Women's Sectional Previews: Midwest
|Other Sectional Previews: ATLANTIC | AMERICAN | NORTHEAST|
By Jim Matson
Chicago (Chicago, IL)
Friday/Saturday, Nov. 17-18
Third Round - Friday
Quarterfinals - Saturday
Sectional Final, 1:00 pm CT
How they reached the Sweet 16
2017 Statistical Overview
Chicago Season Review
The No. 3 ranked Maroons were an at-large pick for this year’s tournament. After finishing tied with UAA foe Washington U. at 6-1-0 in conference play, the Bears took the AQ by virtue of their 2-1 victory at Chicago on Nov. 4. Chicago comes into the Sweet 16, their eleventh appearance at this level, with their eyes on grabbing the program’s first ever national championship. In 2016, the Maroons cruised into the national semifinals, but fell 1-0 to Messiah in overtime. Last year’s experience will give the Maroons confidence as they open play on Friday.
Chicago has only allowed five goals this season, and has demonstrated their offensive power by out-scoring their opponents by more than three goals per game. The only blemish on the season was the 2-1 loss to Washington U., the only game this season that the Maroons were outshot.
Earlier in the season, Chicago had little trouble with regional foes Illinois Wesleyan and Wheaton (Ill.). On the road, the Maroons outshot the Titans 23-5, winning 3-1. And at home against Wheaton, the Maroons won 2-1, with a 20-6 shot advantage. Wheaton and Chicago have met 35 times over the past 30 years with the Thunder holding a 19-12-3 advantage.
The Maroons were 4-1 against Top 25 teams this season and sport a .638 SOS rating. The tough schedule put together by Coach Amy Reifert, as well as the experience of returning leaders makes Chicago one of the favorites in this year’s tournament. The team performs strongly out of the midfield with junior Jenna McKinley, the two-time UAA MVP, scoring 13 goals and senior Mia Calamari, the 2016 D3Soccer.com Midfielder of the Year, providing 6 goals and 18 assists. Senior forward Madori Spiker added 8 goals on the season. The Maroon’s stingy defense is led by sophomore UAA First Teamer Mackenzie Peebles. In the net, sophomore Katie Donovan is 16-0 with a stellar .909 save percentage.
Wheaton (Ill.) Season Review
No. 17 Wheaton (Ill.) Thunder won their way into this year’s tournament by capturing the CCIW tournament championship and accompanying automatic berth. It was the thirteenth CCIW Tournament win for Wheaton, whose results this season were not always a strong indicator that they would be playing in November. After an opening win against Whitworth, the Thunder fell 2-1 to No. 18 Loras, and then on the road tied Roanoke 1-1 and fell 2-0 to No. 15 Lynchburg. After returning home, Wheaton hosted Wartburg and dropped to 1-3-1 with a 4-2 loss. But under the experienced leadership of coach Pete Felske, the Thunder fought through a tough schedule—picking up a few more blemishes—before going on a run that now stands at 10-0-0 and included a pair of wins over No. 20 Illinois Wesleyan, the latter a tough 1-0 win in the CCIW title game.
In 2016, Wheaton did slightly worse in September non-conference play—3-6-0 versus 3-4-2—and though an 11-1-0 run earned them home field in the CCIW final, unlike this year the Thunder were unable to complete the double over their rivals. Illinois Wesleyan’s 2-1 win was curtains on Wheaton’s 12-8-0 season, breaking a 19-year streak of participating in the NCAA tournament.
Whether a loss in the final this year would have ended their season, we will never know, but the 2017 squad is an improvement over the 2016 edition as shots and goal scoring are up and shots and goals allowed are down such that their average margin of victory has more than doubled from 0.60 to 1.50. Nevertheless, on paper, the Thunder is the inferior side in this sectional—more losses than the other teams combined, lowest GSA, highest GAA—but they are also riding the longest winning streak and have collected four wins and a tie from seven matches against Top 25 teams.
