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Natalie Bode | NCAA.com | August 27, 2021

5 things to know for the 2021 NCAA women's soccer season

5 NCAA women’s soccer players to watch from the preseason top 25

The 2021 DI women's college soccer season officially begins this week, with season-opening games slated to take place on Thursday, Aug. 19. After a quick turnaround from crowning the 2020-2021 champion back in May, here are 5 things that stand out ahead of the upcoming season:

5 things to know for the 2021 NCAA women's soccer season

1. There are 3 current student-athletes who won gold 

Three current student-athletes brought home a gold medal from Tokyo while representing Team Canada. Gabby Carle Florida State, Julia Grosso of Texas and Jayde Riviere from Michigan all earned gold after Canada took down Sweden 3-2 on penalty kicks following a 1-1 draw. Grosso even converted the winning penalty kick, placing her shot off the right hand of Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl. This win marked Canada's first-ever gold medal in women's soccer.

2. There are 22 matchups on Thursday

With the official kick-off for the 2021 women's soccer season approaching on Thursday, we're keeping track of them all right here. Here are all the top 25 matches for opening night:

THURsdAY matchups
No. 11 Georgetown vs. NC State, 4 p.m. ET
No. 12 West Virginia vs. Buffalo, 5 p.m.
No. 14 USC vs. Pepperdine, 6 p.m.
No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 9 Texas A&M, 7 p.m.
No. 3 North Carolina vs. No. 19 Washington, 7 p.m.
No. 4 Virginia vs. Richmond, 7 p.m.
No. 5 UCLA vs. UC Irvine, 7 p.m.
No. 6 Duke vs. No. 13 Arkansas, 7 p.m.
No. 7 Clemson vs. St. Francis, 7 p.m.
No. 10 Penn State vs. UMass, 7 p.m.
No. 17 South Carolina vs. The Citadel, 7 p.m.
No. 20 South Florida vs. Florida, 7 p.m.
No. 23 Ole Miss vs. East Tennessee State, 7 p.m.
No. 24 Rutgers vs. Fairleigh Dickinson, 7 p.m.
No. 8 TCU at Stephen F. Austin, 8 p.m.
No. 18 Vanderbilt vs. Tennessee Tech, 8 p.m.
No. 21 Saint Louis vs. Xavier, 8 p.m.
No. 22 Rice vs. Sam Houston State, 8 p.m.
No. 16 Oklahoma State vs. UTSA, 8:30 p.m.
No. 15 BYU vs. Ohio State, 9 p.m.
No. 24 Stanford at Cal Poly, 10 p.m.
No. 2 Santa Clara vs. San Jose State, 10:30 p.m.

*all times in E.T.

3. There are 3 ranked matchups on Thursday. Here's what you need to know

Headlining Thursday, No. 1 Florida State will take on No. 9 Texas A&M. National title runner-up Florida State will have everything to play for this season as the Seminoles return their biggest star and MAC Hermann Trophy Award winner Jaelin Howell. In additional to Howell, Florida State will also be returning newly minted gold medalist Gabby Carle. Texas A&M on the other hand will look to reigning SEC Freshman of the Year Barbara Olivieri to continue to provide an offensive spark. On the defensive side, the Aggies will rely on Karlina Sample to anchor the backline this season. 

The second eye-catching matchup is No. 3 North Carolina taking on No. 19 Washington. North Carolina will have defender Maycee Bell back at 100% after a previous injury that limited her playing time last season. Veteran Rachel Jones will return for North Carolina and we should expect her to lead the offense for the Tar Heels. North Carolina also has many younger players that could potentially have a breakthrough this season. As for Washington, the Huskies return two Pac-12 first team selections in forward Summer Yates and midfielder Ameera Hussen. Washington will look to avenge its previous loss to North Carolina in the third round of the NCAA tournament back in May.

Lastly, No. 6 Duke will face No. 13 Arkansas. Duke is coming off a 3-1 exhibition win against Clemson, where All-ACC preseason selection Delaney Graham scored in the win and proved that she will continue to be a key factor for Duke. A duo of underclassmen in Michelle Cooper and Katie Groff also got on the board, proving that there is room for the Blue Devils to see younger talent step up this season. Expect Sophie Jones to also continue to have a strong presence in the midfield. Arkansas looks favorable to end up competing for the conference tournament title with several key seniors returning. Kayla McKeon, Parker Goins and Haley VanFossen will anchor this team. The addition of first-team All-American, MAC Hermann award semifinalist and the SEC Forward of the Year Anna Podojil to that lineup ensures that Arkansas will be competitive.

PRESEASON TOP 25: View the full rankings here

4. Players taken in the latest NWSL draft will still be eligible to play one final season before reporting in 2022

After the NWSL approved an NCAA waiver back in December 2020, Division I student-athletes who had played three or more seasons would be eligible for the draft, regardless if they declared their eligibility or not. This, combined with the NCAA ruling during the pandemic that the 2020 season would not count against players’ eligibility, is allowing players like Mikayla Colohan of BYU and Kelsey Turnbow of Santa Clara to stick around and compete for another national championship this fall before turning pro in early 2022.

5. The national championship will resume its normal schedule

After undergoing an altered schedule in 2020-2021 with a fall season and spring championship because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Division I women's soccer will resume its typical schedule. This means that the regular season will take place from August to the end of October, and the NCAA tournament will begin in November. The College Cup is set to take place December 3-5 in San Jose, California.

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