke made their next two and again sent Kelly Cobb to the spot to take the final kick as she did in Colorado. Starting her wind-up from 20-plus yards out, the forward stuck her shot in the left side as Erwin dived to her right and the Blue Devils won their second penalty kick shootout in as many weeks.
– Virginia Tech enter uncharted territory on Friday, advancing to the NCAA quarterfinal round for the first time in program history while Duke’s seasoned side mark their third consecutive appearance among the last eight. The Blue Devils lead the series 8-2-1, with the lone draw coming in this year’s edition as the two teams fought to a 1-1 standstill in Durham.
Region 4 (Tallahassee, Fl.)
Illinois 1, Boston College 4 – On Friday, both of these teams put four on the board against their opponents and so it’s likely no one was expecting a gritty, defensive battle on Sunday.
Senior Gibby Wagner, freshman Hayley Dowd, and sophomores McKenzie Meehan and Lauren Bernard all got on the board for Boston College. Wagner got the Eagles off to a strong start, scoring just six minutes in, and BC never looked back. Next up, a rematch with the Seminoles…
Florida State (No. 1) 4, Colorado 0 – Florida State got a leg up on the rest of the Sweet 16 on Saturday, erupting for four goals of their own as they shoved past Pac-12 side Colorado. Meanwhile, FSU’s bulletproof defense posted their the shutout of the season, holding the Buffs
FSU are in the quarterfinals for the ninth consecutive year and set a school record with their 21st win of the year (21-1-3). Dagny Brynjarsdottir scored a pair of goals for the second consecutive match to lead the Seminoles.
Florida State will host Boston College on Friday in a rematch of one of the best games of the year thus far. The two teams met in Tallahassee on Oct. 3, with FSU prevailing 4-3 in a barn-burner. McKenzie Meehan scored twice for the visitors to put them up 2-0 early, but Florida State clawed back to take a 3-2 lead before conceding an equalizer. Marta Bakowska-Mathews scored the game-winning penalty kick in the 82nd minute.