Wheaton will bring the experience and toughness that comes from surviving a bruising .664 SOS into this Friday’s match against Chicago as they look to reverse the 2-1 loss they suffered to the Maroons back in September just as they got even with Loras in the Round of 32 after an opening weekend loss to the Duhawks. The Thunder will be lead by junior CCIW Player of the Year Madison Peebles patrolling the midfield with the goal-scoring most likely to come from freshman forward and CCIW Rookie of the Year Isabelle Oliver. Since being inserted in the starting line-up on September 30, Oliver has scored 12 goals—6 game-winners—as the team rattled off 12 wins in 13 games.
Washington U. Season Review
The No. 7 ranked Bears of Washington U. won their 12th UAA title to earn the AQ for this season’s tournament. In the final match of the season, the Bears went on the road to top-ranked Chicago and came away with a 2-1 win. Coming off their 2016 title, the Bears started the season at 7-0-0 and spent three weeks at No. 1 in the D3Soccer.com Top 25 poll. Only a 2-2 draw with Wheaton, and a 1-0 loss to No. 12 Carnegie Mellon stood in front of an undefeated season. With the 2016 title in hand, twelve consecutive NCAA tourney appearances, and a 17-1-1 record, the Bears are making a strong bid for another championship trophy.
While the Bears see Chicago and Wheaton every year as part of their typically strong schedule, they have not played UW-La Crosse in recent years. But Washington U. did play a couple teams that their Sweet 16 opponent also played: No. 20 Illinois Wesleyan and No. 25 UW-Whitewater. The Bears defeated Whitewater 1-0 in mid-September while the Eagles first beat (2-0) and then tied (1-1) Whitewater in conference regular season and tournament play. Against Illinois Wesleyan in mid-September, the Bears won 2-0 a week before La Crosse would drop a 1-0 decision.
All-UAA sophomore forward Taylor Cohen leads the Bears attack with 16 goals and 5 assists, while fellow all-conference junior midfielder Darcy Cunningham supports the scoring with 11 assists. Junior 2016 D3Soccer.com All-American midfielder Maggie Crist provides strong defensive support, part of a squad that limited opponents to just five goals all season (0.31 GAA).
UW-La Crosse Season Review
No. 16 UW-La Crosse Eagles took the WIAC AQ after a 4-3 shootout victory over UW-Whitewater, the second WIAC tournament championship for the Eagles in the 26-year history of the conference. This is also the second time the Eagles have appeared in the NCAA Tournament, having received an at-large berth two years. In a conference with recognizable women’s soccer programs like UW-Stevens Point, UW-Eau Claire, and Whitewater, the fact that Eagles are in this year’s tournament only reinforces the growing parity of the conference; their advancement to the Sweet 16 reinforces the growing strength of the conference.
The Eagles face off against a couple of MIAC teams each season due to La Crosse’s proximity to the Twin Cities, but the program remains relatively unknown outside of the WIAC. As such, La Crosse might be considered a Cinderella team in this tournament, but at 19-1-3 with two shut-out wins in the first two rounds, no one should overlook this team. The Eagles scored over 2.5 goals per game, led by freshman WIAC Offensive Player of the Year forward Kaitlyn Villars with 13 goals and 7 assists. Junior midfielder Margaret Harings and senior forward Maddie Granos both chipped in with 10 goals apiece. In the back, opponents are slowed as they transition by junior WIAC Defensive Player of the Year midfielder Maya Schmitt. Freshman Lily Brock and junior Kennedy Brault shared keeper duties and produced a combined record of 19-1-3, with Brock posting a .915 save percentage.
The Eagles only loss came eight weeks ago against No. 20 Illinois Wesleyan, a team that their Sweet 16 opponent, Washington U., defeated 2-0 a week earlier. Their other Top 25 opponent was conference rival UW-Whitewater who they beat 1-0 in the regular season before their aforementioned shootout win in a rematch for the WIAC title.
Seniors' 4-year Record (through Nov. 15)
Chicago, Washington U. and Wheaton (Ill.) both bring loads of tournament experience to the table. The hosts have seen 16 years of the tournament, with 11 Sweet Sixteens. Coach Amy Reifert has led her team to 4 Final Fours, including last season’s semifinal appearance. The Bears have 17 years of tournament experience and have been in the last 12. Coach Jim Donlon has led them to 8 Sweet Sixteens, and 4 Final Fours, with their NCAA Title coming last year. The Thunder have 15 tournament appearances, with 11 Sweet Sixteens, and 3 Final Fours. Coach Pete Felske has also led Wheaton to 3 titles in ’04, ’06, and ’07.
