The early-season form of some of the country's top women's programs was skewed because they were playing without key players. Of the eight 2006 quarterfinalists, six were without players representing the USA at the Under-20 Women's World Championship in Russia for the first two weeks of the college season. Since their return, these 12 players all had roles in leading their teams to this weekend's Elite Eight.
DANESHA ADAMS (UCLA).The Shaker Heights, Ohio, product has missed time during the regular season to play with the U-20s and senior national team for which she made her international debut this fall, but she leads the Bruins in the postseason with five goals in three games to give her 12 for the season.
BRITTANY BOCK (Notre Dame).Much has been made of Kerri Hanks, the nation's leading scorer, andFreshman of the Year candidate Michele Weissenhofer, but Bock is just as important to the top-ranked Irish's attack. She scored the first two goals in the third-round win over Colorado -- the first on a rocket from 25 yards -- to give her 11 goals this season and five in the postseason. She is one of the most dangerous players in the air in the country with six goals on headers in 2006.
LAUREN CHENEY (UCLA).Since returning from Russia, Cheney has scored 18 goals in 19 games and is tied with Adams for the team lead with seven game-winning goals. She earned Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors and is the top candidate for national Freshman of the Year honors along with Notre Dame's Weissenhofer.
CARRIE DEW (Notre Dame). The center back from Encinitas, Calif., won Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors but went down with an ACL tear in her knee on Oct. 24 that has sidelined her every since.
TINA DIMARTINO (UCLA).The 5-foot-2 playmaker was one of three Bruins, along with Adams and Cheney, selected to the All-Pac-10 first team. The Long Island product is perhaps the Bruins' most important player, running the attack from her midfield spot.
ERIN HARDY (UCLA).The sophomore helped stabilize a backline that also includes one senior (Bristyn Davis) and two freshmen (Lydia Cook and Lauren Wilmoth). UCLA has allowed only 13 goals in 20 games since Hardy's return from Russia.
TOBIN HEATH (North Carolina).When Carolina hosts Texas A&M Saturday in the quarterfinals, Coach Anson Dorrancewill send out a different team from the one that lost to Texas A&M in overtime in their opening game of the season. Casey Nogueiraand Heath were in Russia with the U-20s and Robin Gaylewas playing with Canada's senior national team. Since the loss in College Station, Carolina has won 24 games in a row. Heath, one of the most promising left-sided players to emerge out of the U.S. youth system in recent years, has four goals and nine assists.
VAL HENDERSON. (UCLA). With the Bruins' 6-1 victory over UNLV in the first round, Henderson set a new school record for career wins with 53 -- and she is just a junior. Henderson won the starting job as a freshman and kept it as a sophomore, forcing fellow U-20 keeper Kelsey Davis to transfer to Portland, where she is red-shirting in 2006.
ALLIE LONG (Penn State).Long, who scored the game-winning goal in the Big Ten Tournament final, is shooting for two Women's College Cup appearances in two seasons, but it's a longshot. The Nittany Lions have to play Friday night at No. 1 Notre Dame, and they are banged up. Long missed the first game of the NCAA Tournament with an injury. Long and fellow midfielder Sheree Gray did not practice on Tuesday before the Lions headed to South Bend.
STEPHANIE LOPEZ (Portland). Like Adams, whom she will face when the Pilots meet UCLA Friday night in Westwood, Lopez was called up for the Women's Gold Cup after spending part of the fall with the senior national team.Lopez, who captained the U-20s, has missed 10 collegiate matches in 2006 because of international duty and subsequent rest.
CASEY NOGUEIRA (North Carolina). The daughter of legendary indoor keeper Victor Nogueira is like Heath a member of Carolina's much-publicized freshman class. The Heels' lineup had already started to take shape by the time Nogueira returned from Russia, so she never cracked the starting lineup. In Carolina's three NCAA Tournament games -- all big wins -- Nogueira has been averaging almost 50 minutes off the bench.
SARAH WAGENFUHR (Florida State).FSU's attack has sputtered all season, so the backline with Wagenfuhr in the middle has bailed the 'Noles out.Wagenfuhr'solder brother, David, starred at Creighton and now plays for MLS's FC Dallas.
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