The 2019 NCAA women's soccer championship tournament is here. The 64-team field is set and No. 1-seeds Virginia, North Carolina, Stanford and Florida State want to pick up where they left off.
Although those four teams will be favorites to make it to the College Cup, single-elimination tournaments always bode well for teams looking to shock the world and make a deep run.
Here are five teams who can do just that in this year's women's soccer tournament:
1. Lamar (16-6)
Lamar will have to push the ball and rely on their offense if they want to hang around Pac-12 power UCLA in their opening-round match. Offense has been Lamar's biggest weapon all year, as the Cardinals have scored the third-highest amount of goals on the season with 64. The Cardinals not only have the most lethal scorer in Division I soccer, but they also have the fourth most lethal. Esther Okoronkwo has 25 goals, two ahead of defending MAC Hermann award winner Catarina Macario, and Lucy Ashworth has scored 18 goals on the year. This dynamic duo will have to power Lamar's engine early in matches as their defense has been the weaker part of their team all season.
The Cardinals faced two teams who are seeded in the tournament during the regular season — Oklahoma State and Arkansas, both No. 3-seeds. Lamar fell to the Razorbacks 7-0 in early September and lost to Oklahoma State 3-0 to kick off the season. Although those aren't necessarily results you want to remind your team of heading into a match that features similar competition, it is important to note that Lamar has been 15-2 and won its conference since that Sept. 5 loss to Arkansas. If Okoronkwo, Ashworth and company can get on the board early, build some momentum and potentially knock off UCLA then watch out, one of the country's best offensive teams could go on a post-season tear.
2. Memphis (17-2-1)
Memphis was once ranked No. 8 in the country. Now the Tigers head into the NCAA tournament unseeded with an opening match against Washington State. If they get past the Cougars they'll have a potential date with No. 1-seed Virginia, a team that was a mainstay atop the United Soccer Coaches rankings all season until they were knocked off by North Carolina in the ACC championship game. The Tigers are 17-2-1 with their two losses coming against Kansas and South Florida in the AAC championship game. Now ranked No. 14 in the nation, Memphis was one win away from receiving a top seed in the tournament, but now they'll have to fight their way through a Pac-12 opponent and potentially one of the best teams in the ACC.
Although Memphis doesn't have the track record as some of the favorites predicted to make it to the College Cup, their position in the bracket makes them intriguing. A team at one point that looked like it could compete against anyone in the top-10 now has to look themselves in the mirror and decide whether or not they were the eighth-best team in the country at one point.
If they do want to compete for a College Cup bid, the Tigers will have to feed their two goal-scorers, Clarissa Larisey and Tanya Boychuk who combine for 25 goals, 7 assists and 57 points on the season.
3. No. 4 Penn State (15-6-1)
Penn State started the year with pretty lofty expectations. The Nittany Lions were preseason No. 6 in the country, but due to some tough regular-season Big Ten play, they fell out of the rankings and never regained traction until the Big Ten tournament. The team out of Happy Valley seems to be peaking at the right time. They have won nine straight matches including a Big Ten championship match versus Michigan. Now sitting in Stanford's quadrant of the bracket, the Nittany Lions will have their work cut out for them. Led by a balanced trio of midfielders in Ally Schlegel, Sam Coffey and Frankie Tagliaferri, Penn State will look to repeat their 2018 tournament run where they went from unseeded to the quarterfinals. Schlegel, Coffey and Tagliaferri, who combine for 70 points with 24 goals and 22 assists, will have to deliver. Momentum only won't be good enough to carry Penn State past Stanford and into College Cup contention.
4. South Florida (14-4)
Memphis looked to be the overwhelming favorite to take home to the American Athletic crown heading into the AAC tournament, but the Bulls had another idea. USF is 14-4 on the season with notable wins over Wake Forest, UCF, Memphis and SMU. They'll be looking to avenge their early-season loss to Florida in the first round of the NCAA tournament when they get a second chance at the Gators at 7 p.m. on Sept. 15. South Florida lost 2-0 last time out.
The Bulls have one of the nation's top scorers at the helm. Evelyne Viens currently has 20 goals and is ranked third across all DI women's soccer. She has a trio of players who are more than capable to feed her the ball in the postseason. Andrea Hauksdottir, Aubrey Megrath and Sydny Nasello combined for 21 assists.
If USF can get past UF, they'll potentially face No. 4-seed Washington in the second round. No. 1-seed and defending national champion Florida State will probably be there in the third round awaiting whoever makes it out of the USF, UF, Washington and Seattle U group. Momentum is on the side of the Bulls though, as they have won eight out of their past 10 matches.
5. Xavier (16-3-2)
No. 1-seed Georgetown made it to the College Cup last season after cruising through the Big East tournament. This year, the Big East looked to have Georgetown's name all over it again, but Xavier had different ideas. Knocking off both Villanova and Georgetown 2-0 in the Big East tournament, Xavier might be in the best position to make a tournament run. The Musketeers have won seven straight, outscoring their opponents 15-2 in the process. The school out of Cincinnati will face Virginia Tech in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Hokies come out of one of the toughest conferences in the women's college soccer in the ACC, so they'll put a fight against the Big East champions, but the Musketeers will use the momentum they have gained over the past month to try and cook the Hokies, just weeks before Thanksgiving.
Samantha Dewey leads the Musketeers with 13 goals. They also have a dangerous pair of ball distributors in the middle of the field in Grace Bahr and Carrie Lewis who have combined for 17 assists.. If Xavier can get past VT, they'll more than likely play Big 12 champion Kansas in the second round.