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  • Sophie Lodes

NCAA Soccer is Semifinals Bound

The NCAA is past being elite and is now down to the final four teams. Make some popcorn or hot chocolate, record the December 1 Hallmark movies for later, and make sure you’re seated for the Final Four. With three No.1 seeds and one No.2 left standing, it’s sure to be a blockbuster affair. It’s giving…Challenge Cup season.


Four minutes into overtime, Maya Doms slammed home the go-ahead goal, restoring the Cardinal’s lead over Nebraska. The overtime goal would be enough to send Stanford through to the semifinals. Nebraska managed to snap Stanford’s shutout streak at three games, but couldn’t find a second goal to tie or a third goal to win.

Stanford scored early to give themselves the 1-0 lead, with the goal coming from a Nebraska defenders clearance attempt. With a goal in hand, Stanford was able to do what they do best: comfortably controlling possession and the lead. With their foot on the gas, Stanford managed to record 15 shots throughout the game, with seven on net.

That offensive pressure kept Nebraska from being able to find Eleanor Dale or manage any real attacking threat. Through consistent midfield pressure, the Cardinal disrupted Nebraska’s game flow while continuing to play their own.

Stanford’s strength is in that magic trick: making opponents sweat while trying to play their game plan, all while playing their own game plan. It’s worked against several different styles this tournament, proving versatile while staying true to themselves.

Against BYU, Stanford should stay the course, building from the defense, using short goalkeeper kicks to retain possession, and building-wide. Finding the back of the net just enough to win will be key.

Like Nebraska, BYU has offensive firepower, so Stanford will have to play a disruptive defense that keeps BYU from finding their central attacking threats first before the Cardinal can focus on offense.

Stanford celebrates after winning 2-1 in overtime to put them to the Semi-final on Friday, November 24 in Stanford, CA | Photo Credit: Stanford Athletics

Look to Kennedy Wesley for a gauge on Stanford’s chances for advancing. It’s all going to come down to the defense so there are two ways this could go. If Wesley’s name is said a lot, then BYU will be looking for chances and Wesley will be part of the solution to shutting them down.

If the broadcast isn’t mentioning Wesley much, then Stanford has found a way to keep possession located in their attacking third. However, Stanford prefers to use short goal kicks to retain possession, so Wesley will be part of the architecture in building the attack.


The Tarheels scored three times in 20 minutes to send BYU reeling in front of their home fans. With snow falling, North Carolina bunkered in and focused on denying BYU goal-scoring opportunities. They blocked shots, clogged up passing lanes, and generally stepped to BYU players instead of allowing them time or space on the ball.

Then the second half started and in the span of eight minutes, starting in the 81st, BYU scored three unanswered goals to level the score. And just when the game looked like it would be heading to overtime, Olivia Katoa found the back of the net with an assist from Brecken Mozingo to break North Carolina’s hearts in the 89th minute.

BYU cheering after beating the Tarheels 4-3 on November 24, 2023 to make it to the College Cup | Photo Credit: BYU Athletics

Part of the comeback was BYU’s halftime refresh and part of it was UNC’s decision to sit back and play defense for the last 45. That gave BYU’s forwards 45 minutes to figure out precisely how to use their passes to break through the defense and create quality shot attempts.

The mental ability to come back from down three-nil is the most impressive part of the comeback, especially when considering that it never appeared like BYU was out of the game. Despite a lackluster opening 45, BYU did not appear rattled, just determined to claw their way back into the game one goal at a time—which they did.

Against Stanford, BYU will need to remain unflappable and confident, using the lessons learned from UNC in their matchup. Proving the ability to come back from three goals behind doesn’t mean that a team should fall behind by three goals and BYU will want to start out on the front foot. Turning the confidence from the comeback win into an early lead is BYU’s best bet to winning the chess match against Stanford.

A good indication of BYU’s chances to advance can be found in Ellie Walbruch’s play.

As BYU started testing the UNC defense, it was often Walbruch streaking down the wing on her own and getting behind the Tarheels' back line. With no support runners, Walbruch was often in a tough spot, but her runs sparked the BYU offense and her quick moves in the box netted her the assist on the game-tying goal. Where Walbruch goes, BYU will follow, so look to her positioning on the field for clues to how BYU plans to attack Stanford’s backline.