The Eagles and coach Jason Murphy are trying to make this year a significant addition to the program’s limited tournament experience. Compared with their first appearance in 2015, a loss in the first round, the Eagles are flying high with two shut-outs in the first two rounds.
Players to Watch
Chicago: #12 Jenna McKinney (Jr.) – 13g, 6a (2x UAA MVP, 2x UAA 1st Team) | #27 M Mia Calamari (Sr.) – 6g, 18a (2x UAA 1st Team) | #17 D Mackenzie Peebles (So.) – 5a (UAA 1st Team) | #11 F Katie Jasminski (Fr.) – 7g, 5a (UAA Rookie of the Year)
Wheaton (Ill.): #10 M Madison Peebles (Jr.) – 5g, 4a, (CCIW POY, CCIW 1st Team) | #15 M/D Isabelle Oliver (Fr.) – 16g, 3a (CCIW ROY) | #19 M/D Morgan Whitman (Sr.) – 8g, 5a (SCIAC 1st Team) | #8 D Sarah Van Wingerden (Sr.) (2x CCIW 1st Team)
Washington U.: #28 F Taylor Cohen (So.) – 16g, 5a (UAA 1st Team) | #16 M Darcy Cunningham (Jr.) – 4g, 11a, (UAA 1st Team) | #7 F Ellie DeConinck (Fr.) – 10g, 3a (UAA Hon. Mention) | #0 GK Emma Greenfield (Fr.) – 0.22 GAA, .900 SvPct (UAA 2nd Team)
UW-La Crosse: #2 M Margaret Harings (Jr.) – 10g 9a (WIAC Off. PoY, 3x All-WIAC Team) | #24 F Maddie Granos (Sr.) – 10g, 4a, 5GWG (All-WIAC Team) | #6 M Maya Schmitt (Jr.) – 3g, 1a (WIAC Def. POY, All-WIAC) | #13 F Kaitlyn Villars (Fr.) – 13g, 7a (All-WIAC) | #0 GK Lily Brock (Fr.) – 0.33 GAA, .915 SvPct (All-WIAC)
UW-La Crosse does not have any tournament history with teams in this sectional. In 2014 Washington U. defeated Chicago 1-0 in the first round of the tournament, and in 2012 Wheaton defeated the Bears 3-1 in the Elite 8.
During the regular season, Chicago, Washington U., and Wheaton meet at least once per season. Wheaton and Chicago play in one of the midwest’s longest-running rivalries, while the Maroons and the Bears meet as part of the UAA schedule.
Why they will advance to the Final Four
Chicago: The Maroons have a strong scoring team, with one of the top players in the region in Jenna McKinley. They have played a tough schedule (.638 SOS) and are coming off a 2016 season-ending overtime loss to Messiah in the semifinals. They have great players, quickness, and two seasons as an intact team.
Wheaton (Ill.): The Thunder has proven their moxie with their ability to work through a difficult start to the season at 1-3-1. They have also defeated a tough side in Illinois Wesleyan, played the Bears to a 2-2 draw, and stayed close against Chicago in their 2-1 loss. Wheaton isn’t scaring opponents like they did 5-10 years ago, but the team always expects to win, and Coach Felske is a veteran of tough match-ups in the tournament. The Thunder will have to be almost perfect if they expect to upset one of the tournament favorites.
Washington U.: Like Chicago, the Bears are one of the tournament favorites. Spending enough weeks at No. 1 in the country, and playing the typically difficult UAA schedule, has garnered them deserved respect. The Bears are strong offensively, and well disciplined in the back. If they can avoid mistakes, it will be difficult to beat them. A young team with great tournament experience and thus, strong expectations, will pose a formidable opponent to any team in the field.
UW-La Crosse: Can the Eagles continue their impressive rookie run to the Final Four? They’ll have to believe in themselves and their ability, and play mistake-free ball if they are going to have a chance against the defending national champions. Experience with the likes of UW-Whitewater and Illinois Wesleyan have already prepared them for they’ll likely see on Friday.
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Comments or feedback for the author? E-mail Jim Matson.