1. NORTH CAROLINA.
Gone is 2006 Soccer America Player of the Year Heather O'Reilly
. Ali Hawkins
, part of UNC's sensational '06 freshman class, is out for the season with a knee injury. But 20 other letterwinners return, making the Tar Heels the favorites to win their
19th NCAA title.
Besides Hawkins, six other freshmen started in the second half of last year's 2-1 win over Notre Dame in the Women's College Cup final.
picks Tobin Heath
and Casey Nogueira
are coming off sensational summers with the Jersey Sky Blue of the W-League and
the U.S. Pan-American team.
There is more to UNC than just its sophomore class, however. Junior Yael Averbuch
is coming off a breakout season
during which she scored 16 goals and earned Soccer America MVP honors. Seniors Robyn Gayle
(headed to the Women's World Cup with Canada) and Jessica Maxwell
provide plenty of leadership in the back.
Junior transfer Allie Long
(Penn State) joins an already-deep midfield. 2. NOTRE DAME.
No team matched the Irish for the firepower they possessed
up front last season. In only two seasons, Kerri Hanks
has already set 47 Notre Dame scoring records. The 2006 Hermann Trophy winner is coming off 28-15 and
22-22 (goals-assists) seasons.
Soccer America Freshman of the Year Michele Weissenhofer
joined the Irish with a reputation for her flip throw-in,
but she proved to an productive goalscorer and setup player, finishing with 18 goals and 17 assists. Britanny Bock
, from Weissenhofer's hometown of
Naperville, Ill., gives Notre Dame a physical presence up front. The Irish began to click in the second half of the season when senior Amanda Cinalli
career goals) was moved to midfield.
Cinalli and Hanks scored in Notre Dame's 2-2 tie with North Carolina in a preseason game that drew a record South Bend crowd of 3,412 despite soggy
conditions at Alumni Field. Notre Dame finished with a 14-7 edge in total shots and a 6-4 margin in shots on goal.
The key for Notre Dame, which lost four starters behind the frontline,
could be the return to form of junior defender Carrie Dew
from knee surgery. 3. UCLA.
With a healthy
back after playing for Canada at the Women's World Cup, the Bruins could give Notre Dame a run for the nation's best attack. Lang missed last
season with a knee injury but looked great with Canada's national team at the Pan-American Games in mid-July. Danesha Adams
and Lauren Cheney
saw time with the U.S. women's national team in preparation for September's Women's World Cup. Cheney was sensational as a freshman with 19 goals in
21 games. UCLA's most exciting player, though, could be junior Tina DiMartino
. The 5-foot-2 playmaker led the Bruins with seven assists in 2006.
Besides Cheney, sophomore Lauren Wilmoth
and freshmen Kylie Wright
were all on the silver-medal winning U.S. team at the Pan-American Games. 4. PORTLAND.
After its 2005 national championship
season, its 2006 record of 17-4-3 would seem to indicate that Portland slumped, but three of the losses were to final four teams -- North Carolina, Florida State and UCLA -- and the fourth was to
WCC rival Santa Clara.
On paper, no team can match the Pilots for their depth of talent. UP has the nation's top defender, Stephanie Lopez
, who won
a starting job on the U.S. women's national team headed to the Women's World Cup. Angie Woznuk
(13 assists in 2006) could be the nation's top playmaker.
Otherwise, the Pilots return their top five scorers Michelle Enyeart
(16 goals), Megan Rapinoe
(10), Kendra Chandhoke
(10), Natalie Budge
(9) and Rachael Rapinoe
(9), though Megan
Rapinoe is coming off a knee injury suffered last fall that has required two operations.
A pair of '06 redshirts, Kelsey Davis
(UCLA transfer) and
(Canada national team), should fit in nicely, in goal and midfield, respectively. 5. SANTA
Santa Clara awarded Coach Jerry Smith
with a seven-year contract extension after he led the Broncos to their ninth WCC title and he collected
his seventh WCC Coach of the Year award.
