Elite Eight matches are in the books and the College Cup is set. This year’s NCAA women’s Division I soccer champion will be either Duke, Florida State, Penn State or Rutgers.
As the semifinals approach on Friday, here’s a quick look at what we learned from the latest NCAA action:
Defense Reigns Supreme
Chalk this year’s College Cup up as a win for the adage that ‘defense wins championships.’ Rutgers leads the nation in goals against average and has only allowed eight goals on the season. The rest of the teams in College Cup haven’t been too shabby in this area, either. The highest goal against average among the four remaining teams is Duke, at .606, good for 14th in the nation. Florida State and Penn State, the two No. 1 seeds to advance the College Cup, both kept clean sheets in every tournament game until this point.
Florida State the team to beat
There’s no denying it: The Seminoles are the best program in college soccer at the present. Earlier this month, Florida State won its fourth ACC title in five years, which is impressive as winning that title is considered by many pundits to be nearly as difficult as winning the national title. On Friday, Florida State emphatically punched a ticket to its fifth straight College Cup with a 5-0 win over Texas A&M, breaking North Carolina’s record for most consecutive NCAA tournament minutes without allowing a goal. Although programs aside from the Seminoles have had College Cup streaks last just as long or sometimes longer, no program aside from North Carolina has managed to win multiple championships during such a streak. The Seminoles are the team to beat next weekend and if successful, Florida State will become just the fourth women’s soccer team to win multiple NCAA Division 1 championships.
Duke surprises the nation
While no one is surprised by the other ACC team in the College Cup, few would have predicted Duke to be one of the last four teams standing, especially after finishing eighth in the ACC regular-season standings. The Blue Devils were decimated by injuries in 2013 and 2014, missing the NCAA tournament last year. Those injury-laden seasons caused the Blue Devils to fall off the radar a bit. B ut Duke reloaded before the 2015 season with one of the best recruiting classes in the nation. This year’s freshman class has already paid huge dividends for Duke as Taylor Racioppi and Kayla McCoy have contributed significantly to the team’s offense, each bagging seven goals apiece, more than any other Blue Devil. Duke has certainly proved their mettle during the tournament, knocking off No. 2 see Florida and No. 1 seed Stanford to make the final weekend.
Semifinals are rematches
Big Ten vs. Big Ten and ACC vs. ACC semifinals certainly create interesting dynamics. As these teams frequently play each other and are familiar with each other’s tactics and personnel, it could impact strategy and tactics. Although coaches will tell you that they focus on themselves and not opponents when preparing for a game, what worked and what did not worked in the past against an opponent is certainly a part of the equation. Each matchup Friday night is a rematch of games previously played this season. Penn State and Rutgers faced off twice already this season. They split the series 1-1, with Penn State defeating Rutgers for the Big Ten hardware in November, 2-0, and Rutgers taking the regular-season match 1-0. Duke and Florida State battled it out to a 0-0 draw in their previous match this season, although Florida State was missing some of its international contingent for that match.
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