And Then There Were Four: 2022 NCAA Women's College Cup Preview
It all comes down to these final three games. The 2022 Women’s College Cup is here. 60 games later, we have narrowed it down from 64 teams to only four. Those four teams include defending champions Florida State, perennial powerhouse UNC, newcomers Alabama, and bounce-back UCLA. Let’s break down what got each team to the Final Four in Cary, North Carolina.
The defending champions are set for a two-peat despite losing top talents after last season. After Florida State graduated Gabby Carle and Jaelin Howell, two youth players already receiving call-ups to their respective national teams, players such as Jenna Nighswonger, Jody Brown, and Onyi Echegini have all stepped up for the Seminoles this season. A senior, Nighswonger has recorded a team-high 28 points on the season with 16 assists and six goals across 21 games played. Brown is close behind Nighswonger with 25 points, contributing eight goals and nine assists. Echegini is tied with Brown on points with 25, leading the team in goals scored with ten, and also adding five assists.
Florida State finished the regular season 13-2-3 and won their ninth ACC Tournament Championship. The Seminoles were the No. 1 overall seed and faced Florida Gulf Coast in the first round. After winning 3-0, they faced LSU who was ranked No. 8 in their quadrant of the bracket. A 4-1 win advanced them to the third round where they faced ACC rival Pitt. Pitt was the No. 4 team in the FSU quarter, but FSU won with ease, recording a 3-0 win. In the quarterfinals, they played Arkansas, who was seeded third, winning 1-0 after a Nighswonger corner kick resulted in an own goal from Arkansas. This will be the Seminoles’ 13th College Cup and their fourth in the last five years. They face rival UNC, who hasn’t been to the championship since 2019. A marquee matchup.
Now that you know their opponent, let’s take a look at UNC’s path to the College Cup. UNC hasn’t won the title since 2012 when Kealia Watt, Crystal Dunn, and Amber Brooks were still in the program. This is the longest drought for UNC, a program that has won a record 21 national championships. They’ve made it back to the final twice since then but fell to Florida State in 2018 and Stanford in 2019.
Junior Avery Patterson leads the Tar Heels in goals and points, with 11 goals on the season and 30 points. Redshirt freshman Ally Sentnor has had a breakout season with ten goals on the season and two assists, recording 22 points. Senior defender Tori Hansen has seven goals and two assists. Redshirt freshman Emmie Allen has been in goal for the Tar Heels, starting all 24 games this season and only allowing 12 goals.
The Tar Heels were the ACC tournament runner-ups, falling to Florida State in the final. They finished the season with a 15-3-0 overall record and received a No. 2 seed in the tournament in the Notre Dame quarter. They didn’t have any easy path to the semifinals by any means. They met Old Dominion in the first round and made quick work, winning 5-0 before meeting seventh-seeded Georgia. They beat Georgia 3-1 after a brace from Sentnor. BYU was their next matchup after the Cougars beat Stanford in penalty kicks in the previous round. A brace from Maddie Dahlien with a hat trick of assists from Patterson saw them edge BYU 3-2, giving us the classic 1-2 regional final matchup. While Notre Dame was the No. 1 seed, UNC didn’t seem to have many issues, shutting them out 2-0 with Sentnor again scoring the game-winner. A classic matchup between ACC rivals is ready for them as they try to regain their crown of national champions.
The shocker of this Final Four, Alabama has made history throughout their entire 2022 season run and are looking to top it off with a national title. This year, they claimed their first-ever SEC championship and made it past the round of 16 for the first time. With only five NCAA tournament appearances under their belt, they are by far the least experienced team in this College Cup, but now that they’re here that doesn’t mean much.
Graduate student Riley Mattingly Parker has scored 17 goals for the Crimson Tide and recorded seven assists, raking up 41 points across 25 games. Junior Felicia Knox has been the provider for at least half of those goals, recording 20 assists this season. Between Knox’s 20 assists and seven goals, she has 34 points this season. Ashlynn Serepca is third on the team in points with 22 between ten goals and two assists.
With a perfect 10-0 conference season, Alabama finished the regular season 17-1-1 before falling to South Carolina in the SEC Conference tournament finals. Despite the tournament loss, the Crimson Tide received the No. 1 seed and hosted their first-ever NCAA tournament game. They showed us why they received the top seed with a 9-0 victory over Jackson State. They advanced to play eighth-seeded Portland, winning 2-1. Their third-round matchup was against unranked UC Irvine after UCI upset the University of Southern California in the first round. A 3-1 win put Alabama in the quarterfinals, set for a matchup against second-seeded Duke. The second half of the Duke game had all the action, with four goals scored, ending regulation 2-2. To overtime, they went and Alabama was able to secure a win with a goal from Reyna Reyes. They will meet UCLA in the semifinals, but even if Alabama’s run ends here, they have a lot to be proud of.
UCLA makes their return to the College Cup after not having made it past the second round the past two years. They last played in the College Cup with UNC in 2019 where they lost to eventual champions, Stanford. They have only won one national championship, that coming in 2013 when Sam Mewis and Abby Dahlkemper were on the team.
Senior Sunshine Fontes leads the team in goals and points with 11 goals, seven assists, and 29 points. Junior Reilyn Turner is second on the team in points with 21, having recorded nine goals and three assists across 21 games. Sophomore Lexi Wright follows her upperclassmen teammates with 20 points, scoring seven goals and recording six assists.
UCLA finished the regular season with a record of 17-2. Despite falling 2-0 to crosstown rival USC in their final regular season game, they received a national No. 1 seed for the tournament and faced Northern Arizona in the first round. After a 4-1 win, they faced the University of Central Florida. UCLA just barely scraped by after going to penalties; it was 1-1 after regulation but the Bruins scored all three of their penalties, ending it 3-0 and sending the Bruins into the Sweet 16. They faced fourth-seeded Northwestern, shutting them out 2-0. In the quarterfinals, they faced second-seeded UVA where they were pushed into overtime. A goal from Sofia Cook late in the first overtime sent the Bruins back to the College Cup. They are set to meet red-hot Alabama in the semifinals, and the question remains whether they will finally make it back to the final or fall short again.
Florida State vs UNC at 6:00 p.m. EST on ESPNU
Alabama vs UCLA at 8:30 p.m. EST on ESPNU
TBD vs TBD at 6:00 p.m EST on ESPNU