NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament: One reason each Pac-12 team can win the 2021 College Cup
The 2021 NCAA Division I Women's Soccer Tournament begins Friday, Nov. 12 with four Pac-12 teams—No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 USC, Stanford and Washington State—in the hunt for a national championship.
The Pac-12 has dominated this event over the years, combining for six national championships since 2007, tied for the most of any conference over that span. Stanford was the last Pac-12 team to take home the trophy, beating North Carolina in penalty kicks in the 2019 title game.
Here's one reason why a Pac-12 team can win the College Cup again in 2021.
UCLA Bruins (16-0-3, 8-0-3 Pac-12) — They refuse to lose
The Bruins are the only unbeaten team left in Division I soccer. They won the Pac-12 despite only having the fourth-best goal differential in the conference because they keep finding ways to win. Seven of UCLA's 16 wins came by one goal, and they proved they can outlast the best teams in the country, racking up premier wins against USC and Stanford.
Much of the credit goes to a young but stout Bruins backline, which hasn't conceded more than one goal in a game all season. Then there's senior Lauren Brzykcy, last season's Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the Year, who has a penchant for making the big save.
In the attacking third, the Bruins boast one of the best duos in the country in Mia Fishel (12 goals) and Reilyn Turner (10 goals).
First-round matchup: Friday, Nov. 12 vs. UC Irvine at 6 p.m PT on Pac-12 Insider
USC Trojans (13-3-2, 8-1-2 Pac-12) — They are loaded offensively
The Trojans lead the Pac-12 in scoring, with 48 goals in 18 games. Croix Bethune, the Pac-12 Midfielder of the Year, has enjoyed a breakout season with 13 goals and seven assists, while Penelope Hocking, the Pac-12 Forward of the Year and top scorer in USC history, continues to add to her legacy with 10 goals in 13 matches.
That kind of firepower means USC can never be counted out. That was on full display on Halloween when the Trojans scored three second-half goals in a 3-2 comeback win over Stanford.
First-round matchup: Saturday, Nov. 13 vs. Grand Canyon at 1 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Insider
Stanford Cardinal (13-5-1, 7-3-1 Pac-12) — They have the experience
All four Pac-12 teams in the NCAA Tournament have plenty of postseason experience, but the Cardinal still features several starters from its 2019 national championship team, including goalkeeper Katie Meyer, Pac-12 Defender of the Year Naomi Girma, midfielder Belle Briede, and forwards Maya Doms and Madison Haley. While this Stanford team isn’t quite as dominant as that squad that went 24-1, it is still a force to be reckoned with. It finished the regular season with a 46-16 goal differential, tied with USC for the second-best in the Pac-12.
And while Stanford’s first-round opponent is Santa Clara, the 2020-21 national champs, the Cardinal already beat the Broncos 3-1 on Sept. 19.
First-round matchup: Saturday, Nov. 13 at Santa Clara at 1 p.m. PT on Santa Clara Live Stream
Washington State Cougars (13-2-4, 7-1-3 Pac-12) — Good luck scoring against them
The Cougars and Pac-12 Goalkeeper/Freshman of the Year Nadia Cooper have only allowed 11 goals all season, tied with UCLA for the fewest in the Pac-12. WSU's 0.55 goals-against average ranks 11th in the nation. That defensive mettle was evident when the Cougs clawed their way to draws against USC and UCLA, and only surrendered one goal in a hard-fought loss to Stanford.
Washington State can put up some big offensive numbers, too. The Cougs generated the second-most shots in the Pac-12, and their 42 goals were tied with Arizona State for third-most in the conference, giving WSU the best goal differential in the Pac-12. The Cougs capped the regular season by netting four goals against Washington to win the Apple Cup, one of seven times they scored three or more goals in a game this season.
Elyse Bennett is the name to know. The fifth-year senior leads the Cougs with 10 goals. Grayson Lynch, a junior, isn’t far behind with seven. Both were key pieces on the 2019 team that made a surprise run to the national semifinals. Who says they can't do it again?
First-round matchup: Saturday, Nov. 13 vs. Montana at 5 p.m. PT on ESPN+