Once again, Pittsburgh will be hosting the NCAA Division II Soccer Championships this weekend. Expect to see some very high level soccer at Highmark Stadium on Thursday and Saturday on the women’s side.
Here’s a brief run down of Thursday’s match-ups, which kickoff the weekend’s action this year. as we share a little bit more on each team.
Women’s Final Four:
No. 1 Grand Valley St. (23-1) vs No. 4 St. Rose College (21-2-1) 11 a.m.
No 2 Flager (23-0-1) vs No. 4 Western Washington (22-2) 2 p.m.
Grand Valley St. Lakers (MI)
Grand Valley State are looking to get back to the final, as they’re the only school returning to Pittsburgh from this year’s field of men’s and women’s team. They’re also the most dominant NCAA Division II women’s program of the past decade plus. They’ve won five National Championships, and have been runner-up three additional times in the past 10 years.
Last year’s group were one of those runner-up finishes, as the heavily favored Lakers were upset in the final last season by the hot team of the tournament, Bridgeport, 1-0.
But they’re back in Pittsburgh again, looking to make amends.
— GVSU Lakers (@gvsulakers) December 11, 2019
The high-powered GVSU offense has propelled them to another run the Final Four, the fifth time under sixth-year head coach Jeff Hosler the Lakers have reached the championship weekend. The national leaders in scoring average (4.71), the Lakers have been even more dangerous in the post-season, averaging 5.29 goals per game with at least three goals in all seven post-season matches.
Ava Cook has taken her game to another level in the post-season with eight goals and eight assists in seven playoff games, culminating in a hat-trick performance in the Lakers’ 5-2 win over No. 13 Minnesota State in the Elite 8. She now leads all of Division II in goals (28) and points (67). Riko Sagara, the national assist leader (23), has also been dynamic in the post-season with seven goals and seven assists. She’s one assist away from the GVSU single-season record.
“Big players need to make big plays in big moments, and that’s exactly what we’ve seen from two of our leaders on the offensive end so far in the NCAA Tournament,” said Hosler. “We rely on a group effort to create chances for our goal-scorers, but they have to find that final touch. The rate at which we’ve been able to do that so far has been great and it’s been contagious for some of our other forwards, too.”
Defensively, the Lakers gave up multiple goals on Sunday for the first time since the season opener. They lead the nation in shutouts (18) and are second in goals-against average (0.33). All-Region standouts Jessica Radice, Cecilia Steinwascher and Sydney O’Donnell – along with great work from holding midfielder Gianna Parlove – have been a big reason why the historic Laker defense has been so stifling this season.
“Our composure and communication along the back line has been terrific all season,” Hosler said. “I’m proud of the way Jess and Cec have taken ownership of that and gotten everyone on the same page. We face a very talented offense on Thursday and our communication will be critical to keep them out of dangerous opportunities.”
College of St. Rose Golden Knights (NY)
College of St. Rose spoiled our best chance of seeing a Pennsylvania school at this week’s Division II semifinals in Pittsburgh, at the Golden Knights struck twice in the first half and held off a determined Bloomsburg squad to upend the sixth-ranked Huskies 2-1 in Sunday’s NCAA Championship Tournament National Quarterfinal inside Afrim’s Sports Park.
In the process, the 11th ranked Golden Knights punched a ticket to their seventh NCAA Championship National Semifinal within the past 12 years. St. Rose captured the National Championship in 2011.
Saint Rose has outscored its four previous NCAA Tournament opponents 11-2, including 10-1 in the first half, and has manufactured 24 corner kicks, while yielding 13…Predanic and Burchhardt have accumulated 136 and 112 career points respectively as two of the top-five all-time scorers in school history…Saint Rose is one of a mere three squads in the nation, the other two being none other than Grand Valley State and Flagler, with a pair of 100 point scorers…Predanic is second only to former National Player of the Year Carmelina Puopolo (’14) on the school’s all-time scoring list…
— Saint Rose Athletics (@gogoldenknights) December 11, 2019
The Golden Knights are representing the East region after they downed the last Pennsylvania school remaining, No. 6 Bloomsburg, 2-1, in the Elite Eight last Sunday.
They rank 10th in the nation in scoring average (2.83) behind a very dangerous forward in Nina Predanic, whose 20 goals are tied for eighth-most in the country while her 16 assists are good for fourth. Morgan Burchhardt has also chipped in 12 assists this year.
Flager Saints (FL)
The Saints enter the contest against Western Washington as the only unbeaten team in NCAA women’s soccer this season.
How head coach Ashley Martin recruited a side that has swept aside all comers may be as impressive as the free-flowing, attacking soccer the Saints have played this season.
Flagler has set a program-record for wins, NCAA Tournament wins and has a chance to become the first Saints program, in any sport, to reach a Division II final. Their focus is exclusively on a Western Washington team that has won 18 in a row and already beaten one unbeaten team in the NCAA Tournament.
The air temperature will be anything but warm, for this group from the Sunshine State, but the Saints are prepared for their time in the spotlight.
— Matt Green (@MattGreen_FC) December 11, 2019
“We’ve got four seniors who have helped turn the program around,” said Flagler women’s soccer coach Ashley Martin said in an interview with the St. Augustine Record. “You have two good Florida players in Ali (Ritter) and Addie (Foster), who bought into my vision for this program and they have been a huge influence in the culture of the program.”
Martin said the two other seniors, Conchi Sanchez and Charlene Nowotny, have helped Flagler reach heights never before seen.
“We all have that mindset to be the best we can be, not only on the field, but also in the classroom,” said Nowotny, who was named the Academic All-American Team Member of the Year by the College Sports Information Directors of America earlier this month. ”…Overall, I think through supporting each other, every day, this why we achieve such good results as well in the classroom and on the field.”
Western Washington (WA)
Making the longest trek to Pittsburgh this year are yet another very hot team from the Pacific Northwest.
The Western Washington University women’s soccer program has a sign in its locker room that states “Meant For More.”
And in this case, the Vikings have lived up to the season slogan qualifying for the NCAA Division II Women’s Soccer Championship Semifinal for the fourth time in program history.
WWU was awarded the chance to host the 3rd and 4th round games at Harrington Field last week, and seized the opportunity winning a pair of games to punch its ticket to Pittsburgh.
— WWU Athletics (@WWUAthletics) December 11, 2019
The @WWU_WSoccer team got a bird's-eye view of the City of Pittsburgh traveling up the Duquesne Incline.
— WWU Athletics (@WWUAthletics) December 10, 2019
This is a dangerous team riding an 18-match winning streak and has the stingiest defense in the nation as the Vikings have a 0.33 goals-against average. The West Region champions have not conceded a goal in four matches in the NCAA Tournament.
The Vikings have out-scored the competition 6-0.
Natalie Dierickx is third in the nation with a 0.36 GAA and is fifth in shutouts (12). Liv Larson (7g, 6a) and Karli White (6g, 8a) lead the team in points with 20. Grace Eversaul (7g, 5a) is third with 19 points.
The Vikings have out-scored its opponents this year 61-8.
Western Washington won the national title in 2016 and this will be its fourth final four appearance (2013-15-16).