Alabama coach Wes Hart prepares his team for the Crimson Tide’s College Cup debut at Wakemed Soccer Field.
* * * * * * * * * *
Three of the four teams at the 2022 NCAA Division 1 Women’s College Cup in Cary, North Carolina — defending champions Florida State (17-2-3), Alabama (23-2-1), and UCLA (20-2-1) — were No .1 seeds in their regions of parenthesis. No. 2 seeded North Carolina (19-4-1) defeated its region’s No. 1 Notre Dame in the quarterfinals.
Two of the teams, UCLA and Florida State, are managed by freshman coaches.
It will be the first meeting of the year between the Bruins and the Crimson Tide. The other encounter will be a rubber match, with the ACC rivals going 2-1 in their first two matchups.
Friday December 2nd
State of Florida vs North Carolina 6 p.m. ET.
Alabama vs. UCLA8:30 p.m. ET
Monday, December 5th
Finale, 6 p.m. ET
1. Seminoles roll on smoothly after coach change
Defending champion Florida State has managed to navigate change and uncertainty to reach the College Cup for a third straight year. Coach Markus Krikorian resigned after winning his third national title (after FSU wins in 2018 and 2014) in 21 seasons at the helm. That has prompted more than a dozen players to consider a move. First year head coach Brian Pensky convinced many of those players to stay on the team, a big reason why FSU was seeded No. 1, marched through its bracket region, and is now just two wins away from a fourth national championship.
Senior midfielder Jenna nighttail, a 2022 MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist, has scored six goals and 16 assists, the second-most in the nation. junior midfielder Onyi Echeginia transfer from Mississippi State, leads FSU with 10 goals, and an experienced defense is anchored by a junior goaltender Christina Roquethe ACC Goalkeeper of the Year 2022.
Pensky was the head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers for ten seasons before joining FSU.
NCAA Title (3): 2014, 2018, 2021..
2. Tar Heels overcome injury for College Cup return
Anson Dorrance, now in his 46th season at the helm, has guided the UNC Tar Heels to 21 of the 40 NCAA D1 titles. Their last championship win came in 2012. The Tar Heels were runners-up in 2018 (vs. Florida State) and 2019 (shootout v. Stanford), were semifinalists in 2020 but were eliminated in the first round in 2021.
They are returning to the 2022 College Cup despite various injuries. All-American defenseman and senior captain Mayce Bell and All-ACC midfielder Sam Mesa went down with season-ending injuries.
After defeating their first-round opponent, the Tar Heels beat 2021 runners-up BYU 3-2 to earn their seat in the College Cup by beating a red-hot Notre Dame team in South Bend, Indiana 2-0 upset. Redshirt newbie Ally Sennor and junior attackers Talia Dellaperuta, both of whom represented USA at the 2022 U-20 World Cup, scored against the Fighting Irish. Junior forward Avery Patterson leads the Tar-Heels with 11 goals and her eight assists tie with senior forward Isabel Cox for most of the team.
NCAA titles (21): 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2012.
3. Crimson Tide aims to cement the Dream Season title
Alabama might be the underdog given their modest history — the Crimson Tide won their only NCAA playoff game in 2021 — but coaches Wes Hart‘s team started its NCAA tournament run by beating Jackson State 9-0, then beat Portland, UC Irvine and Duke (in overtime) to make it to the College Cup.
The Crimson Tide have scored a ton of goals this season; It ranks second nationally with an average of 2.92 goals per game. PhD student forward Riley Mattingly Parker, a 2022 MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist, recovered from an ACL injury and scored 17 goals, a tally that stands for the sixth-most in the nation. Seven of those goals counted as game winners, tops in Division 1.
junior midfielder Felicia Knox has pulled the strings on Alabama’s offense all season with seven goals and 20 assists, the most in the entire NCAA Division 1 this season. Senior Defender Reyna Reyes is another Hermann Mac semifinalist after scoring eight goals and helping the Crimson Tide achieve 12 shutouts. Gianna Paul won SEC Freshman of the Year honors after scoring eight goals off the bench that season.
Hart, a former MLS player, became Alabama’s head coach in 2015 after two years as Krikorian’s assistant at Florida State.
NCAA Title (0):
4. The new coach puts UCLA back in the finals
UCLA, under the direction of the freshman coach Margaret Aozasais aiming for his first national title since 2013 and first appearance in league play since 2017. The Bruins were semifinalists in 2019 before failing in the 2020 third round and 2021 first round.
Their road to the College Cup wasn’t easy, as the Bruins needed a penalty shootout to beat UCF and most recently achieved an overtime win over the University of Virginia.
The Bruins have no trouble scoring thanks to the young forward duo Reilyn Turner (nine goals) and midfielder sunshine fonts (11 goals and seven assists). Another US youth national team veteran, Lili Reale leads UCLA’s defense, which has done a good job of preventing goals this season.
Aozasa, who replaced the nine-year-old head coach Amanda Cromwellserved as Stanford’s assistant coach Peter Ratcliffe 2015-2021, an era that included two national title wins as a cardinal. The former Santa Clara captain had also trained at youth club MLVA.
NCAA title (1): 2013
Photos: Crimson Tide Photos/UA Athletics, UCLA Athletics