[PREVIEW: First Round] The NCAA Division I Women's Tournament kicks off this weekend with first-round play. Five matches involving unseeded teams stand out.
UCF, which hosts Miami (Fla.), and Miami (Ohio), which travels to Tennessee, are two of the hottest teams in the country. Illinois, which plays at neighbor Missouri in their first meeting since 2008,
is coming off a big upset win at the Big Ten Tournament. After being snubbed last season, Georgetown, which heads to Virginia Tech, left no doubts about its tournament credentials. Pepperdine and
California are both coming off strong campaigns in tough conferences.
UCF-MIAMI, FLA. (Saturday). UCF is getting hot at the right time. The Knights, who advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals last year for the first time since 1987, are riding a seven-match shutout streak, having outscored their opponents, 23-0, in the seven wins over the last three weeks. They are fresh off three straight 2-0 wins at the Conference USA Tournament.
An NCAA Tournament bid capped what has been a trying season for the Hurricanes because of injuries. "With all the injuries we had, I think we were down at one point seven or eight starters," assistant coach Matt Kagan said. "To have it culminate in an NCAA Tournament for us is a great reward. We're proud of the kids."
UCF won the first meeting against Miami a 1-0 win thanks to forward Nicolette Radovcic's golden goal.
In the spotlight: UCF center back Marissa Diggs was named the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year after leading the Knights' defense that is eighth in the nation with a goals-against average (0.56). Jasmine Paterson was named to the All-ACC Freshman Team after tying for the Miami lead with seven points.
VIRGINIA TECH-GEORGETOWN (Sunday). Virginia Tech finished tied for eighth in the ACC and did not make the ACC Tournament but was one of nine ACC teams to make the playoffs. The Hokies, who are making their fifth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, were 4-5-1 in ACC play but perfect in non-conference play with nine wins.
Georgetown, the Big East runner-up with a 15-3-3 record, is making only its third appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Hoyas reached the quarterfinals in 2010 and were disappointed to not to get in last season.
“We’re very excited to be in the tournament,” Hoya coach David Nolan said. “There was obviously a sense of deflation in this room last year on this day when we didn’t get a bid. So first and foremost, we’re happy to be in.”
In the spotlight: The Hoyas are led by Big East Offensive Player of the Year Daphne Corboz, who has a school record 17 goals and 41 points. Freshman midfielder Ashley Meier tied for the Virginia Tech lead with seven goals, was named to the All-ACC Second Team.
TENNESSEE-MIAMI, OHIO (Sunday). Miami and Tennessee (14-4-2) finished No. 24 and No. 25 in the final Soccer America Women's Top 25. The RedHawks finished with a 15-game unbeaten streak and won the Mid-American tournament and regular-season championship. UT was picked to finish 11th in the SEC but was third in the SEC under first-year coach Brian Pensky.
In the spotlight: Hannah Wilkinson joined Tennessee five matches into the season after representing New Zealand in the Olympics and U-20 Women's World Cup and leads the Lady Vols with eight goals and 17 points.Miami senior Jess Kodiak was the MAC Offensive Player of the Year and a repeat first-team All-MAC selection with 29 points.
PEPPERDINE-CALIFORNIA (Saturday). It's Pepperdine (14-6-0), third in the WCC, against California (15-5-0), third in the Pac-12, at Tari Frahm Rokus Field in Malibu. The Waves are 3-5-0 against NCAA teams, while Cal is 3-4-0. A real toss-up.
In the spotlight: Ifeoma Onumonu was the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year for Cal with 11 goals and five assists. Junior defender Michelle Pao, who led the Waves with nine assists, was named to the All-WCC first team for the third straight year.
MISSOURI-ILLINOIS (Saturday).Missouri (14-7-0) has lost five of its past seven games, including its only two home losses on the season to Arkansas and LSU, while Illinois (10-8-3) finished second at the Big Ten Tournament after knocking off regular-season champion Penn State in the semifinals.
In the spotlight: Vanessa DiBernardo led Illinois with eight goals and four assists despite missing the first part of the season because of commitments with the U.S. U-20 Women's World Cup championship team. All-SEC forward Alyssa Diggs has a team-high eight goals and 17 points for Missouri.