Thursday, November 8, 2012
The pursuit of a national championship begins on Friday, with top current and former W-League players hoping to lead their teams to success as the NCAA Women’s Tournament opens. After the success of Stanford a season ago, claiming the school’s first national championship, the Cardinal enter the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed, facing Idaho State at 7 p.m. PT in the opening round.
The Cardinal finally broke through last year after back-to-back defeats in the National Championship game. This season, the Pali Blues’ Mariah Noguiera has been a key for the Cardinal, scoring seven goals, while her former teammate Rachel Quon has been a stabilizing force in the team’s defense while also chipping in seven assists.
Penn State, Florida State and Brigham Young claimed the other three No. 1 seeds, with the Nittany Lions opening their pursuit of a championship against Long Island University on Saturday evening. Penn State has been led by a pair of former W-League standouts, with Christine Nairn of D.C. United Women leading the team with 35 points.
Nairn has been backed by the New Jersey Wildcats’ Maya Hayes, who after helping the U.S. U20 National Team win the FIFA U20 World Cup earlier this fall has scored 12 goals in 13 games for the Nittany Lions. Add former Vancouver Whitecaps Women goalkeeper Erin McNulty, who has recorded a 0.94 goals-against average this season, and Penn State could be in line for a run at the College Cup.
Florida State, meanwhile, will try to return to the College Cup, opening on Friday night at 7 p.m. against Mississippi Valley State. Led by former Pali Blues standout Tiffany McCarty, who has scored a team-high 24 points and 10 goals this fall, the Seminoles fell in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament. Now they will be trying to make their first championship game appearance since 2007, and the first title in program history.
The biggest key for that to happen will be maintaining their outstanding defensive record. Goalkeeper Kelsey Wys, who formerly played for the Colorado Rush, has recorded a 0.65 goals-against average this season, including a 0.42 GAA in the ACC where she recorded six shutouts in 10 games.
Virginia, which knocked out the Seminoles on its way to winning the ACC Championship, is one of the No. 2 seeds that could ride a strong run of form to the College Cup. In the same bracket as Penn State, the Cavaliers have received important contributions from defenders Molly Menchel of D.C. United Women and the Seattle Sounders Women’s Julia Roberts, both of whom have helped the side record a 0.75 goals-against average this season. Menchel’s United Women teammate Danielle DeLisle has also performed well in goal, recording six shutouts.
Other No. 2 seeds include Florida, which could face a showdown with its major non-conference rival FSU should both sides advance to the regional final. Led by former Bradenton Athletics standout Erika Tyrmrak, who had a goal and two assists in the final, the Gators claimed the SEC Championship last weekend. They open their tournament on Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. ET, hosting Florida Gulf Coast.
North Carolina, and New Jersey Wildcats standout Amber Brooks, also received a No. 2 seed, and could end up facing BYU with a strong run through the bracket. Opening against Radford on Saturday at 5 p.m. ET, the Tar Heels will hope that Brooks – who is tied for the team lead with 18 points – can provide the leadership to the squad that might return it to the College Cup.