Soccer Monday: An NCAA College Cup preview. And surprise! North Carolina didn’t make the Final Four.
The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson, Nov. 27, 2023
It’s down to the final four. The Women’s College Cup starts this weekend and I thought I’d give a brief primer on the four teams vying for a national championship.
A pair of top seeded, Clemson and Florida State will play in the first game on Friday, followed by Stanford’s match against BYU. Cary, N.C., is hosting the semifinals and the final.
Florida State: The Seminoles are headed to the College Cup for the fourth straight season. They knocked off Pitt 3-0 with three second-half goals in the quarterfinals to advance.
Florida State is 20-0-1 this season, heading into the semifinals with a 13-game winning streak. The lone draw this season came against North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (See more about North Carolina’s ouster below). The team has 68 goals compared to 13 for its opponents. Yikes. The top player is London-born Onyi Echegni, who has 15 goals. Echegni played for Nigeria in the Women’s World Cup this past summer.
Clemson: The Tigers are headed to their first-ever College Cup after Makenna Morris and Caroline Conti each scored goals in a 2-1 victory over Penn State to advance.
Clemson, which is 18-3-4 this season, fell to Florida State 2-1 in the ACC Championship game this year. Morris leads the Tigers with 10 goals, Conti has eight.
Here’s Clemson’s cool hype video, narrated by alum Kailen Sheridan:
BYU: The Cougars upset North Carolina, the winningest program in the sport, scoring four unanswered goals in a 4-3 quarterfinal victory in Provo. Bella Folino scored twice.
BYU is 20-2-3 this season. The Cougars have advanced to the College Cup twice, both coming in the last three years under coach Jennifer Rockwood, who has led the team since 1995. Brecken Mozingo has 14 goals and 15 assists.
We love ourselves those hype videos here at Soccer Monday!
Stanford: This season is Stanford’s last in the Pac-12, which dissolved over the summer. The Cardinal head to the ACC next season, and travel schedules are going to be tough. I could editorialize about how I feel about all of this, but I’ll hold my tongue.
The Cardinal advanced with a 2-1 victory over Nebraska. Maya Doms, a fifth-year senior, scored the game-winner.
Stanford, now 19-0-4, is heading to the College Cup for the 11th time. The Cardinal won national titles in 2011, 2017 and 2019. I’m sure many of you remember the 2019 final: No. 1 Stanford and No. 2 North Carolina played to a scoreless draw before Stanford prevailed on penalties. Sophia Smith, Catarina Macario and Alana Cook were on that team. The late Katie Meyer was amazing in goal. If you have time, here’s her performance. It makes me sad every time I watch it. What a bright light.
OL Reign GM Lesle Gallimore and coach Laura Harvey spoke to the media last week. Here’s just a bit about what they said, with an emphasis on moving forward.
Lesle Gallimore: I just want to kind of reflect back on the season quickly and give major kudos to the manager of our club, Laura Harvey. Obviously, one of the first coaches in the league, the first coach in the league to reach 200 regular season wins.
I thought that Laura did a masterful job of meshing our veteran players, which we have quite a few, with our younger players, which we also have quite a few. And that all culminated in quite a season. We were the number one seed in the Challenge Cup. We were, obviously a finalist and came up just a goal short in what was a fairly dramatic national championship in the NWSL this year. But I thought that throughout the season, and obviously I only got here halfway through, but as an outsider looking in before I came on board as the GM, I was impressed with a lot of the development of the younger players in this squad, and how they were able to — not surprisingly based on who our veterans are –mesh with the group. And there were a lot of different factors that went into our season this year, including the World Cup. Obviously. So I just wanted to make sure that Laura gets the praise that she deserves. And you know it was a fun season to be a part of and a fun season to watch. So again, I wanna thank you all for coming today.
Question: Being that you joined the club halfway through the season as the GM, how have you settled in with your responsibilities ahead of your first offseason, where there’s also an expansion draft?
Lesle Gallimore: You know, it’s been a lot all at once. But it’s been great. I have a lot of great people around me. And obviously, there’s multiple things that are spinning in the air simultaneously, the expansion draft, free agency. The fact that it was a World Cup year, the retirement of Megan Rapinoe, and to get plopped down about a month before the World Cup hit when we’re in an interesting position in the club. It was a lot to take in. But I think it’s been really good, getting the feel for where our players are, where the club is. Obviously, the biggest thing for me was to be able to extend Laura’s contract. And I think that gave a lot more certainty to our direction for our players.
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So for me, it’s been a ton of fun. And obviously to get to the championship game. Yael Averbuch is a good friend of mine, the GM at Gotham. And you know clearly, we wanted to win that game, and we’re disappointed that we didn’t. But it would have almost been a little bit unfair with how the work she’s put in over there for me to just kind of float in and be a part of a title. But it’s been great.
We’re excited about the future, but this last five, six months has been tremendous, and we’re looking forward to all of the things that are coming up.
Question: In terms of the young players that the team has had, what are some notable achievements or milestones in terms of the younger players developing throughout the course of the season that stand out to each of you?
