Conference play starts for some teams this weekend, and so far this season, one conference has stood out. The ACC claims teams in four of the top-five spots in this week’s poll with No. 3 Connecticut being the lone outsider.
Now that ACC teams will start squaring off against each other – including No. 1 North Carolina at No. 4 Virginia – teams from other conferences have a shot to climb up. That is as long as they can take care of their business this weekend.
No. 1 North Carolina
The Tar Heels get thrown right into the teeth of the ACC this weekend when it travels to No. 4 Virginia on Friday for its first conference game of the year. North Carolina then stays in Virginia for an out-of-conference meeting at Virginia Commonwealth on Sunday. Playing ranked opponents is nothing new for this Tar Heels team, who has already picked up wins at Iowa, against Old Dominion and then-No. 9 Michigan.
Strong goaltending has been a staple for North Carolina this season as the trio of Sassi Ammer, Shannon Johnson and Rosie Wood has combined to hold opponents to a .86 goals-per-game average. Ammer has played the most, starting four games and playing 282 minutes, has allowed three goals and made 10 saves for a team-high .769 save percentage. On offense, five players are in double figures in points, led by Nina Notman’s 12 (five goals, two assists).
No. 2 Maryland
The Terrapins don’t have as tough of a schedule this weekend as North Carolina, but it should face a challenge of its own on Friday night when it hosts No. 15 Wake Forest in its ACC opener. On Sunday, Michigan – who started the year in the top 10 but is now unranked – travels to Maryland to face the Terps. Maryland has had recent success against its two weekend opponents, winning eight consecutive against the Demon Deacons and nine consecutive against the Wolverines.
Senior Jill Witmer picked up seven points on three goals last weekend in wins against Columbia and Miami (Ohio). That ran her season total to a team-high six goals and 17 points. She has two more points than Anna Dessoye, who has four goals and seven assists. In just under 300 minutes of playing time, Natalie Hunter has made 15 saves while giving up five goals.
No. 3 Connecticut
The Huskies moved up one spot in the latest ranking and have already picked up one win, defeating No. 7 Massachusetts on Wednesday. UConn only has one game this weekend, going to New Jersey to play Rutgers on Sunday in the Big East opener for both teams. A win against Rutgers, a team UConn defeated 5-0 last season, would improve the Huskies to 13-0 but still 10 wins shy of the school record set for most wins to start the season.
Some school history has already been made this year at UConn with goalkeeper Sarah Mansfield moving into first on the school’s all-time wins list with a victory last Sunday against Lafayette. Mansfield has made 29 saves so far this season while yielding six goals for a 82.9 saves percentage. Chloe Hunnable has six goals, twice as many as the Huskies’ second-leading goal scorers.
No. 4 Virginia
The Cavaliers will probably have one of their toughest weekend schedules of the season, hosting No. 1 North Carolina on Friday and No. 13 Northwestern on Sunday. Only once this season has Virginia given up more than two goals but its defense will get a test on Friday against UNC, which is averaging 5.5 goals per game. The Virginia offense will face a big test on Sunday against the Wildcats, who are second in the nation in goals-against average (.73).
The Cavaliers offense, which is averaging four goals per game, is led by the duo of Elly Buckley (nine goals) and Caleigh Foust (seven goals). Buckley has 59 shots this season, more than twice as many as Foust, but also assisted on four goals for a total of 22 points. They get help from Riley Tata, who has scored on one-third of her 15 shot attempts. Jenny Johnstone has still played every minute this season and has made 33 saves during that time.
No. 5 Syracuse
Playing its first conference game as a member of the ACC, the Orange travel to No. 17 Boston College on Friday. Then on Sunday, Syracuse pays a visit to the defending national champion, Princeton, to cap its tough two-game road trip. Though they were not conference foes yet, Syracuse and BC did play last season with the Orange coming out with the 4-2 victory. Also last season, Syracuse gave Princeton its only loss of the regular season. If the Orange can duplicate those results, it will be sitting at 8-0 and a possible trip up the polls.
Lauren Brooks scored once in last weekend’s two victories, giving her seven goals for the year. Thanks to six assists, Leonie Geyer has the same number of points as Brooks (14) to lead Syracuse. Jess Jecko has only given up five goals in 420 minutes of action.
No. 6 Princeton
The Tigers fell from No. 3 in the most recent poll following their loss last Sunday to Penn State, and go on the road this weekend for the first time this season. On Friday, Princeton opens its Ivy League season at Dartmouth before heading to No. 5 Syracuse for a little payback for last year’s loss.
In four games this season, Teresa Benevenuti leads the Tigers with three goals and three assists for nine points. Allison Evans is only two points behind her with her two goals and three assists. Christina Maida has started each game for Princeton, making 13 saves and giving up six goals.
No. 7 Massachusetts
Despite losing last weekend to Syracuse, the Minutewomen stayed in the top 10 this week. Their run could end following Wednesday’s loss, but a loss on Sunday to Hofstra could really send them tumbling in the rankings. This is the first time these two programs will meet though both teams have lost to Syracuse and beaten Maine this season.
Brooke Sabia has had a strong start to her season, scoring nine goals to lead UMass with 18 points. No other Minutewoman has more than two goals though four have multiple goals on the season. Sam Carlino has blocked 36 shots this season and has given up 11 goals.
No. 8 Stanford
Conference play also opens up on the West Coast this weekend, with Stanford playing its first NorPac game on Friday against California. The Cardinal has been pretty comfortable in NorPac play recently, capturing the previous four conference titles. When these two teams met three times last season, Stanford won all three meetings and has won 12 of the past 16 games they have played.
Stanford has gotten balanced scoring this season with Kelsey Harbin, Courtney Haldeman and Hope Burke all having three goals. Harbin has the team lead in points thanks to two assists. Dulcie Davies has a .80 goals-against average in six starts this season.
No. 9 Duke
The Blue Devils do not start ACC play this weekend, instead hosting Northwestern on Friday and Radford on Sunday. Last year, the Wildcats bested the Blue Devils 4-2 while the Blue Devils have not played Radford since 2007. But Duke has never lost to the Highlanders 13 all-time games.
Emmie La Marchand and Heather Morris each have four goals to lead the Blue Devils. Le Marchand does hold the team lead in points thanks to her one assist. Lauren Blazing is averaging less than one goal given up per game this year and has 24 saves against six goals given up.
No. 10 Iowa
The Hawkeyes held onto a top-10 position after dropping to then-No. 10 Stanford last Sunday. They get one more weekend away from Big Ten play, playing Drexel on Saturday before going against Kent State on Sunday with both games being played in Kent, Ohio.
Iowa has gotten to the No. 10 spot and its 4-2 record thanks in large part to its defense. With the offense averaging 2.67 goals per game (including seven in one game against Central Michigan), goalkeeper Kelsey Boyce has turned away 22 shot attempts while giving up seven goals (a 1.17 goals-against average). Natalie Cafone and Stephanie Norlander each have four goals to lead the Hawkeyes.