Florida St.

Florida St. shut down the high-flying Panthers in a 3-0 game where three of FSU’s goals came in the ten-minute window between the 60th and 70th minute. So far, opponents haven’t been able to figure out FSU’s defense and the team is the only one left who hasn’t let in a goal all NCAA tournament.

Florida State gathered around the Cary Bound sign and NCAA Trophy after their 3-0 win over Pitt on November 24, 2023 | Photo Credit: FSU Athletics

Florida St. has scored 14 goals to opponents zero. Most of those goals have come in bunches, making it a near certainty that if Florida St. scores one, they’ll score more.

Strategic, FSU is a team where viewers can watch the game plan unfold and come together, especially in the second half. Creative on the ball, FSU tends to generate a lot of shots, not necessarily worried about whether or not those shots are on frame. Eventually, the statistics will even out and something will be on net and go in—Florida St. is willing to shoot until that happens.

One thing Clemson will want to take advantage of is that while Florida St. doesn’t necessarily start games slowly, it does tend to take the offense a little bit to start putting their shots on frame. FSU’s offense wins games by strangling the other team’s attack through possession-based soccer. It’s hard to score against a team that constantly puts opposing teams on their heels by dominating possession in the final third.

FSU will want to start on the front foot and put as many goals into the back of Clemson’s net as early as possible. Of the two times that these teams have played each other, Florida St. took the win and they’ll likely take that confidence into their semifinal match. Winning by scores of 4-2 and 2-1, the offense can comfortably assume that they’ll be able to score at least one goal and the shutout defense has every reason to want to record their fifth shutout.

Watch Onyi Echegini to see where the Florida St. attack is building from, as Echegini can create offense by running onto balls over the top or by finding the perfect pass.

With how deadly the FSU attack is, the ways that Echegini is involved illustrate how Florida St. wants to dismantle Clemson. If, on the other hand, the broadcast is talking about how little Echegini has been on the ball, that’s an indication that the Clemson defense has made defending her their key priority. Lots of touches near the 18-yard box means Echegini and FSU are doing what they want to Clemson.


After defeating Georgia in penalty kicks, it was clear that Clemson did not want to have to play overtime again, finding a way to regain the lead against Penn St. with six minutes to go in regulation. It’s been Clemson’s MO all tournament, find a way to win no matter what the situation in front of them is.

What Clemson lacks in truly explosive firepower, they make up for in consistency. The defense holds a high line and trusts their goalkeeper with the space behind them and the forwards are capable of finding an extra goal when needed. Stronger than the sum of individual parts, Clemson wins because every player does their job.

Clemson women's soccer gathered around Cary Bound College Cup signs as they advance after beating Penn State on Sunday, November 25, 2023 | Photo Credit: Clemson Athletics

But where Clemson stands apart from the rest of the remaining teams lies in their midfield and their commitment to creating turnovers. Comfortable in allowing the opposition to possess in their own defensive third, Clemson traps the opposition in the neutral third, trying to make that section of the field unplayable and keeping the opposition’s midfield from linking up with the forwards. It works because the defense also steps into any open spaces that the midfield might leave open.

Against Florida St. Clemson will need to try and get on the board early and give themselves a cushion to absorb the late-game FSU pressure. It’s unlikely that Clemson can win trying to go goal for goal with Florida St., so the focus will have to be on scoring when possible but committing to defense and disrupting first. Penn St. found space in alternating the attack between long balls and passes down the wings—FSU can do the same and Clemson will have to adjust.

It might seem like a cop-out to say watch Halle Mackiewicz since if the goalie is the player to watch, then something is probably going wrong on defense. But Mackiewicz has a lot to offer Clemson through the way she controls her entire box and isn’t afraid to come out for any ball that crosses the 18-yard line.

Florida St. is going to shoot, a lot, and Mackiewicz will have to come up with big-time stops to keep Clemson in the game. She’ll also have to be able to build the attack out from the back and serve as an outlet to help Clemson keep possession. How well she controls her box will indicate how much leeway Clemson has in going for the attack.

Florida St. and Clemson play at 6:00 p.m. and BYU and Stanford play at 8:30 p.m. on December 1.


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