The NC State women’s soccer team has gotten off to a slow start in ACC play, currently sitting in eighth place with five points through four games. While the results have not gone its way, the team has played well and proven that it can run with the best in what is an immensely difficult conference.
The schedule does not get any easier for the Wolfpack (6-4-2, 1-1-2 ACC) as its next test will be facing the No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers (10-0-2, 2-0-2 ACC) Wednesday.
The Cavaliers have started off ACC play only slightly better than the Pack with eight points, by way of two wins and two draws, compared to the Pack’s five. The pair of draws for the Wolfpack and the Cavaliers both came at the hands of Duke and Wake Forest which the Cavaliers drew 0-0 and 1-1, respectively.
Led by a forward duo of Diana Ordonez and Meghan McCool, the Cavaliers have put up 3.42 goals per game this season. Ordonez has grabbed 12 goals in only nine games played and the freshman will be the main threat that the Wolfpack will need to contain.
Even more impressive than its offense is the defense as the Cavaliers have conceded a goal just four times this season and have not given up more than one goal in any game. That record has only improved since the start of ACC play as the Cavaliers have not allowed a goal in the last 313 minutes of play.
While not as stout as the Cavaliers defense, the Pack boasts an impressive defensive record as well, conceding less than a goal per game in the ACC this season. Led by captains senior Kia Rankin and redshirt sophomore Lulu Guttenberger, the defense is the most experienced part of the Wolfpack’s lineup. Joining Rankin and Guttenberger in the usual starting back line are senior Krissi Schuster and sophomore Jenna Butler, who have also impressed at the start of this season.
Behind the back line is junior goalkeeper Jessica Berlin who has been a solid shot-stopper and helped to keep the Pack in the game against Duke with a number of key saves.
In attack, the Pack has been less consistent. Senior forward Tziarra King has, to no surprise, scored a majority of the Pack’s goals this season with 10. The next highest goal tally on the team is only two goals, which three players have achieved.
Freshman Leyah Hall-Robinson, freshman Jameese Joseph or senior Maxine Blackwood usually join King in the attack. Blackwood and Joseph got the nod in the Pack’s 2-0 win over Boston College. Against Virginia, it will likely be those two who get the nod again as Joseph has shown a great ability to beat defenders on the dribble this season and Blackwood’s experience will be crucial in facing off against the tough Virginia defense. That being said, expect Hall-Robinson to get some significant minutes off the bench.
With two defenses as strong as these the game could easily be won or lost in the midfield, which for the Pack is a good thing. While the trio of sophomore Toni Starova, senior Ricci Walkling and senior Paige Griffiths has been head coach Tim Santoro’s go-to starters, facing off against an offensive powerhouse like Virginia may call for some more stability in the midfield. That stability will likely come from freshman Jaidan Thomas who has been a regular substitute in the midfield.
While Starova-Walklin-Griffiths is a brilliantly creative group, the trio of Starova-Walkling-Thomas is better balanced and could be more useful in this match. Thomas’ ability to do the defensive work on her own allows Walkling and Starova to get forward and help create.
The one X-factor for the Pack is the location of the game and its timing. With fall break starting the day after the game no students will have classes to be worried about the following day so Dail Soccer Field, and more correctly the Red Terrors, should be rocking. With football’s game being on Thursday as well many students will be staying on campus that night and the venue should be full.
The game will likely be a low-scoring dogfight until the end but with a rowdy crowd behind it, the Wolfpack has every opportunity to upset the top-ranked Cavaliers.