Last year's season ended in disappointment with a 1-0 loss to USC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament that snapped a string of 11 straight
appearances in the quarterfinals.
The Broncos' offense will get a boost with the return of Tina Estrada
, who sat out the 2006 season with a knee
injury and joins All-WCC picks Kiki Bosio
and Meagan Snell
. Courtney Lewis,
another 2006 redshirt, rejoins the SCU backline that lost U.S. international Marian Dalby
and Lauren Zealear
Injuries were the Broncos' curse in 2006 and they are again taking their toll in 2007. Dani Potts
, the lone holdover on defense,
suffered suffered a foot injury that will keep her out for the entire season. Also lost are former U.S. U-20 national team standouts Jordan Angeli
, who will both miss the season due to injury. 6. TEXAS A&M.
The Aggies were the only
team to beat North Carolina in 2006, but the Heels gained revenge with a hard-fought 3-2 victory in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament that ended A&M's bid for its first-ever appearance
in the Women's College Cup.
This year, the Women's College Cup returns to College Station, and the Aggies have a legitimate shot of making the final four. All 11 starters from the second
Carolina game return, including All-Big 12 picks Amy Berend
and Emily Peterson
. Ashlee Pistorius
gives A&M one of the nation's most dangerous forwards.
Sophomore Kristin Arnold
is one of the top young goalies
in college soccer. 7. FLORIDA STATE.
Mark Krikorian led FSU to back-to-back Women's College Cup appearances in his first two seasons in
Tallahassee, but he faces some major work in leading the 'Noles back to the final four.
Stars India Trotter
(who spent the year with the U.S.
women's national team) and Kelly Rowland
have graduated, and Australian star Selin Kuralay
chose not to return for
her senior season.
On the plus side, Japanese midfielder Mami Yamaguchi
was sensational in spring practice. Yamaguchi and German Katrin Schmidt
are the only returning players who scored more than one goal in 2006.
The 'Noles have gotten help in the form of transfers Erika Sutton
(San Diego State) and Lauren Switzer
(UCLA), both versatile players, and a big freshman class led by Sanna Talonen
, who played for Finland against the USA last Saturday at the Home Depot Center, Canada U-20 goalie Erin
and U.S. U-17s Amanda Da Costa
and Marissa Kazbour
The Longhorns won their first Big 12 tournament title under Coach Chris Petrucelli
and earned the highest seeding in the program's history,
claiming one of four No. 1 regional seeds.
They return a quartet of stars, including Kasey Moore
, two of the nation's top defenders. Moore, a 2006 Soccer America MVP, is one of the best headers in women's soccer, while Logterman and fellow Longhorn Kelsey Carpenter
were named to the U.S. U-21 national team that traveled to Finland for the Nordic Cup.
Senior Caitlin Kennedy
top threat in midfield, where she is joined by Houston transfer Courtney Gaines
(21 points in 2006). 9.
It was a struggle at times for the Cavs in 2006, but they came alive in the NCAA Tournament, beating West Virginia and Wake Forest before falling to Texas A&M in the round of
Virginia has just about everyone back, including leading scorer Jess Rostedt
. Becky Sauerbrunn
are two of the ACC's best defenders. Shannon Foley,
who was injured and red-shirted in 2006, is only
three assists away from tying the school record. Redshirt freshman Chantel Jones
should step in right away in goal for Coach Steve Swanson
The Cavs will certainly be challenged, though. Besides its ACC opponents, Virginia will face nonconference foes West Virginia, Colorado, Arizona, William
& Mary at home and Stanford and Santa Clara on the road. 10. COLORADO.
The Buffs made their first trip ever to the Sweet 16 in the 11-year
history of the program, and they could go as far in 2007. Nikki Marshall
(17 goals) was one of the country's top freshmen in 2006. Three of
Colorado's other top scorers return: Alex Cousins
, Nikki Keller
Coach Bill Hempen
has added two talented transfers. Tennessee's Genna Gorman
were both all-conference picks as sophomores.