College women's soccer: Five storylines for 2017

The 2017 college women's soccer season kicks off on Friday. The big news is that U.S. national team midfielder Andi Sullivan is set to return to No. 1 Stanford after recovering from ACL knee surgery. For the news from the Farm and other key storylines.

1. Stanford welcomes back Andi Sullivan. Stanford was upset by Santa Clara, 1-0, in the second round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament, the Cardinal's earliest exit since a first-round loss to Saint Louis in 2005. The game went into double overtime, where Andi Sullivan, who was being groomed to take over in the U.S. national team midfield, went down with an ACL knee injury.

Women's Preseason Top 25: Soccer America Rankings

Nine months later, Cardinal and USWNT fans got good news when Stanford announced that Sullivan will return for the 2017 season. The Cardinal begins as No. 1 in the Soccer America Preseason Top 25. Besides Sullivan, Stanford head coach Paul Ratcliffe also welcomes back Alana Cook, Tegan McGrady, Tierna Davidson, Jordan DiBiasi and Michelle Xiao, all U.S. U-23 players.

2. New era begins at West Virginia. Canadians Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence carried West Virginia to a No. 1 ranking and the NCAA Division I final, where the Mountaineers fell to USC, but they have moved on, meeting up on opposite sides in the 2017 UEFA Women's Champions league final, where Buchanan's Lyon beat Lawrence's Paris St. Germain in a shootout.

Mountaineer coach Nikki Izzo-Brown still has a deep squad, led by All-American forward Michaela Abam, that is seeking to form its own identity. West Virginia will find out quickly how good it is as it opens Friday at Georgetown, the only team to beat it during the 2016 regular season.

3. Penn State gets back its five U-20s. Penn State won its first national title in 2015 and would have been poised to repeat or at least make a good challenge, but the Nittany Lions lost five players who were selected to represent the USA at the 2016 Under-20 World Cup.

Rose Chandler, Maddie Elliston, Ellie Jean, Emily Ogle and Kaleigh Riehl, who all sat out the 2016 season, are back in 2017. The best part for Penn State fans: All have at least two more years of eligibility.

4. Can the ACC bounce back? The ACC has for years been the deepest conference in women's soccer. At least two members of the current ACC reached the Women's College Cup for 10 years in a row until 2016 when only North Carolina made the final four. That was after no ACC team was a No. 1 regional seed.

Florida State is this season's favorite. The Seminoles return All-Americans Cassie Miller and Natalia Kuikka, plus Irishwoman Megan Connolly and Venezuelan Deyna Castellanos, the most popular player in women's soccer with more than  790,000 Instagram likes, and add Costa Rican international Gloriana Villalobos.

5. Ashley Sanchez in, Mallory Pugh out. There's no two ways about it. Losing Mallory Pugh after one quarter at UCLA was a big blow for the Bruins. But the head coach Amanda Cromwell still has the next best thing.

Ashley Sanchez, who played with Pugh and the Penn State five on the U.S. U-20 World Cup team, arrives at Westwood as the top freshman in the country.
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