Article Written by Travis Clark Top Drawer Soccer
The postponed NCAA 2020 Fall Women’s Soccer championship resumes (or in the case of many programs, kicks off) this month. Division 1 Women’s Soccer is set to chase a title, with the landscape looking slightly different. Pro signings have taken a couple of top players on contenders off to pro soccer – Malia Berkely and Catarina Macario – while programs will look to navigate the pandemic and get through a spring season.
Schedules look vastly different, with teams limiting travel and lacking big-time non-conference games. Still, a College Cup is scheduled for later in May in women’s DI soccer. Let’s take a look at some of the contenders:
One of the three top teams in the ACC – just a step below FSU and UNC – the Cavaliers should have a full array of players to call upon in the spring season. Taryn Torres was drafted after missing the bulk of the fall season, but if she’s back and up to speed, she can use the spring portion to get in shape for a postseason run. Defending will be the big question for UVA’s chances. Laurel Ivory looked understandably shaky on crosses after the horrific broken jaw suffered in 2019, and can really boost her pro stock in the spring. Alexa Spaanstra, Diana Ordonez, Rebecca Jarrett and Lia Godfrey gives UVA a formidable front four.
Even if Emily Fox and Taylor Otto have jumped at their pro chances, North Carolina showed depth and got their freshman plenty of experience in the fall 2020 season. Brianna Pinto is set to play in the spring, although UNC aren’t quite the contenders they would be if Fox, Otto and talented England stars Lotte Wubben-Moy and Alessia Russo, but are still going to be in the mix. Claudia Dickey is one of the best goalkeepers in the country, and Maycee Bell was joined at the back with freshman Abby Allen. More will be required from freshman like Samantha Meza and Talia DellaPeruta to push the Tar Heels in the postseason, along with Rachel Jones.
Center back Malia Berkely is a big loss from FSU’s back line. But with Jaelin Howell bossing the midfield, it may not matter what the back line has to do. The Seminoles flipped the script a bit, bringing in their best players off the bench in Yujie Zhao, Jody Brown and Jenna Nighswonger. Tweaking and fine-tuning the defense will be the priority when a spring schedule begins for FSU, which is plenty capable of going deep.
It’s all speculative at this point or programs that have yet to play. But on paper, UCLA looks lethal. Mia Fishel can stake her claim as best attacker in the country with Macario gone. The No. 1 ranked recruiting class is set to join the Bruins, while Sunshine Fontes is healthy after missing 2019 with an ACL tear. All of their drafted talent is expected to play in the spring, giving them a roster to really go deep. Priority one will be Pac-12 dominance with Stanford not quite at their peak.
Along with Macario’s departure, the Cardinal will be without star defender Naomi Girma, who tore her ACL in the fall. Still, there’s plenty of quality that gives Stanford a chance. Maya Doms is talented in her own right and plenty capable of pulling the strings at a high level. Recent draft picks Madison Haley and Kiki Pickett are expected to compete in the spring as well.
Of the teams that excelled in the fall, TCU could make a run, especially if Yazmeen Ryan stays on for the spring. The Horned Frogs dominated defensively, with Gracie Collins excelling in the final third. TCU doesn’t have the depth of some of the other top-tier programs, but have talent and experience to make some noise. All eyes will be on if Emily Alvarado returns, as the senior goalkeeper’s ability and leadership at the back would be critical.
Can the Nittany Lions put it all together in Sam Coffey’s final season? She’ll need help in the final third, whether it’s Kerry Abello, Frankie Tagliaferri or Jordan Canniff. The building block are in place for Penn State to be very good – and if someone like Eva Alonso slots in at the back, it could be a special season. Identifying a starting goalkeeper is going to be critical, with Julia Dohle forced to retire due to a heart condition in 2020. Incoming freshman Katie Evans and sophomore Katherine Asman are the two candidates.
The SEC tournament champs caught fire in the final week of the 2020 season, as the offense made a huge step forward. Goalkeeper Sarah Fuller went on to make headlines with a brief foray into football, and with an impending transfer to North Texas, it’s unclear if she’ll be the starter when Vanderbilt resumes play. Haley Hopkins being in good form is going to be critical, while the team has defensive quality in Madison Elwell, Ella Shamburger and Madiya Harriott. If Fuller isn’t there, Sophie Guilmette got experience in the fall and could take over the starting role in goal. A six-game schedule starts on February 21 and provides the Commodores prep time for the tournament.
Even if they were edged in the SEC tournament final by Vanderbilt, Arkansas has an intriguing roster that could take advantage of the oddity of a 2021 spring season. Boasting a strong leadership group of seniors, including Parker Goins, Taylor Malham, Haley VanFossen and Kayla McKeon, the ingredients are there for a deep run. Add in young attacking talent such as Ava Tankersley and Anna Podojil, Arkansas can reinforce their quality in the spring before preparing for an expected spot in the tournament.
Add Jennifer Westendorf to a talented attack that includes Penelope Hocking and Tara McKeown, it’s easy to see USC not just being a formidable force in the Pac-12, but also playing into May. Savannah DeMelo is back after missing 2019 as well, a great year for the Women of Troy despite facing a slew of injuries at the business end of the season. Kayle Collins is one of the top goalkeepers in the country, leaving perhaps the only question USC needing to address at the back. Head coach Keidane McAlpine has led this program to the top before and it could all come together again this year.
- Women’s College Soccer Rankings Feb 1 – Feb 7, 2021
|1.||Florida State||Atlantic Coast||11-0-0||8-0-0|
|2.||North Carolina||Atlantic Coast||11-1-0||8-0-0|