The NC State women’s soccer team will face UCLA in the NCAA Tournament third round on Sunday after its win on penalties over three-seeded Santa Clara Friday night.
This season UCLA (15-3-1) finished second in the Pac-12 behind top-overall seed Stanford. While the Pac-12 does not boast the same caliber of competition as the ACC, five teams from the Pac-12 qualified for the tournament and all advanced into the second round, meaning that UCLA is used to facing difficult opposition.
While the Pack (11-6-4) did survive and advance, it is going to need to play better than it did against Santa Clara if it wants to best UCLA and advance beyond the Sweet 16.
The Wolfpack progressed from the second round thanks in large part to the impressive play of senior goalkeeper Sydney Wootten, who made 11 saves on the night. By the end of 110 minutes the Wolfpack had been outshot 25-3, and was defending for large sections of the game.
Despite the seemingly lucky win, a game like that can have a positive impact on a team’s mentality. The Pack will go into the game against UCLA with confidence as it knows it can rely on its goalkeeper to keep it within striking distance of the opposition.
Even Wootten may not be enough against the strong UCLA forward line, which put five goals past Minnesota on Friday night. The Bruins also put up five goals in their first-round game against San Jose State.
If the Pack wants to win against UCLA, the defense is going to need to stop UCLA forward Ashley Sanchez, who has 10 goals and 12 assists this season, with four of those assists coming against Minnesota in the second round.
A good portion of that defensive work will fall to senior defender Ella Bonner, who played very well in the team’s second-round victory.
Even if the Wolfpack stops Sanchez, the rest of the UCLA lineup is just as dangerous with eight different players, one being Sanchez, scoring four or more goals this season.
For the Wolfpack to get a win against the Bruins, it will need to score more goals, as limiting this Bruins offense to a single goal like it did against Santa Clara is unlikely. In its hunt for goals, the Wolfpack will turn to the junior duo of Kia Rankin and Tziarra King. King scored the Wolfpack’s lone goal in its second-round game, and Rankin found herself in good scoring positions on multiple occasions.
If the defense and Wootten can remain as solid as they have all tournament, and Rankin and King can find the back of the net, the Pack has a good chance at beating UCLA, but there should be a few more goals than in the Wolfpack’s two previous tournament games.