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NCAA Tourney Preview -- The Mailbag

Posted on November 8, 2018, in Soccer(W) by Valentine.

 

McClernon got shafted.

As long as there have been All Star teams, there have been debates over who is most qualified to choose the honorees.  Should the ballot go to “mere” fans, or should the coaches and/or players, who theoretically have a greater insight into the game, get the vote?

In this case, ACC coaches are the voters and these selections only prove that coaches are no better than fans when it comes to making these selections. Fans always proliferate their teams with strikers and attacking midfielders – ask a fan to pick their top 10 players of all time and maybe German defender Franz Beckenbauer will make the grade. Yet 95% of all teams play with four defenders (and specifically, all the teams in the ACC) but only 2 defenders were selected for the ACC first team: Clemson’s Sam Staab and UNC’s Emily Fox.  Only three defenders were chosen for the second team, while three were chosen for the third team.

Both Phoebe McClernon (Virginia) and Natakia Kuikka (FSU) deserved to be listed as 1st teamers, and I will further say that McClernon should have been the ACC Defender of the Year, a title that went to Clemson’s Staab.  Staab is quite good and has the gaudy statline of 11 assists on the year, which is great. Again, I would expect fans to fall over that stat, but I would expect coaches to know better.  They don’t apparently, and McClernon, TopDrawer Soccer’s 10th best player in all of soccer, paid the price.

While we’re on the subject….  Congrats to the women who were selected in the balloting:  McClernon (2nd team), Alexa Spaanstra, Taryn Torres, and Courtney Petersen (3rd team) and Spaanstra and Becca Jarrett (All-Freshman).

 

 

Before the women chose to reenact the UMBC Massacre, I would have said they were going to the College Cup (what soccer calls the Final Four). The team got exposed by Florida State. I don’t know how much game footage there is available to out-of-conference teams, but any quality team with College Cup aspirations is going to have a blueprint for exposing us again. Before UMBC II, I was mainly worried about conceding goals via corners, now I’m skittish about everything.

Part of what makes the loss so disturbing is that this is a really good team: the women are disciplined, they attack from every angle of the pitch, they press with a purpose, and every player on attack can score. But if this loss can serve as motivation, not just for Friday’s game vs MACC champion Monmouth, but for the remainder of the tournament, we could be dangerous. We have maybe the most forgiving bracket with Duke, Baylor and Georgetown being the most charitable #4, #2 and #1 seeds, respectively.

From fellow HoosPlace contributor Karl Hess:  Does FSU winning the ACC championship over UNC take some of the sting out of losing to them in the semifinal?

No.

Yes.

No. We were really, I mean really, poor. And the ACC championship was there for the taking for it was a greatly weakened UNC team that awaited. UNC lost ACC Player of the Year Alessia Russo to a broken leg a week earlier, and 1st Team All-ACC defender Emily Fox was in England playing for her national team. There was no better time to take on UNC.

Yes [he said sheepishly.]  Florida State is very good, in fact they began the year as the 2nd ranked team in the nation. They possess skillful players across the pitch and have some of the best international talent in the college game. And in Megan Connelly and Dallas Dorosy they bring a ton of firepower off the bench. There is no shame in losing to Florida State. I’m just pissed that we lost to them twice. Hopefully the women feel the same and can marshal that anger to fuel a deep run in the tournament.

From Mr Robert at the Louisville ACC Tournament game: What is the greatest strength of this team?

That it’s a team. These women play as a unit and Coach Swanson has a deep bench that he gives meaningful minutes to and starters and subs alike know their roles.

Betsy Brandon, who has started just about every game of her UVa career, and who’s now been “relegated” to the second team said recently, "It feels weird, because you think that you're talented, you're going to start, and you're going to play a lot…  You have to embrace whatever is given to you. That's not always easy, and it's specifically not easy when you have hopes and expectations for a season, and I think every single person has had to deal with that."

Brandon has embraced the demotion. Anything to get Becca Jarrett in the starting lineup, even if it has come at the expense of her playing time. And her reputation.

This team plays hard.  Look at this clip of the last 30 seconds of the Louisville game. Taryn Torres has played 60+ minutes. She gets the ball, but loses it. The hardest moment in soccer, from a mental point of view, is the moment you lose the ball. The other team is energized to surge forward and the natural inclination for a player to hang her head, even for a second, disappointed at losing possession. Yet Torres doesn’t hesitate: she immediately runs back to poke the ball to Montana Sutton and then races down the wing to win the pass, take the ball to the corner flag, and run out the clock. Torres totally sold out for her team on that play. No Virginia athlete, in any sport, is going to play any harder at any moment then Torres does here.

