11. PENN STATE.
The news in the offseason wasn't good. Paula Walkins
shocked Happy Valley faithful when she
left the Nittany Lions for Wisconsin. Midfielder Alli Long
bolted to join national champ North Carolina.
But Penn State has enough talent to give
highly touted young coach Erica Walsh
time to settle into her new job. Walsh welcomes back seven starters from 2006, including All-Big Ten first-team
members Aubrey Aden-Buie
and Sheree Gray
. In goal, Alyssa Naeher
, only a
sophomore, is one of the national team's top prospects.
The traffic out of Pennsylvania wasn't all one way, though. Melissa Hayes
left Carolina to
enroll at Penn State. 12. FLORIDA.
This year's sleeper could be Florida. The Gators knocked off Texas A&M, 3-1, in preseason action on the
road, showing that they will be a force.
Of the 11 players who comprised the primary starting lineup in 2006 that returned the SEC title to Gainesville, 10 of them return. Of the 47 goals
Florida scored during last year's run to the NCAA round of 16, the 11 players who accounted for 45 of those return.
And one more thing: Melanie
, who missed last season to play for Canada, should return after the Women's World Cup. In Booth's absence, Lauren Hyde
was superb on the
backline as a freshman.
The keys to the Gator offense will again be skillful Ameera Abdullah
(11 goals and 24 points in 2006) and Stacy Bishop
(team-high 12 goals and 30 points).
The only position that Florida is not returning a starter for the 2007 season is in goal, where two
players were challenging for the spot: redshirt freshman Katie Fraine
and true freshman Meghan Berlingo
Like Florida, Stanford will be a contender to reach the Women's College Cup.
The Cardinal features one of the nation's best
defenders in senior Rachel Buehler
and one of the top young frontlines, featuring former U.S. U-20 star Kelley O'Hara
and Ali Riley
, who will represent New Zealand at the 2007 Women's World Cup.
Stanford, which made its ninth consecutive appearance in the
NCAA tournament in 2006, returns its entire starting lineup, 20 of its 21 letterwinners, 100 percent of its scoring and both of its goalkeepers. (Erica
finished the season with the best save percentage and goals-against average in the Pac-10.) 14. BOSTON
BC has been winning a lot of recruiting wars.
Senior Kia McNeil
is a former High School Player of the Year. Sophomore Gina DiMartino
was the 2006 ACC Freshman of the Year, combining with McNeil for 58 points, 23 goals and 12 assists last season. Incoming freshman Hannah Cerrone
was the 2006 NSCAA High School Player of the Year.
The Eagles' recruiting victories have paid big dividends on the field as they made
their fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament and third straight Sweet 16 appearance in 2006.
BC returns 11 letterwinners, including eight starters, in 2007. 15. WEST VIRGINIA. Nikki Izzo-Brown
begins her 12th season as head coach of the Mountaineers, leading her teams to seven
straight NCAA tournament appearances. They should make it eight in a row as nine starters return.
Canadians Amanda Cicchini
and Deana Everrett
totaled 22 goals and 54 points in 2006. The juniors, both products of Oakville, Ont., were preseason All-Big East picks in 2007. 16. CONNECTICUT.
Like West Virginia, the Huskies also have lots of players returning in their bid for Big East supremacy: nine starters and the six leading
scorers from last season.
Coach Len Tsantiris
, who enters the 2007 season just eight wins shy of 450 for his illustrious career, returns last
season's Big East Midfielder of the Year Meghan Schnur
and All-Big East first-team selection Brittany Taylor
Canadian Stephanie Labbe
is back in goal for the Huskies, who had a great preseason, beating Boston College, 2-0, and Virginia, 1-0. 17. CALIFORNIA.
The Bears were another ranked team to make a coaching change in the offseason. Kevin Boyd
-- he ended up at Pac-10 rival Arizona State -- and Scotsman Neil McGuire
Cal welcomes back seven starters from last year's
team that secured the program's eighth NCAA Tournament berth in the last nine years. The Bears will be solid defensively with senior Courtney Hooker
junior Nkechi Kanu
. Caroline Lea
and Kelly Menachof
are keys in midfield.
Before Boyd left, he signed a big recruiting class. The most important short-term acquisition could be junior transfer Nikki Schrey
, St. Mary's scoring
leader the last two seasons. 18. ILLINOIS.
The Illini reached the third round of the NCAA Tournament in 2006 and are again considered the No. 2
team in the Big Ten behind Penn State.
The Illini finished second in the regular season, going 8-2 in conference and 16-8 overall before finishing as the runner-up in the Big Ten
Coach Janet Rayfield
returns nine starters from last season, including the conference's Offensive Player of the Year Ella Masar
, Defensive Co-Player of the Year Emily Zurrer
and Freshman of the Year Chichi
. 19. RUTGERS.
The Scarlet Knights are coming of a program-best 16-3-4 overall record in 2006.
Rutgers returns nine
players, including Gina DeMaio
, who posted five goals and a team-high eight assists last season, Alicia Hall
, who led
the team with eight goals, and sophomore Jenifer Anzivino
, who scored six goals and added three assists in 2006.
The Scarlet Knights have looked
impressive in their two preseason contests, downing the University of Montreal, 7-0, and Vermont, 6-0. 20. OKLAHOMA STATE.
The Cowgirls are
coming off the best season in their 12-year history. In 2006, the Cowgirls finished 17-3-3, setting a school record for wins. With an 8-1-1 mark, they finished second in the Big 12 Conference
standings, also a program best. And OSU won its first-ever NCAA tourney game with a 2-0 win over UNC Greensboro before barely missing advancing to the Sweet 16 when it lost on penalty kicks to
Coach Colin Carmichael
returns eight starters from last season's squad, including six of his top seven scorers, led by senior All-American