November 17, 2010

NCAA Sweet 16 women's preview

Senior Amanda Naeher leads Messiah with 31 goals so far this season 

By James Derrick

Who can stop them?

With the national tournament storming into the third round, with just 16 teams left, one can hardly ask but one question; can No. 1 Messiah or No. 2 Hardin-Simmons be stopped en route to a dream final? With Denison's shock booking to the Sweet 16, Redland's upending of Chapman and No. 21 Cal-Lutheran, No. 8 Emory's ousting of No. 17 Lynchburg, and the CCIW and NJAC's not-so-stellar run, the tournament has provided some surprise, much excitement, and the standard perpetuity of season favorites, Messiah, Hardin-Simmons, Wheaton, Otterbein, The College of New Jersey, Johns Hopkins, and William Smith. No surprise that No. 4 Wheaton and Messiah live to fight on this upcoming weekend, as the past six national championships have been won by either, but Hardin-Simmons and No. 3 Otterbein are serious favorites to challenge that continuity. The scary part for both Hardin-Simmons and Wheaton; both could find themselves at battle with each other in their sectional final on Friday for a Final Four spot, if Hardin-Simmons can deflate Redlands and Wheaton can stop a high-flying Emory. Redlands is a bit of a suprise package, squeezing by Pool B side Chapman, and then crushing first round bye recipient Cal-Lutheran 3-0. A shock win against Hardin-Simmons is highly unlikely, as a Hardin-Simmons side, who has shipped just four goals all season, will look to continue their scoring potency this Friday. Hardin-Simmons first true post-season test came last Sunday, as No. 6 Trinity struck hard in the second half to grab a one goal lead. This time it was Megan Ryan who stole the glory, bagging a late brace for the win. Wheaton faces a tough Emory side, who put a hopeful Lynchburg to the sword, ensuring Lynchburg's replication of last year's post-season run would not be replicated. 

Senior midfielder Erin Low and the Cowgirls have only allowed four goals in the 2010 season

Denison, who derailed No. 7 Illinois Wesleyan in the round of 32, looks to progress this weekend with a win against a powerful UW-Stevens Point. No. 16 Stevens Point has themselves experienced a season of setbacks, winning 10 straight before a devastating four goal loss to Wheaton (Ill.), and then a surprising loss to UW-Eau Claire in the last regular season match. Besides the losses however, Stevens Point has demonstrated devastating form themselves, and will give Denison some big problems with their attack. Denison quickly dropped off the top-25 scene after lopsided losses to No. 10 William Smith and Earlham early on. But, Denison has since resurrected their season, drawing with undefeated and heavily favorited Final Four potential Otterbein, defeating nationally-ranked Alleghany and Centre. Otterbein will face the winner of Denison versus Stevens Point with a win over a very talented Loras. It has not been an easy path for No. 5 Loras, who won in a hard-fought match against Aurora, then defeated conference rival Wartburg, and their path gets even harder with their Sweet 16 match against Otterbein. Otterbein has yet to lose a match this season, and has not yielded a goal since the beginning of October. Loras on the other hand spent the last portion of their season hammering their opponents, smashing in eight goals in one match. 

In Messiah's corner of the bracket, No. 25 Dickinson looks to break hearts after doing so against No. 23 Stevens in their second round match with a 5-1 demolishing. Onto the Sweet 16 against the nation's best (need I say Messiah?) and they could very well provide another shocking result. In their first six matches, they lost two and drew in one - hardly the material of a top team. But a successive 12 wins ensured that they could be regarded as one of the deadliest teams in the nation. A loss to No. 11 Johns Hopkins in the Centennial Conference final was too little to slow Dickinson. Messiah will look to halt their dreams however, with a similar scoreline to which they subjected a poor Rowan. No. 15 Rowan demonstrated fierce firepower throughout the season, but Messiah put an end to that story as well, winning 4-0. Two 4-nil wins into the tournament, and Messiah is gaining speed on a unstoppable run to the national championship. Johns Hopkins could find themselves in a double rematch this weekend as they begin their docket in the Sweet 16 against No. 9 The College of New Jersey, and if they win, a rematch between either Centennial opponent Dickinson, or the deadly Messiah team. In their earlier match with TCNJ, they won 2-nil. A bit of a shock as TCNJ was ranked number two at the time. But they bounced back to maintain an undefeated remainder of the season. A showdown between Messiah and Johns Hopkins would prove highly enticing, as one of Messiah's only two allowed goals came at the hands of Johns Hopkins. In that match, Messiah dominated for large portions, but nearly surrendered a two goal lead as Hopkins fought back with passion.

In the other quarter of the bracket, the Sweet 16 matches provide showdowns between the remaining New England teams, and New York teams, as No. 20 Williams battles No. 19 Eastern Connecticut State, and Oneonta State faces William Smith. Oneonta started the season in high-flying, loud fashion, but soon went quiet after some tough losses. They have since resurfaced and find themselves in similar situation with Johns Hopkins: a weekend full of rematches. Their weekend begins against William Smith, to whom they suffered a tough 2-0 loss. While the match was even all-around, William Smith's attack proved the difference then, and could very well prove the difference on Saturday. Williams Smith's season was nearly just as volatile as Oneonta's however, and gathered their consistency just in time, to tear through their opponents in their final third of the regular season, and continuing that form into the post-season. Regardless of the winner, either could potentially face Williams in a rematch. The Elite 8 showdown would benefit William Smith to a higher degree, as they pounded Williams in a 3-1 match. Oneonta did not fare so well. Their match, although very even, resulted in a loss to Williams with a single goal late on. Williams still has to defeat a highly talented Eastern Connecticut team to reach the quarter finals. Their Sweet 16 match may prove more difficult, as Eastern Connecticut has lost just once (in penalties-technically a draw) and will look to maintain that form against a Williams side who claims three blemishes to their season. Regardless of the winner in the Elite 8 on Sunday, a probable showdown with Messiah looms in the near future.

Jim Matson, Christan Shirk, Ryan Harmanis, and other staff writers and contributors help cover the games and results across the nation.

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