What to Watch

You just know this one was circled on the schedule months ago. The big games always are.

No. 14 Old Dominion heads to the Creighton Invitational this weekend where it will meet the host of the tournament, the second-ranked Bluejays, for a huge non-conference match-up at 8:30 p.m. ET Friday.

The Monarchs are off to a 4-0-0 start behind a team that returned 10 of 11 starters from last season. With a spotless record, they have been steadily rising in the polls since opening the season at No. 23 in the NSCAA Division I Preseason Top 25.

CREIGHTON INVITATIONAL
DATE MATCHUP TIME (ET)
Friday Wm & Mary vs. Drake 6 p.m.
  ODU vs. Creighton 8:30 p.m.
Sunday ODU vs. Drake 12:30 p.m.
  Wm & Mary vs. Creighton 3:30 p.m.

Last weekend, ODU made headlines with a 6-0 victory against Seton Hall -- a game that was highlighted by six second-half goals and a hat trick by junior forward Tim Hopkinson. Hopkinson garnered National Player of the Week from various outlets, and the Monarchs shot up to as high as No. 5 in the Soccer America poll.

“It’s a very good group in terms of the attitude and the chemistry, and we have nurtured that over the years and hopefully, we’re seeing signs that they understand what it takes to win,” ODU head coach Alan Dawson said.

But Dawson knows all too well that heading to a place like Creighton -- a 2011 NCAA College Cup participant -- will be challenging. And it will not stop there. Four days later, on Sept. 18, the Monarchs will play host to No. 3 Maryland.

“We’re going to test them in a very strong way this weekend, and beyond this weekend when we play Maryland,” Dawson said.  “Winning on the road is not an easy thing, especially against a great opponent like Creighton.”

This is definitely a statement game -- or maybe week -- for the Monarchs. Since Old Dominion announced it would move from the Colonial Athletic Association to Conference USA next year, the Monarchs are ineligible for an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament. While seven of ODU’s past eight NCAA appearances have been at-large bids, Dawson’s team is aware a postseason berth could be a little harder to come by.

“It’s something that we have to be aware of and we have scheduled very aggressively, and we have to prove to the NCAA Committee that we can compete at the highest level,” Dawson said. “Putting the Creightons and Marylands of the world on the schedule gives you an opportunity to do that.”

The Monarchs enter the contest tied for the national lead in scoring with 3.75 goals per game, while Hopkinson ranks first in the NCAA with 3.5 points per game and third with 1.25 goals per game. Senior Chris Harmon is also among the nation’s best in scoring with 1.0 goals per game, which ranks fifth in Division I.

Dawson knows, probably more than most, that Creighton will be duly prepared for the Monarchs. In 1996, Dawson served as an assistant coach at North Carolina on Elmar Bolowich’s staff. Bolowich left the Tar Heels program after 22 seasons to take the helm at Creighton in 2011, and led the Bluejays to a 21-2-1 record and their first College Cup appearance in nine years.

“Elmar is one of my best friends in the game,” Dawson said. “He’s got a very organized team that knows how to win and they don’t beat themselves. They’re very smart and patient and composed. It will be a real challenge for us.” 
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#PoofNation -- Mississippi State's Lauren Morgan, left, and goalkeeper Skylar Rosson begin their pre-match ritual. (Just keep reading; it'll all make sense soon enough ...)
Mississippi State Athletics
 

• After upsetting No. 3 Georgia Southern last Saturday, The Citadel cracked the Top 25 in the FCS Coaches’ poll for the first time since 2008. The No. 23 Bulldogs are off to a 2-0 start for the first time since '07, and will test their new ranking with their second consecutive contest against a top-10 opponent at No. 7 Appalachian State on Saturday in a Southern Conference meeting.

If history means anything, the Bulldogs are in for a tough matchup against the Mountaineers. The Citadel has lost 17 of its past 18 meetings in the series. The Bulldogs last beat Appalachian in 2003, and have not defeated the Mountaineers in Boone since 1992.

