The 64 team field for the 2014 NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament was announced today, and three WCC teams were selected. The conference continued it’s dominance in the sports as they have placed three or more teams in the NCAA Tournament field every year since 2009. Let’s take a look at the chances of our three WCC teams in this year, as well as the drama at the bottom of the seedings that saw one WCC team squeak in and another just missing out.
There was no drama for the top two teams as both BYU and Pepperdine finished the season nationally ranked. BYU won the WCC Champioship, but both were locks for the NCAA Tournament a while ago. Some of the seeding may have been shuffled a bit by Pepperdine handing BYU their only WCC loss to end the regular season, but with both being close in the rankings it probably didn’t shift too much.
Pepperdine rode their red hot start to a national seeding, and as a #4 seed they will host their first and second round matches. They could host Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight matches if they get that far and the #1 seed in their region is eliminated before then. It was an impressive seed for a team that did a lot to raise doubt about their standing in conference play.
The Waves started the year red hot with a loss to #1 UCLA as their only blemish heading into conference play. But they stumbled in WCC matches with two ties and a loss, and they settled for third in the standings. But their national ranking never wavered much as their excellent non-conference record against elite competition carried them all the way to the postseason and a national seed. Plus the Waves righted the ship late in the season highlighted by a nice win over BYU to end the regular season.
The draw is favorable for the Waves and they have potential to get hot again and make a run. First they need to get past a very tough first round hurdle in USC. The Waves beat the Trojans at USC 2-1 earlier this year, but USC is a seasoned program while Pepperdine may be flustered by the pressure of a national seeding. But if all goes right, it’s off and running. The second round matchup is very winnable regardless of who they play, neither team is anything the Waves can’t handle and they’ve beaten much better opponents.
Dec 8, 2013; Cary, NC, USA; UCLA Bruins head coach Amanda Cromwell and midfield/forward Jenna Richmond (7) and midfield/forward Sam Mewis (22) and UCLA Bruins defender Abby Dahlkemper (8) celebrate on the podium with the championship trophy. The Bruins defeated the Seminoles 1-0 in overtime at WakeMed Soccer Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
From there it’s on to the Sweet Sixteen to face either #1 overall seed UCLA or WCC rival San Diego. Unfortunately that’s a scary matchup as those are the only two teams to beat Pepperdine this year. If they want to move on, they will need to overcome them in this second opportunity. San Diego was no fluke, but it’s certainly an easier road than the dominant Bruins who are the defending champions and strong bets to repeat. As long as the Waves don’t let USC sneak up them, there’s an opportunity to make some noise.
BYU meanwhile might have been hurt by their loss to Pepperdine, but they were still solidly in the middle ground heading into the postseason. MAYBE they were on the fringes of a national seed, but not likely. Their first round match at Colorado is an intriguing one. Two similar teams who both are used to high altitude games. Could go either way.
From there it’s a tough road for BYU. Powerhouse North Carolina looms in the second round, and the Tar Heels would be well rested. They won’t have to leave Chapel Hill until the Sweet Sixteen, while BYU will have traveled up to Colorado and then to North Carolina in the same time frame.
It doesn’t get any easier in the Sweet Sixteen as all four potential opponents are tough. South Carolina and Clemson and powerful, and Washington State and Seattle are always two of the better teams in the Northwest. Between the talent and the travel, and deep run might not be in the cards for the WCC Champions.
San Diego meanwhile got some great news as they made the field as an at-large bid, but you have think it was close. The #51 RPI in the country is not normally a lock for the NCAA Tournament, but as we predicted their superior record against top 25 teams probably weighed heavily. Not only did the Toreros have a winning record against ranked opponents, they looked downright dominant in some of their wins against elite teams. No doubt the committee looked and that and realized they had to be in over some of the other borderline teams.
Unfortunately for the Toreros, barely making the postseason normally means a brutal road to the championship. And the committee is testing them right away sending to face defending national champion and #1 seed UCLA in the first round. The Bruins and Toreros battled earlier this season with the score at 0-0 before the Bruins won it with a couple late goals. The Toreros should go in confident knowing they can hang with anyone, so that makes them very dangerous. They can beat anyone, and they know it.
That confidence could take them a long way. Having battled UCLA and knowing they can beat Pepperdine takes care of the two biggest teams in their region, and anyone else is beatable in their minds as a result. A confident underdog is a dangerous thing, so it will be fun to see what they can do. Remember the Toreros made a run to the Elite Eight in men’s soccer a couple years ago, so that just adds to their confident this year for the women. They know they can do something now that they’ve made it in the field. That was the biggest hurdle.
A team that has to be disappointed is Santa Clara. They did everything they possibly could to get it, but it just wasn’t enough. Their RPI probably did them in as they were on the border but lacked any signature wins to put them ahead of the other teams on the bubble. Adding insult to injury was the fact that they beat San Diego and the Toreros had a slightly lower RPI. To seem the Toreros in the field and not them has to sting, especially considering San Diego was probably one of the teams that captured a final at-large bid at their expense.
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But at 16-4 they had a great season and can hold their heads high. They were picking up top 25 votes, and they finished a surprising second in the WCC ahead of both Pepperdine and San Diego. It’s little consolation, but the lesson has been learned if you’re the Broncos. They need to play a tougher schedule to improve their chances, and San Diego was rewarded over them for doing that.
But overall, another great year for the WCC in women’s soccer. Three teams in and a fourth that came close. Be sure to follow the action as the NCAA Tournament gets underway this weekend. San Diego opens play Friday at 7pm. Pepperdine opens Saturday at 11am followed closely by BYU at 12pm.