Joseph fights for the ball

Sophomore forward Jameese Joseph fights for the ball against a Virginia defender on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at Dail Soccer Field. NC State had 4 shots on goal but lost to Virginia 2-1.

October has made the NC State women’s soccer team’s season. After starting ACC play with four one-goal losses on the bounce, the Wolfpack has won four of its last five (including two top-5 wins) and all but punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

With one regular season game remaining, a road trip to Pittsburgh on Thursday, Oct. 28, here are some takeaways from the Pack’s last five games:

Postseason looking good

With just six teams making the ACC Tournament, the Wolfpack could very likely miss the conference tournament and still host in the NCAA Tournament thanks to its resume, which is far better than its record makes it seem.

Sitting at 8-7-2 overall and 4-5-0 in conference play, the Wolfpack is barely above .500 and can finish no better than that mark in conference play, but it has two very distinct advantages going into the tournament selection: marquee wins and no bad losses.

Every single one of the Pack’s seven losses has come against a team that was either ranked or receiving votes at the time of the game. Even the ties are far from poor, with both being on the road against then-top-10 Georgetown and the Big South Conference regular season champions, Campbell.

Add to that the Pack’s two marquee wins against top-5 competition and the Pack has a very strong resume heading into the tournament season.

Wins over top teams a mark of progress for the program

While the two wins over UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke are not only great in the context of the season, but even better for the program in general.

After the Pack’s most recent game, redshirt junior captain Lulu Guttenberger called the wins “career defining.” Given this is the first time the Wolfpack has ever beaten both in the same year and only the third and 10th wins, respectively, against those two schools in program history, the Wolfpack is starting to pick off the ACC’s top dogs.

“Winning against Duke, the win against Carolina, that's obviously career defining in a sense,” Guttenberger said. “I've been here for a little bit and that hasn't happened in my career here so far, so those are wins you can't take away. Those are huge for your mindset and for your attitude.” 

Over the last five or so years of head coach Tim Santoro, the Wolfpack has had postseason success, reaching four straight tournaments and three Sweet 16s between 2016 and 2019. But with the strength of the ACC, which is frankly absurd, the big-time conference wins have been harder to come by than the postseason wins.

Wins like those are another big step in the progression of this program, which, barring the setback of having to opt-out in fall 2020, has been solid under Santoro.

Built for the long term, maturing at the right time

This Wolfpack team is young. Very young. Apart from the center back duo of Guttenberger and junior defender Jenna Butler, the bulk of the Pack’s usual starters are underclassmen, and most of those underclassmen are freshmen. 

Some of those freshmen and sophomores are a bit more experienced than their remaining years of eligibility would indicate, but that’s just the thing. They have those years of eligibility left and this program is built for the next few seasons, not just this year.

Forward Jameese Joseph has bagged eight goals so far in her sophomore season, prompting Santoro to say, “She's been one of the top attacking players in this league all year.” Even away from the goals, her ability on the ball draws defenders and opens up space for others to exploit.

Freshman defenders Brianna Weber and Fernanda Soto have both been utilized in multiple positions and excelled wherever the coaching staff has asked them to play.

Missing part of the season because she was called up to play for the German U19 national team, freshman defender Nina Zimmer looks poised to be the heart of the Wolfpack’s defense going forward. 

If she plays all of her years of eligibility, freshman goalie Maria Echezarreta could very well top a lot of the Wolfpack’s goalkeeping records by the end of her career.

Between the tough games of this season and the experience many of the international players boast before even stepping foot on a college campus, the Wolfpack has been asked to grow up fast and it will pay off in the long run.

“Good to see players learning and maturing,” Santoro said after the win against Syracuse. “We still have a lot more of that to do considering how young this team is. But I've said all year we've been pretty good all year. We had a bad second half against Clemson and a poor two halves against Wake, but we've been pretty good this year and that's because these young players are mature.”

The engine 

Freshman midfielder Emika Kawagishi’s play style is incredibly reminiscent of now Pack Pro Ricci Walkling and that bodes well for the Wolfpack going forward.

Walkling was a major piece of the Wolfpack’s postseason success, and Kawagishi is stepping into her old role flawlessly. Playing at the base of the Pack’s midfield, Kawagishi is the engine of the offense. 

One of those internationals with a ton of experience prior to coming to NC State, Kawagishi played for the Japanese youth national teams and Cerezo Osaka. 

The midfielder plays with a high level of technical skill and maturity that isn’t always expected from a freshman. With a great passing range and a nice eye for goal, Kawagishi is arguably the most exciting freshman in this incredibly deep freshman class.

What’s next?

The Pack has one more regular season game left, a road showdown with Pitt on Thursday, Oct. 28. While the Wolfpack likely will not make the ACC Tournament, a win against Pitt, which would bring NC State to .500 in conference play, might be enough for the Pack to host in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Sports Editor

I'm Nicholas Schnittker, one of the two assistant sports editors for Technician. I'm in the class of 2022 and am currently majoring in communication and minoring in journalism. I have been at Technician since August 2018 and an editor since May 2019.