Who won the title last year?
Graduating senior Raquel Rodriguez had the lone goal in a thrilling College Cup final that Penn State won 1-0 over Duke last December.
Following a first half defensive stalemate, Rodriguez notched the game-winner in the 72nd minute off a pass into traffic by Mallory Weber. Rodriguez corralled the ball and finished the shot to deliver the Nittany Lions their first national title in program history.
Penn State now enters 2016 as the No. 2 ranked team in the NSCAA Coaches poll with eyes on a repeat.
Three of the Nittany Lions’ top-five points leaders from last season are returning as juniors this year in Megan Schafer (30 points), Frannie Crouse (29) and Emily Ogle (19), giving Penn State a strong base of experience on attack.
But in net, redshirt sophomore Rose Chandler will be called upon to replace 2015 team captain Britt Eckerstrom and her 0.46 goals allowed per game last year. Chandler played in five games last year (no starts) and allowed two goals on 12 shots faced.
For a defensive team that didn’t allow more than two goals all of last season, Chandler’s play and development may be a major factor in Penn State’s pursuit for a second championship.
Who’s No. 1 this year?
Ahead of the Nittany Lions in the first coaches poll is Florida State, who earned 18 out of 30 first-place votes.
Florida State entered last year’s tournament bracket as the other No. 1 seed opposite of Penn State before being eliminated by the Blue Devils in the semifinals, spoiling an 18-3-4 season.
With the return of preseason All-ACC Team members Kirsten Crowley and Megan Connolly for their senior and sophomore seasons respectively, the Seminoles stand as early favorites for this year’s College Cup to be played in Cary, North Carolina.
Florida State plays in a tough ACC conference that sent eight teams to the tournament last season, so fighting through its annual gauntlet of conference foes should serve as adequate preparation for the start of NCAA Tournament play.
What darkhorse teams are out there?
So if the Seminoles falter in their bracket, there’s a good chance at least one other ACC member will find a place in the College Cup. Virginia, Duke, UNC, Clemson, Notre Dame and Virginia Tech will all be in play to knock off Florida State as ACC champions and position themselves nicely for the postseason.
One outside program to monitor is No. 5 Stanford, the preseason choice to top the Pac-12. In a less-stacked conference, Stanford is expected to contend with USC for the crown and hopes to improve on its quarterfinals loss in the NCAA Tournament last year to Duke on penalty kicks.