Lesle Gallimore: I’ll go quickly first on this one. I think there were a lot of standouts, but to me, one of the things that Laura was really good about doing was giving opportunities in the Challenge Cup. I thought there were a lot of players that shined. Most notably Claudia Dickie, which led to the move we made in goal, and with that said I think you know we re-signed Claudia the other day, and she and Laurel both have been so good. We have one of the best goalkeeper cores in the league, and as young goalkeepers, both of them helped our team tremendously, and we were able to play in a style that we wanted to play, and I think it gave the players a lot of confidence moving forward in what we have there in those 2 young players.
Laura Harvey: I think just collectively, they’re all on different journeys. But they all see the value of being at this club. I think Olo’s (Van der Jagt) been a standout since the day she arrived at the club. But other players have been on a bit of a different journey to her, and it hasn’t been as uphill as Olo’s has. But I think the thing that has been great is we brought in this nine-player rookie class last year, and out of that nine the majority of stayed with us for two seasons, and now we’re at a point with them where we know a lot more about them. They know a lot more about us. They can see a future in their careers. So I think the Challenge Cups has been a really good opportunity for us to elevate and evaluate them, to see where they’re at, and decide what we feel like their future holds with us. And I’m excited for the majority of them to be with us moving forward and to see where their careers can all go, because I think last year was a big year for us in regards to selecting young talent in that draft.
Question: Lesle, you said all the different things happening. With the club for sale, so you need that piece to know what you can do from a roster perspective? Or are those independent?
Lesle Gallimore: Kind of a combination. To be honest, players want certainty. Right? What we’ve kept professing, and this is 100% what we believe to be true, is that our club was in a final this year, we’ve been a steady competitor in this league since its inception. And ownership and the investment, as you’ve seen across the league, with new ownership and sales, it’s all positive. And so our players, I know that they’re convinced that you know, whatever happens with the sale, that things are gonna continue to improve and evolve like they have around the rest of the league. But how that ties into free agency and re-signing players, it’s part of it. It’s part of the process. But I do think just free agency in general, being new to these players, is something that is also part of the process. … We feel comfortable that we’re approaching it the right way with our players, that’s kind of where we are. I don’t think the sale plays into it as much as maybe people think it would.
Question: What have the conversations been like, specifically with Rose and Sonnet?
Lesle Gallimore: They both know that they’re a huge part of our project. And clearly, we’re going to work really hard to re-sign, both of them. I think, ending the season as late as we did, expansion draft coming. there’s all timing issues with them. But there are ongoing discussions just about daily that we feel good about.
Laura Harvey: I just think that free agency is something that players should live through. I said this last year with our free agents, they should live through it, and I think the expansion draft adds an extra wrinkle to that. They know that if they’re still free they can’t be picked so that gives them some power to their own destiny, outside of wherever they choose their next destination to be. And you know, as we really value Rose and Sonnett, and they’re a huge part of our team. I think Sonnett’s evolution this year has been exceptional. And Rose has obviously had a tough year, but you saw that the back end of the season what she can do. And they know that we love them, and we want them to stay here. But I do think that every player, and we advise them this, that they should live through free agency and see what it looks like for them.
Question: Do you view the season as you were good enough, and just fell short in a game that started under some really weird circumstances? Or is there still something about the club where you feel like you need something a little bit different to get over the hump.
Laura Harvey: I think that to say it was weird is an understatement. I think the fact that Megan got hurt in the third minute, in any game, would be something that we would have to deal with, in that game, her last ever game like, I was actually really proud of the group that they responded the way that they did. Honestly, until they scored their goal, which I’m not even gonna into it, we were a little bit all over the place. But you could see we’re a little bit a shell of ourselves. And then I think when they scored it sort of like jolted us back into action a little bit. And I thought we were the better team leading into the halftime. But then we conceded off a set piece which is always really disappointing, but I thought in the second half we created enough opportunities to win the game.
And football’s like that, you know. I think that it had a bit of a similar feel to me from a game perspective as 2014. And you guys have lived this with me for a long time, like I felt OK after 2014 because I knew we played well. and we had enough chances to score, and I felt similar after this one. The fact that Pinoe went down when she did, the fact that the team responded the way that they did, the fact that we created enough chances to win the game. And I’m like, OK, we got that.
Now, I honestly think from an overall season perspective we weren’t good enough. As a team, we weren’t. We never hit momentum. We didn’t get on the run that we’ve often got into when we’ve been to championships before. So it’s hard to say, are we missing something? Because all the things I felt we were missing when we got to these positions previously, we had this time. So I just feel like we’ve gotta continue to keep grinding. What’s overshadowed a little bit about our team, which is frustrating at times is, I’ve been back for 2 ½ seasons. We finished second, got to a semifinal. We’ve finished first, got to a semifinal, finished fourth and got to a final. We’re very consistent. And we’re very consistent, a really high level. So that’s really challenging to do. To me, it’s more challenging to do that than to be in a one-off season.