W 4-3 at James Madison
W 2-1 vs VCU (at James Madison)
W 2-1 vs Duke
W 2-0 vs UMKC
W 7-1 vs Northern Iowa
L 0-1 at George Washington
W 5-2 at Mississippi State
W 1-0 vs North Texas
W 2-1 vs Florida
W 2-1 vs Lipscomb
W 2-1 at Alabama
W 2-1 at Ole Miss
Why the Razorbacks Deserve to Win
The Hogs have been in heaven thus far in 2016, shaking off the malaise of last year’s injury hit disappointment. Arkansas probably should have turned some heads early with a win at a deceptively dangerous James Madison but really caught the imagination with a victory against a much fancied Duke team in the second week of the season.
Since, other than a blip at George Washington, it’s been a barrage of wins for Arkansas, culminating with four straight SEC wins to open up the league season, including a weekend road sweep of Alabama and Ole Miss. Amazingly, the match at South Carolina on October 9 could be a league title decider with Arkansas very much in the mix for a shock championship.
Offense has been the name of the game in Fayetteville, with rookie Stefani Doyle, LindseyMayo, and Jessi Hartzler all netting a handful of goals thus far. Towering rookie Kayla McKeon’s seven goals however are tops on the team and confirm the amount of firepower Colby Hale has at his disposal this year.
The NCAA Tournament is all but a lock right now for Arkansas, and a high national seed isn’t even out of the question.[divider]
W 5-0 vs Sam Houston State
W 4-2 vs Murray State
W 4-0 vs Campbell
W 1-0 at Chattanooga
L 0-1 at South Florida
W 1-0 at Florida Gulf Coast
W 5-1 at Tennessee
L 0-1 at Samford
T 1-1 at Kentucky
L 1-2 vs Arkansas
W 2-1 vs Texas A&M
Why The Crimson Tide Deserve to Win
Like NC State below, Alabama could pull off the quite astonishing feat of going from last place a season ago to the NCAA Tournament. The Tide were mostly written off as an afterthought coming into the new season despite some intriguing additions to the roster. Despite winning their first four matches of the new season, Alabama still had some share of skepticism around it with a rather light non-conference slate in the opening weeks of the 2016 campaign.
But the Tide certainly have not folded as their schedule has picked up. They played unbeaten South Florida very closely in Tampa before upsetting Florida Gulf Coast on enemy territory. Then, Alabama made about as big a statement as you could make in their league opener, blitzing Tennessee in Knoxville in a shocking 5-1 destruction. Alabama would add another upset to their resume when they topped Texas A&M this past Sunday in Tuscaloosa.
Even with top attacking option Lacey Clarida limited to just half the team’s games this year thus far, the club has found what looks to be a new star in Abbie Boswell. The reigning MAC Freshman of the Year at Ball State, Boswell’s transfer to Alabama looks like a stroke of genius for the Crimson Tide, especially if she keeps rolling in her sophomore season.
Alabama still has a lot of work to do for the NCAA Tournament to come calling, but they’ve shown a determination thus far that means you shouldn’t bet against them in November.[divider]
Why The Rainbow Wahine Deserve to Win
Hawaii has stood out like a sore thumb in the Big West for a while now, and not in the good way. Being the only non-Californian member of the conference is one thing, but last year brought a dead last finish and an 0-8-0 finish in the league. It was probably enough to write off Hawaii for this upcoming season, as few likely considered the Rainbow Wahine to be even a moderate threat in the conference based upon the results of the past few seasons.
Instead, Hawaii has defied all the expectations to enjoy a brilliant first six weeks of the new season. They would set the tone right from the get go, drawing with an Oregon team that appears to be much improved over last season as well. It’s true thaT Hawaii hasn’t racked up wins against big conference juggernauts, but they weren’t beating much of anybody last season. A five match win streak was a big occurrence for a side that won just three games total last season.
With the exception of the 3-1 loss at Colorado, Hawaii’s defense has tightened up considerably from last year’s leaky group. Add in the goals of Raisa Strom-Okimoto and Addie Steiner, and Hawaii has been a dangerous opponent for foes at both ends of the pitch. Nobody is likely to tip Hawaii for a Big West title just yet, but based on early season evidence, the Rainbow Wahine have every chance of competing for a spot in the postseason.[divider]
Wolfpack freshman midfielder Tziarra King in last week's 2-1 win over Wake Forest (NC State Athletics)
W 6-1 vs La Salle (at Winston-Salem)
L 0-1 vs San Diego (at Winston-Salem)
L 0-3 at South Carolina
W 4-1 vs Navy
W 4-2 vs High Point
W 2-0 at UNC Wilmington
W 2-0 at East Carolina
W 4-0 vs Gardner-Webb
W 1-0 at North Carolina
L 0-1 vs Notre Dame
W 2-1 vs Wake Forest
Why The Wolfpack Deserve to Win
It’s hard to quantify just how deeply the odds were stacked against NC State going into the 2016 season. This was a program that came into 2016 having lost twenty straight league games, including having lost every ACC match in both 2014 and 2015 and which had won just six matches combined in those seasons. At the midway point of 2016, NC State has eight wins and look to be in a good position for more down the stretch.
Few likely paid attention to NC State early, as they dropped games against San Diego and South Carolina, though the latter certainly looks understandable now with the Gamecocks favorites to win the SEC title. The Wolfpack would come together in rapid fashion though, blistering the end of their non-conference schedule before showing off their true growth in the beginning weeks of league play with wins over North Carolina and a revitalized Wake Forest.
While a tremendous rookie class has certainly helped the Wolfpack play beyond its years, they’ve also had to overcome adversity to step away from the ACC basement. Most notably, the loss of Jackie Stengel, the club’s leading scorer with five goals in eight games, to injury for an extended period of time has hurt but also hasn’t halted the rapid progress being made in Raleigh.
It’s looking more and more like NC State missing the ACC Tournament would now count as a big disappointment, and the NCAA Tournament certainly looks to still be in play given their solid RPI at the moment.[divider]
Why The Hoyas Deserve to Win
Unlike the other teams on this list, Georgetown had pretty sizable expectations coming into the 2016 season. The Hoyas weren’t a team that were looking to battle for relevance after so many years at the bottom of a major conference, they were a program that had turned itself into a perennial contender for both NCAA Tournament berths as well as Big East silverware.
The reason the Hoyas make this shortlist though is because of just how much they’re still exceeding expectations. Most felt Georgetown were going to be favorites for the Big East title, but few probably picked them out as a club that would be competing for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament at this point in the season, especially after a 3-0 loss to Stanford on the first Sunday of the season.
But instead of letting that defeat haunt them, Georgetown has gone on a tear since, beating the likes of Rutgers, Virginia, and West Virginia to build one of the nation’s strongest non-conference profiles heading into the telling month of October. They probably need to beat back all comers in the Big East (especially after Sunday’s draw with Providence), but a high national seed is still very much in play for Georgetown.
And the Hoyas are doing it in style as well, with Rachel Corboz and Grace Damaska powering an offense that has looked extremely dangerous for much of 2016. If they can keep it up, Georgetown might just crash the party and make their first College Cup.[divider]
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