Women's Soccer Conference Race Gets Started

There are a couple teams Pac-12 Networks women's soccer analyst Tammy Blackburn believes can push favorites UCLA and Stanford in the conference race this season. We won't have to wait long to see where one of those other teams stands.

Pac-12 Conference play for women's soccer season kicks off tonight, and we'll see how much No. 2 UCLA is tested when it hosts rising Washington State at 7 p.m. PT on the Pac-12 Networks.

"I think it will be a true test for Washington State to go on the road and open with one of the top two teams in the conference,"' Blackburn said. "It will be good for them to do this early. They will learn quickly and apply it to the rest of the season."

In addition to UCLA at No. 2, Stanford is ranked No. 3 in this week's NSCAA Coaches Poll. Oregon State comes in at No. 24 while Washington and Washington State are among the others receiving votes.

 The Cougars are off to a 6-1 start and received three votes in this week's NSCAA rankings. They feature one of the country's most explosive players this season, Micaela Castain, who ranks third nationally with an average of 1.143 goals per game.

"Washington State may surprise some people," Blackburn said. "Castain is a superstar in her own right but she will need a supporting cast. They are starting to connect well between the midfield and their front line. They've turned the corner in that area in their last few matches."

Tonight's match in Westwood is the first of five to air on the Pac-12 Networks the rest of the week. There are three more to come Friday and another on Sunday as teams around the conference get Pac-12 play underway.

UCLA and Stanford are the clear favorites in the conference race. The Bruins are 7-0-1 and have received terrific goalkeeping from Katelyn Rowland, who has not allowed a goal in 495 minutes this season and leads the nation in goals against average and save percentage. If Rowland shuts out the Cougars in the first half tonight, she will set the UCLA single-season record for consecutive minutes without allowing a goal.

The Bruins also feature such stars as Zakiya Bywaters, coming off  a Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honor, and Samantha Mewis and Sarah Killion, who just rejoined the team last weekend after helping the U.S. win the FIFA U-20 World Cup title.

Stanford, the 2011 NCAA champions, have won three straight conference titles and have a current 31-match unbeaten streak in conference matches. The Cardinal hosts Arizona State on Sunday at 2 p.m. on the Pac-12 Networks.

Stanford features Chioma Ubogagu, who also played on the FIFA U-20 title team. Stanford goalkeeper Aly Gleason is the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week.

UCLA and Stanford face off on Oct. 28.

"I can't wait until October 28," Blackburn said. "For certain, Stanford and UCLA are the frontrunners. They are just so good."


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