College soccer rankings: 5 takeaways from women's preseason poll
The recently renamed United Soccer Coaches women's soccer poll, formerly known as the NSCAA poll, was announced Thursday, giving college soccer fans their first glimpse at the top 25 teams entering the season.
Here are five takeaways from the poll.
1. Last year's runner-up is preseason No. 1
West Virginia entered the 2016 College Cup ranked as the No. 1 team in the country and the last remaining No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. On the cusp of winning their first national championship in school history, the Mountaineers were upset 3-1 by USC in the title game. Now West Virginia will try to take care of its unfinished business as the preseason No. 1 team.
After going 23-2-2 in 2016, including an unblemished 8-0 record in Big 12 play, the Mountaineers return the conference's leading goal-scorer in senior forward Michaela Abam (12 goals last season) and the Big 12's stingiest goalkeeper, Rylee Foster, who averaged just 0.42 goals allowed per game.
West Virginia also brings back four of the top-five leaders in shot attempts in the Big 12, so expect another high-powered offense in Morgantown, W.V. this fall.
USC, the reigning national champion, debuts at No. 3.
2. Conference balance
The ACC takes the crown for having the most ranked teams in both the men's and women's United Soccer Coaches preseason polls, but unlike the men's side, there's a more of competitive balance across conferences in women's soccer. Each "Power 5" conference has multiple teams in the Top 25: ACC (6), Pac-12 (5), Big Ten (4), SEC (4) and Big 12 (2).
This is a similar trend to recent national championship winners, which have come from three different conferences in the last three years. The Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC have each had a member institution win a title since 2014 thanks to USC, Penn State and Florida State, respectively.
Which conference is the best in women's soccer? It's too soon to tell and it'll be a fun subplot to track throughout the fall.
3. Copy, paste, repeat
Twenty-three of the 25 teams in the preseason United Soccer Coaches poll also appeared in the final NSCAA poll from last season. The two newcomers, Oklahoma and Nebraska, both fell under the "Receiving Votes" category in the last poll. None of the 23 teams moved more than seven spots and only one, Virginia, kept its exact same ranking from last winter at No. 11.
4. Is this North Carolina's year?
To call a four-year stretch without a national championship a "drought," is premature, but arguably historically accurate in regards to the North Carolina women's soccer program. Since the first NCAA women's soccer national championship in 1982, the Tar Heels have won 21 titles, including 14 of the first 16 from 1982-1997. Their last championship was in 2012 and before that, North Carolina hadn't gone more than two years in a row without winning a title.
The Tar Heels debut at No. 6 in the United Soccer Coaches preseason poll and they were picked to finish second in the ACC, behind Florida State.
Is this the year that North Carolina adds its 22nd national championsips?
5. Santa Clara earns respect after 2016 tournament run
Only one school that advanced to the Elite Eight in last year's NCAA tournament wasn't one of the top-16 seeded teams: Santa Clara. Thanks to an upset of No. 1-seeded Stanford and a pair of 3-0 wins against Long Beach State and N.C. State, Santa Clara came within one game of the College Cup. The Broncos eventually fell 1-0 to No. 2-seeded Georgetown, but they earned the respect of the voters in the process.
Santa Clara debuts at No. 24 this year.