• The Miami women’s volleyball team will look to make some noise for the second week in a row when the Hurricanes travel to the Louisville Tournament and face the No. 12 Cardinals on Saturday. Miami is fresh off a 3-1 upset of then-No. 6 Florida State -- the highest-ranked opponent the Hurricanes have defeated in program history. Junior right side hitter Alex Johnson posted 16 kills and 16 digs against the Seminoles, garnering Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Week honors. The Hurricanes are on the verge of breaking into the AVCA Top 25 as they are receiving the most votes outside the poll.

NO. 16 MIDWESTERN ST. 65,
TEXAS A&M-COMMERCE 14

Highlights | Full Game Replay
Stats: Box Score | Season
Rankings: AFCA | D2Football.com

• Are you ready for some football? The Lone Star Conference is. All nine of the conference members will play at Cowboys Stadium in the 2012 Lone Star Football Festival, beginning Thursday when Midwestern State and Texas A&M-Commerce collide at 8 p.m. ET, for a game that will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network and NCAA.com.

On Friday, Incarnate Word and Eastern New Mexico will kick off at 4:30 p.m., and then Saturday there is a triple-header on the gridiron. The action starts at 1 p.m. with Angelo State against two-time NCAA Division II national champion Valdosta State from the Gulf South Conference, followed by a pair of conference clashes: Tarleton State faces Abilene Christian at 5 p.m., and Texas A&M-Kingsville and West Texas A&M wrap up the day at 9 p.m.

The 2011 Lone Star Football Festival drew an LSC attendance record 24,837 fans to a tripleheader of games.

• When No. 3 Stanford and No. 15 San Diego State meet on Friday it will be a matchup between one of the most productive offensive teams in the nation and the stingiest team in the nation. Last weekend, the Cardinal handed previously unbeaten Georgetown a 6-0 loss. Meanwhile, the Aztecs enter the match with a 7-0-0 record and have allowed just one goal, in a 2-1 win against Iowa State last weekend.

San Diego State sports the best goals against average in the nation at 0.139, and is led by redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Rachel Boaz, who has spent every minute in front of the net for the Aztecs. Stanford is scoring 2.83 goals, which ranks 15th in the nation. However, the Cardinal has a tendency to put up big numbers when it gets on a roll. Stanford netted six goals against both Georgetown and Santa Clara, and three versus Penn State.

• In Division III football, No. 3 Wesley will tangle with a top-10 opponent for the second consecutive week, facing No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor on Saturday. Wesley downed No. 6 Salisbury 17-7 last weekend. Quarterback Justin Sottilare has tossed six TD passes in two games for Wesley, while UMHB senior running back Darius Wilson exploded for four touchdowns (3 rush, 1 receiving) in a victory against Kean last Saturday.

• Two Division II women’s volleyball powers will clash in a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference contest on Friday as No. 3 Concordia-St. Paul travels to No. 2 Southwest Minnesota State.  Concordia leads the all-time series 23-21 and has won all but two matches against the Mustangs since 2002. However, SMSU is off to its best start in school history at 7-0, and has lost just one set on the season. The Golden Bears are the five-time defending NCAA champions.

• The eighth-ranked Old Dominion field hockey squad already knocked off then-No. 1 Maryland on the Terrapins’ home field earlier this season. The Lady Monarchs are hoping they can pull off the feat again as they travel to No. 1 North Carolina on Friday for a top-10 matchup. While the Tar Heels fell to Syracuse 1-0 in overtime on Sept. 1, they have been on fire offensively in their last three games, outscoring foes 22-1. UNC leads the nation in scoring with 5.33 goals per game.

• Across the nation, women’s soccer players have returned to their collegiate clubs after participating in the U-20 World Cup in Japan and are ready to make a splash for their respective teams.