This entire team plays this hard.

Tell me about the freshmen, from A Friend of a Freshman at the Louisville ACC Tournament game.

Alexa Spaanstra has come into this team and made it her own. She’s started since day 1, and other than central defenders Zoe Morse and McClernon, I think she’s logged more minutes than any other outfield player including Sidney Zandi, Meghan McCool and Torres. Spaanstra possesses exquisite touch, good vision and fine speed and she could play any position along the forward line.

Becca Jarrett has forced herself into the starting lineup because she possesses great pace and she reads the game well, and she has a fine shot. I don’t think she’s a winger, though. Playing wide places an emphasis on dribbling and crossing, which are not her strengths. I think we’ll see Jarrett at her most fearsome when she replaces McCool at the center of the attack in two years.

Defender Clair Constant may have played out of position early in the season coming into the lineup as a defensive midfielder. But since Courtney Petersen has been lost, she’s been backing up Lizzie Sieracki as an outside defender and it’s clear she’s more comfortable there. Constant is strong and she’s going to be good in the air. I presume she is the heir apparent to McClernon in 2020.

Ashlynn Serepca has gotten the fewest minutes of our Fab 4 recruiting class and she’s struggled to carve out a niche for herself.  This year.  She’s officially listed in the team media guide as defender / forward which is very rare. Forwards are usually described as forward/midfielder and defenders are usually listed as defender/midfielder. In the first couple of games, Serepca got time as an outside defender and maybe that’s what Swanson envisions for her. It would be in keeping with Swanson’s MO to employ a natural striker as a defender: in the modern game, attacking width is supplied by the outside defenders. I would bet anything that Petersen started out as a midfielder in her youth career; both Morse and Hana Kerner are converted midfielders. You need skill on the ball in your defensive line. Maybe that’s Serepca’s future as a Cavalier.

 

 

<<Chuckles>> A Pogo reference.  You must be older than I am…

I don’t do predictions, I just do post-mortems, but yeah, Stanford is going to win it all.  Everyone else is playing for second place.

Stanford is simply loaded, they’re the Golden State Warriors of the women’s game. Last year they won the championship scoring 91 goals on the season. The next closest team scored 61. I’m not aware of ever having seen a 50% disparity like that. In any sport. Ever.

The Cardinal are not scoring at that same pace this year, but their forward line is still terrifying. Sophia Smith is probably the best freshman in the country and she thought about skipping college altogether and following Mal Pugh straight into the pros. Catarina Macario might be the best player in the country. She’s Brazilian and possesses all the stereotypical Brazilian flair. I think she’s odds-on favorite to assume the mantle of greatest player in the world from her Brazilian compatriot, Marta. And center forward Madison Haley is the daughter of Charles Haley who is arguably the most disruptive defensive lineman in history.  She plays forward with the same destructive power of her father.  And if that’s not enough, Kiki Pickett may be the best attacking defender in the game, and in Jaye Boissiere and Jordan DiBiasi, Stanford’s got the best attacking midfielders in the game.

Stanford has played a killer schedule, adding Santa Clara and UNC (both ranked #2 when they played Stanford) and has yet to suffer a loss. It will be a massive upset if they don’t claim a second consecutive championship.

Other than that, UNC looks to be the most vulnerable #1 seed, due to the aforementioned loss of Alessia Russo. USC got the worst treatment from the selection committee, getting a #4 seed. Senior forward Leah Pruitt is a load. UCLA has suffered the worst injuries of any ranked team, but if Hailie Mace is back from national team duty, and she reintegrates back into the team, UCLA could knock off UNC.  South Florida is the highest scoring team in the country and is just a game away from a meeting with Florida State and a chance to claim the “Florida” title.  The toughest region is probably UNC’s:  UCLA, Santa Clara, and the #11 seed no one wants to play, St Louis.

The ACC sends a record ten teams to the tournament – somehow Wake Forest got a bid – which just speaks to the dominance of the conference.  In addition, both UNC and FSU snagged #1 seeds.

UVa kicks off their tourney challenge, hosting Monmouth, who won 7 – 1 in the MACC championship game, this Friday at 7:00pm.

Let’s go Hoos!