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Alberto Camargo | NCAA.com | October 28, 2022

5 storylines to keep an eye on during DI women's soccer conference tournament week

College soccer storylines and postseason predictions

The 2022 DI women’s soccer postseason is upon us, with a few conference tournaments already underway and the rest of the pack to follow on Halloween weekend. Next week will be jam-packed with high-stakes matches and teams looking to secure a spot in the DI women’s soccer championship with an automatic bid.

CHAMPS SEASON: Tournament schedules, AQ tracker

Looking ahead to the heart-stopping knockout soccer coming our way, I wanted to point out five storylines around the country that we all should be keeping an eye on as conference tournament champions are crowned and the national championship tournament field takes shape. 

Can Michigan State do the double?

Michigan State women's soccer celebrating a goal No. 6 Michigan State will kickoff its Big Ten tournament campaign vs. Minnesota on Sunday.

Boy, have I been proven wrong by the No. 6 Spartans, time and time again. As I followed the Big Ten season and saw their rise to the top, I kept expecting the other shoe to drop. Yet, here sits Michigan State, Big Ten regular season champions, holder of the nation’s best goals-against average and a team on a 12-match unbeaten run spanning all of conference play. 

Keep in mind: this is a program that held an all-time Big Ten winning percentage of .295 coming into this season. This has been a truly remarkable season for Michigan State under first-year head coach Jeff Hosler and an entirely new staff.

That said — the Spartans have come this far, and though they have all but secured a spot in the NCAA tournament, they still have a chance at more history. Winning the Big Ten double — a conference tournament championship to go along with their regular-season title — would be a program-first and complete the most successful season in Michigan State women’s soccer history.

Who will survive the ACC?

Duke-North Carolina women's soccer No. 11 Duke's Michelle Cooper (18) finished with an ACC-best 12 goals in the regular season.

Six of the top 12 teams in the latest Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) come from the ACC, a measure of how strong each team is and the conference is seen as a whole. Maybe that isn’t strange to see year after year from the ACC, but that doesn’t make the conference tournament any less fascinating. 

Every single matchup, from the first round to whoever survives to the final, is an NCAA tournament preview. The ACC bracket will include three of the highest-scoring teams in DI in No. 2 North Carolina, No. 5 Florida State and No. 19 Pittsburgh, as well as three teams that have allowed 10 or fewer goals all season in No. 4 Notre Dame, No. 8 Virginia and the Tar Heels.

BRACKETOLOGY: Predicting the women's soccer bracket before selections

Notre Dame and Pittsburgh are each seeking their first ACC tournament title since joining the conference in 2013. Duke — for all the program’s recent success and history in the ACC — has also been unable to capture a tournament title in its five previous runs to the final. Virginia is looking to avenge its loss in the 2021 final to a Florida State team that wants to win for first-year coach Brian Pensky and complete a three-peat. 

Missing any game of the ACC tournament means you miss out on college soccer of the highest quality, simple as that.

UCF’s swan song in the American

UCF women's soccer celebrating No. 22 UCF's Kristen Scott (7) leads her team and the AAC in goals this season with nine.

No. 22 UCF is one of the many dominoes that have fallen in this year’s conference realignment, and that means this is the last year the Knights will compete in the American, the conference the school helped found in 2013. They also won the AAC tournament that year — and have not since.

They have also missed out on the NCAA tournament every year since 2017 after a streak of 10 straight appearances prior to that. It would be a nice bookend to the Knights’ time in the American to go out as regular season and tournament champions (just like they were in 2013) on their way to the Big 12 next season.

Can anyone in the Sun Belt knock South Alabama off its perch?

South Alabama women's soccer Since 2013, South Alabama women's soccer has won 13 of a possible 18 Sun Belt conference titles.

Let’s take a peek into the Sun Belt, where South Alabama has won eight of the last nine conference tournaments and 13 overall titles since 2013. The Jaguars looked to be on their way to another regular-season title until a 1-0 loss to Arkansas State in the final game of the regular season, which lifted the Red Wolves over South Alabama in conference points and put them in pole position for a No. 1 seed in the Sun Belt Championship.

Arkansas State is no stranger to topping the table at the end of the regular season — they repeated as regular-season champions in 2021 — but the Red Wolves have never won the conference tournament, twice finishing as runners-up to South Alabama in 2019 and 2020. Does the Jaguars’ history and experience in this tournament propel them to yet another Sun Belt crown, or will a fresh face take the AQ spot?

What do we make of Rice?

Rice women's soccer Grace Collins As of Oct. 27, Rice's Grace Collins leads C-USA in points (24) with her eight goals and eight assists.

The Owls are as confounding a team as any to me. With one game remaining in conference play, Rice is a perfect 9-0 in C-USA play but sits just four games over .500 thanks to a 2-7 record out of conference. Some of those losses are understandable considering the opposition (SMU, Florida State, Texas A&M), while others raise eyebrows like a 1-0 loss at home to Loyola Maryland.

That final game of the regular season is against a UAB team that ranks over 30 spots ahead of Rice in the RPI. The result won’t change anything regarding seeding or putting the Owls’ regular-season title in jeopardy, but the Blazers will certainly be Rice’s toughest test of the conference schedule. It could provide some major context on what this Rice team is made of as it attempts to complete a perfect C-USA season.

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