MANIATIS: Virginia women’s soccer ‘Bracketology’

Previewing the Cavaliers’ ACC postseason schedule

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Junior forward Meghan McCool powered the Cavaliers through the ACC Quarterfinal with a decisive goal against Louisville.

Mara Hart | Cavalier Daily

Every year from late October to early December, the Virginia women’s soccer team gears up for postseason play. It begins with the Cavaliers earning a spot in the Elite Eight of the ACC to compete for the ACC Women’s Soccer Championship. One week of play, from Oct. 28 to Nov. 4, decides the winner of the ACC. After that, the NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Committee will select a field of 64 teams to compete for the National Championship. Thirty-one conference champions qualify automatically and the rest are selected at-large by the committee. With multiple rounds and repeated play, the Cavaliers have a huge road ahead of them as they compete for their first ever national championship title. 

The 2018 ACC Women’s Soccer Championship released its bracket on Oct. 25. As has been the norm, the tournament is packed with elite teams. In fact, five of the eight teams in this year’s tournament field are ranked in both the United Soccer Coaches and Soccer America polls. With the quarter-final games underway this past Sunday, Oct. 28, I will share a brief summary about each one and then go into my predictions and projections for the next two series of games.

ACC Quarterfinals

The Cavaliers (15-3, 7-3 ACC) entered the tournament with a No. 3 seed and with a home quarter-final matchup against the No. 6-seeded Louisville Cardinals (12-6, 6-4 ACC). Despite Louisville striking first in the tenth minute, the Cavaliers answered with an equalizer four minutes later and eventually took the lead in the seventy-first minute of action. Junior forward Meghan McCool hit the game-winner and freshman forward Alex Spaanstra assisted McCool and scored the other goal. With the win, the Cavaliers advance to the ACC semifinal game against the No. 7 seed Florida State.

The Seminoles (13-4-2, 6-4-1 ACC) traveled to Durham to face the No. 2-seeded Duke Blue Devils (14-3-2, 8-1-1 ACC). This top ten matchup proved to be a battle between two evenly matched teams. Florida State scored an early goal and managed to limit Duke’s offensive ability, ultimately coming out on top with a 1-0 victory on the road.  

The No. 4 seed Boston College (14-4-1, 6-3-1 ACC) was eliminated by the No. 5-seeded Clemson (12-7, 6-4 ACC). Too many costly defensive mistakes allowed for Clemson to get on the board early resulting in the Eagles first home loss of the season. Clemson advances to the semifinal to take on the No. 1 seed North Carolina (16-2-1, 10-0 ACC).

In this ACC tournament opener, the Tar Heels defeated the No. 8 seed Virginia Tech (9-7-3, 5-5 ACC) 2-0. The No. 3 Tar Heels successfully defended homefield by controlling the ball and limiting the Hokie attack. This victory keeps their eleven game win streak alive and propels the team to the ACC semifinals.

Moving forward, the losing teams await the end of the conference championships and hope for a berth in the NCAA Tournament. The four remaining teams eagerly await their semifinal matchups on Friday.

ACC Semifinals

The matchup between Virginia and Florida State should be a very exciting game between two elite, nationally ranked teams. A week ago from this past Sunday, the two juggernauts collided at Klöckner Stadium in Charlottesville and the Seminoles came out on top, with a final score of 2-0. Virginia’s performance on both ends of the field were sub par and Florida State took advantage. 

The contest ahead will require a tight and flawless execution by the Cavaliers to overcome the late blooming Seminole squad. However, the Seminoles inconsistencies throughout the season cannot be overlooked, earning them a seven seed in the tournament. Moreover, their inconsistencies remain. A few nights after their win against Virginia, Florida State managed to lose to an underperforming Miami squad (6-9-3, 3-6-1 ACC) in overtime. These disappointing losses have tainted the Seminoles season thus far and leads me to predict a Virginia victory of 2-1 this Friday, Nov. 2.

On the other side of the bracket, the dominant UNC Tar Heels square off against the underdog Clemson Tigers. Despite wanting to root for the underdog in this one, the Tar Heels simply have too much fire power to cede a loss this early in the postseason. The previous match against the Hokies says it all.

UNC posted its fifth successive clean sheet and has not allowed a goal since the first half of a 7-1 win at Syracuse on Oct. 7. The Tar Heels outshot Virginia Tech by a 13-6 margin overall and a 6-2 difference in shots on goal. With their eleventh successive victory, the Tar Heels improved to 16-2-1 on the season.

With this in mind, I predict the Tar Heels to shutout the Tigers 4-0.

ACC Championship

Moving into the championship game a week from now, the Virginia-Carolina matchup is largely uncertain. Both teams did not meet this past regular season and in comparison, their margins of victory in ACC play are fairly similar. However, the Tar Heels are 10-0 in conference play while the Cavaliers are 7-3. UNC has additionally faced the toughest of the toughest in collegiate women’s soccer. In early September, Carolina traveled to California to compete against the current No.1 Stanford and the current No.6 Santa Clara. While both resulted in defeats, the games were close and decided by one goal. 

Therefore, this Tar Heels team, formidable in ACC play and experienced against the best teams in the nation, will, in my prediction, overpower the Cavaliers. Coming off a likely hard fought contest against Florida State, I don’t think the Cavaliers have enough time to recover and regroup to take on the Carolina powerhouse. 

My final prediction results in a 2-0 UNC victory.

ACC Network Extra will carry the quarterfinals on Sunday and the semifinals on Friday. The ACC title game will be televised on ESPNU.

Alex Maniatis covers women’s soccer for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at agm9ee@virginia.edu.

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