[PREVIEW: ACC Women] There was little doubt in the minds of NCAA Tournament selectors which was the best women's conference in 2013 as all four No. 1 regional seeds went to ACC schools and eight ACC teams were included in the 64-team field, the most of any conference. That dominance should continue as ACC teams hold down the 2-5 spots in the Soccer America Preseason Top 25: Florida State, Virginia, North Carolina and Virginia Tech.
Of the four No. 1 regional seeds in 2013, only Carolina, a loser to eventual champion UCLA, didn't reach the College Cup. But six of the eight quarterfinalists were ACC teams. Besides Florida State, the runner-up to UCLA, and Virginia and Virginia Tech, College Cup semifinalists, North Carolina, Boston College and Duke made the final eight. And all eight ACC teams made it to the third round.
How tough was it to beat an ACC team? Besides UCLA, which defeated Carolina, Virginia and FSU en route to its first title, only one team, Michigan, managed to oust an ACC team as the Wolverines earned a 1-0 win over Notre Dame in the round of 16.
This year, Florida State has been chosen to repeat as the ACC women’s champion in a vote by the league’s 14 head coaches. The Seminoles received eight first-place votes, followed by Virginia with five and North Carolina with one.
FSU, which will face No. 18 Portland in the season opener on Friday, returns nine starters and all seven players who registered double-digit points a season ago, including Icelandic international Dagny Brynjarsdottir, who led the team in goals with 14, and Irish international Megan Campbell, who had a team-leading 13 assists.
Virginia will be led by 2013 Soccer America Player of the Year Morgan Brian, who played for the USA in Wednesday's 4-1 win over Switzerland. She isn't the only standout back from the Cavs' 24-1-1 season, though. Danielle Colaprico, Makenzy Doniak, Brittany Ratcliffe combined with Brian for 53 goals and 36 assists last season.
Heavy graduation losses are left their mark on UNC, which had the top two players selected in the NWSL college draft: Crystal Dunn and Kealia Ohai. Adding to the Tar Heel concerns are injuries. Alexa Newfield and Hanna Gardner are currently sidelined with knee ailments, and Caitlin Ballretired because of repeated concussions. Missing from preseason were Summer Green and Katie Bowen, who represented the USA and New Zealand, respectively, at the Under-20 Women's World Cup.
Virginia Tech, Duke, Notre Dame, Wake Forest and Boston College came in at 4-8 in the ACC preseason poll. The rest of the conference poll consisted of Clemson, newcomer Louisville, Syracuse, Miami, Fla., N.C. State and Pitt. (Maryland has left the ACC for the Big Ten.)
Other players to watch in the ACC will be Duke defender Christina Gibbons and Notre Dame midfielder Cari Roccaro -- both members of the U.S. U-20 Women's World Cup team -- as well as Boston College's Stephanie McCaffrey, Virginia Tech's Ashley Meier and Clemson's Kailen Sheridan, all singled out on the Preseason All-ACC Team.