At Portland State, Danilea Solis came back during the weekend from competing for Mexico in the U-20 World Cup and made an immediate impact, helping the Vikings score their first victory of the year. Solis netted a game-winning goal in double-overtime for a 2-1 win versus Boise State last Saturday.

Seven players from Atlantic Coast Conference teams are back, along with Virginia head coach Steve Swanson, who led the U.S. U-20 squad to a World Cup title with a 1-0 shutout against Germany last Saturday.

In the most anticipated game of the week between No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Duke, three players will rejoin their respective teams. Florida State welcomes back Kassey Kallman, a defender who contributed nine points last season, while Duke gets a huge boost as Mollie Pathman and Kelly Cobb will be back in their Blue Devils uniforms. Pathman and Cobb were the top two scorers from last year’s squad. The Seminoles play host to Duke at 7 p.m. Thursday (ESPN3.com).

• The Mississippi State women’s soccer team is off to a 7-0 start and has notched five consecutive shutouts -- the longest streak in school history. So, what is firing up the Bulldogs? Maybe it is the “poofing.” Prior to each match, senior Lauren Morgan and her best friend, goalkeeper Skylar Rosson, shake hands at midfield. They have added a new move every year to the handshake, and now it is capped off by the duo checking each other’s hair poofs. The tradition even has its own hashtag on Twitter -- #PoofNation. The Bulldogs open Southeastern Conference play at South Carolina on Friday.

Clark field hockey senior Mel Melkonian recorded her 18th career hat trick in a 4-3 win against Nichols on Tuesday, becoming just the 21st player in Division III history to collect 200 career points (204). Melkonian has posted hat tricks in three of the Bison’s first four games, and is currently the all-divisions active scoring leader. She looks to add to her total in a non-conference match against Fitchburg State on Thursday.

Albion's Zach Brewer caught the game-winning TD with less than two minutes remaining in a 22-21 win against Wheaton (Ill.).
Courtesy Lowell McGinnis

• Even in the big, bad world of college athletics, there are still positive stories that come through my inbox and (honestly) warm my heart on a daily basis.  In my Weekend Review on Sept. 10, I wrote about Albion’s one-point upset of No. 10 Wheaton (Ill.) in Division III football. Zach Brewer caught a game-winning 21-yard TD from quarterback Spencer Krauss with 1:30 remaining in the game to lift Albion to a 22-21 victory against the Thunder.

It was a great ending and a stunning upset, but at the time of the writing, I didn’t know any background of the real story. After reading the Weekend Review on Monday, it was Krauss who made sure I did know the back story, sending an e-mail to Albion’s sports information folks talking about Brewer and everything he has been through since losing his mother Heidi in a car accident a year-and-a-half ago.

Brewer’s game-winning catch came the day before what would have been his mother’s 42nd birthday. His Aunt Tammy sends him a text prior to every football game, but the one before the Wheaton game was extra special. “She said ‘We got a good victory (against Defiance) last week, but it’s the day before your mom’s birthday, let’s make this one for her,’” Brewer said.  “I slept on that all night and thought it would be nice to upset No. 10 and say it’s for my mom.”

After the game, Brewer’s aunt finally found him in celebration on the crowded field. “I hugged my aunt first and she was crying, I was crying,” Brewer said. “She told me my mom was proud of me and that she was looking down smiling saying ‘That’s my boy.’ ”

Interestingly, Krauss and Brewer were once high school rivals, but have built a strong friendship as teammates and have great chemistry on the field. Krauss wanted to share Brewer’s story with the rest of the world and how he has used football as an outlet to deal with his mother’s loss.

“I felt like Brewer deserved some recognition for what he has been through and how he has persevered,” Krauss said. “If nothing else, let his story be an inspiration to those out there who have lost a parent or loved one.”

Albion is back in action Saturday at Benedictine (Ill.).

Follow Amy Farnum on Twitter: @NCAA_Amy