By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - On Monday, the Penn State women's soccer team (16-3-2) was named a No.1 seed in the 2015 NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament.
This season marks the fourth time in program history that Penn State has earned a No. 1 seed. The seeding means Penn State would play at home on Jeffrey Field all the way up to the quarterfinals should it win each match. The semifinals and finals of the College Cup will be held in Cary, N.C.
The Nittany Lions will kick start their journey in the NCAA Tournament on Friday against Albany at 6:30 p.m.
Inside Penn State's Quarter of the Bracket
The "University Park" region of the 64-team bracket presents a tough road for any No. 1 seed in the tournament. Eight of the region's 16 teams are represented in the top 40 of the RPI rankings, including four inside the top 18.
Big Ten Party
The Big Ten will send five teams to the 2015 NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament. Four of those teams are featured in the "University Park" region of the draw: Penn State, Ohio State, Minnesota, and Northwestern. Rutgers, the remaining Big Ten tournament team, received a No. 2 seed in the Charlottesville Region.
Penn State could potentially meet Rutgers for the third time this season in the College Cup semifinals on Dec. 4, if both teams advance. The Nittany Lions could meet Ohio State in the third round and Minnesota or Northwestern in the quarterfinals. Penn State went 3-2 against the Big Ten tournament teams this season.
For the most part, the NCAA Tournament is focused on creating matchups against teams that didn't face each other during the year. As much as the bracket prevents this in the early rounds, it's impossible to totally avoid regular season rematches.
Penn State could meet some conversant rivals in later rounds, which could set up a few riveting rematches. Along with the three Big Ten teams accompanying Penn State in its region, the Nittany Lions could see quarterfinal contest against No. 2 West Virginia. Penn State dropped a hard-fought match against West Virginia earlier this season.
No. 2 Rutgers is a potential opponent for Penn State out of the Charlottesville region if the Lions and Scarlet Knights advance through the draw. The two teams split their two matches this season. Across the bracket, No. 1 Stanford and No. 3 Duke are two teams the Lions have already seen this season and are both in the Palo Alto region. Penn State defeated Stanford 1-0 and tied Duke 1-1 previously this year.
Round One: Scouting the Great Danes
The America East Champions enter the tournament riding a five-match winning streak. Most recently, the Great Danes upset conference rival Hartford by a tally of 2-1 in the America East title match to gain an automatic bid into the tournament.
Albany boasts three all-conference performers: Alexa Schneider, Vivian Vega, and Shelby Belak. Schneider and Vega head an offensive attack that led the America East in 2015 with 33 goals this season.
Friday's matchup will mark Albany's first ever NCAA tournament appearance. 2015 was a historical regular season for the Great Danes, as they won a program best 11 games.
Those 11 victories also came with eight loses. Albany's toughest test was against Dartmouth, which finished the season ranked 98th in RPI. The Great Danes didn't face any other team inside the top 100 in RPI.
Adversely, Penn State played five games against teams ranked inside the top 15 this year, including two against No. 4 Rutgers. The Blue and White won three of those five contests.
Teams to Look Out For
Keep a close eye on a number of teams in Penn State's quarter of the bracket.
St. John's (15-2-1): The Red Storm enter the tournament as group to watch.
SJU went 7-1-1 in Big East play this season. The team is led by goal scoring machine Rachel Daly. Daly is third in the nation with 19 goals this season. Her 1.00 goals per game average ranks second in the country. She's accounted for 59 percent of her team's goals in 2015.
Daly is capable of going off at any point, and she has the firepower to single-handedly win games by herself. Penn State would potentially meet St. John's in a second round matchup if both teams win their opening games.
No. 4 Virginia Tech (14-3-2): The Hokies are arguably the most talented 4-seed in the entire bracket. They finished the season with an RPI of 12, and notched impressive wins against No. 7 West Virginia and No. 13 Duke during the regular season. Virginia Tech also tied the No. 1 team in the country, Florida State, in its final regular season bout.
The Hokies were ranked as high as fifth in the country earlier in the season, and they have a very talented roster capable contending with anyone in the country.
Murielle Tieran leads the way for VT offensively. Despite missing two games this season, Tieran led the Hokies with 13 goals and 28 points. Virginia Tech has outscored its opponents this year 43-22.
Penn State could potentially meet Virginia Tech in the third round.
No. 2 West Virginia (16-2-1): The Nittany Lions wouldn't face the Mountaineers until the quarterfinals, if all pans out, but WVU presents a big challenge to any team in the region.
West Virginia has an RPI of No. 7 and defeated Penn State on Sept. 4 by a score of 1-0. The Mountaineers lost to Texas Tech in the Big 12 semifinals, which marked their first loss since Aug. 23 when they fell to Virginia Tech.
Unlike most of the teams in the region, WVU's resounding strength is its defense. West Virginia has only allowed seven goals in 2015. Goalkeeper Hannah Steadman owns the second-best goals-against average in the country of .362 per game. The Mountaineers have outscored their opponents 48-7 and outshot them 467-107 on the year.