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Women’s Soccer Sputters Through End of the Regular Season, But Hopes for NCAA Bid

The Deacs finished their year on a four game winless run, with recent losses to top ten UVA and Notre Dame, then finishing out the year with a tie against Boston College. 

NC State v Wake Forest Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images

The Wake Forest Demon Deacons women’s soccer team (9-6-3, 3-6-1 ACC) closed out their season in frustrating fashion, losing three of their final four games and drawing the last one. These results cost the Deacs an ACC Tournament berth and kept them precariously close to the edge of the NCAA Tournament bubble. On October 20th, the Deacs dropped their second straight game on the road to a top 15 opponent, falling 1-0 to #11 UVA (13-3-3, 6-2-2 ACC) at Klöckner Stadium in Charlottesville. They then returned to Spry on the 23rd to face another top ten opponent, taking on #4 Notre Dame (14-2-2, 7-2-1 ACC), who dominated in this contest, earning a 3-0 victory on the road. After these two games, the Deacs hit the road once again to close out their season, traveling to Chestnut Hill where some late drama resulted in a 1-1 draw with Boston College (5-8-5, 1-7-2 ACC). Wake’s regular season ended on October 27th in Chestnut Hill, and now it is up to the NCAA Selection Committee to decide whether the Deacs’ season should continue. But before looking ahead to a potential postseason berth, let’s look back at Wake’s most recent games.

The Deacs’ second big game in this critical four game stretch came in Charlottesville, where they took on #11 UVA. As they had in the game against UNC, Wake looked up to the challenge early, playing an even, albeit cagey first half with the ‘Hoos. Kaitlyn Parks was forced into a couple of saves early, but the first 45 minutes were largely spent with Virginia on the ball and probing for a goal but not finding any cracks in the Deacon defense. The two teams went into the break tied at zero, with UVA having three shots to Wake’s zero, but not having any great chances. That changed coming out of the half, as the Cavaliers came out hot and scored one early. In the 49th minute, it was Maggie Cagle who opened the scoring for the ‘Hoos, getting on the end of a square ball back into the area by Haley Hopkins to finish off a play that started on a goal kick. It was the second straight game where the Deacs conceded a goal coming out of the break, and the remainder of the game would follow much the same script as the UNC game did, with Wake putting their opponents under pressure and getting a few chances, but ultimately failing to convert any of them. UVA also got a few chances on the break, but also were unable to score, and the game would end in a 1-0 victory for the ‘Hoos. It was a very cagey game where few individual performances stood out, but for me Haley Hopkins was the player of the game here, as she looked dangerous just about every time she got forward, and she assisted the game’s sole goal.

Wake returned home for what was almost certainly their final game at Spry this season, taking on the #4 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. While the Deacs’ previous two tussles with the ACC’s elite were hotly contested and tight games, this one was no contest. The Irish pressed the Deacs from the first whistle, forcing some big mistakes to create some big chances. Kaitlyn Parks kept Wake in the game early on, but the dam finally broke in the 29th minute, when a Korbin Albert shot from the top of the area came off of the arm of Laurel Ansbrow. The referee awarded a penalty kick that Albert would convert, putting the Irish on top. The Deacs responded relatively well after the goal, but didn’t create too many great chances to even the game up, and the Irish would take their one goal lead into the half. Coming out of the break, the wheels seemed to come off for the Deacs, and Notre Dame began to dominate proceedings. The second goal wouldn’t come until the 67th minute, when a long free kick from an odd angle was rifled at the near post and into the back of the net by Korbin Albert for her second goal of the night. This goal entirely took the air out of Wake’s sails and all but ended the game. The Deacs began to throw numbers forward to try and salvage something from the game, but were unable to create any big chances, leaving themselves open on the other end in the process. The third goal came in the 87th minute, as Korbin Albert intercepted a ball out of the defense from Laurel Ansbrow and played through Olivia Wingate, who chipped Kaitlyn Parks to ice the game. When the final whistle blew, Wake had lost a third straight game. Korbin Albert stood head and shoulders above every other player on the field in this one, registering two goals and an assist in a game that Notre Dame dominated.

The Deacs were in desperate need of a result in their final game of the regular season as they visited a struggling Boston College team. The first half was relatively tight, with neither team really creating that many huge chances. Wake certainly had the better of the play but didn’t create many big chances, although they certainly felt as if they should have been awarded a penalty kick in the 35th minute for a hard tackle on Caiya Hanks that didn’t appear to get the ball. The referee did not issue a penalty, though, and the two sides would go into the half at 0-0. In the second half, the game followed much of the same flow as it did in the first, with neither team finding too many excellent chances, but Wake playing on their terms and BC looking to find a goal on the break. The Deacs grew into the game as it went on and looked the more likely of the two teams to score when, suddenly, they trailed. In the 81st minute, a long ball over the top by Laura Govin found the foot of Sophia Lowenberg, who lobbed it over the head of the onrushing Parks to give the Eagles a shock lead.

The goal looked like it would be a backbreaker for the Deacs, but they responded nearly instantly, as in the 85th minute Kristin Johnson sent a ball into the area that Hannah Johnson would chest down, then take a touch around a defender to free herself up, and put the ball into the back of the net with her left foot. It was a goal to bookend a tricky freshman season for Johnson, as she scored her two goals in the first and last games of the season. It was a big goal to steal a result for Wake, but it was ultimately still a disappointing game, as they would end the season with a frustrating draw against the last place team in the conference. For me, the player of the game here was Kristin Johnson, who defended well and did well playing out of the back, also setting up the tying goal.

With that game, Wake’s regular season drew to a close, and it is up in the air as to whether or not the Deacs will be playing games in November. There seems to be optimism around the program that Wake will be in the tournament. Wake had a strong start to the year, starting 6-0-1, but they sputtered down the stretch, going 3-6-2 since September 9th. With their recent run and 9th place finish in the ACC, the Deacs are certainly in jeopardy of missing out entirely. At a minimum, the Deacs will not be playing a home game in the NCAA Tournament if they do get in, as they are clearly a team on the very edge of the bubble. Reviews are mixed about Wake’s season, but let’s take a look at the stats surrounding this team.

As it stands right now, the Deacs are the 46th ranked team in the country by RPI, a critical metric in the NCAA Tournament selection process. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to use the RPI rankings like the NET rankings in college basketball, i.e. I want to separate Wake’s win by quality. There are four quadrants where a win can fall into, with Quadrant 1 (Q1) being the best and Quadrant 4 (Q4) being the worst. Each game is sorted by whether it was home, away, or neutral and where the opponent was ranked in the RPI. For more information, check this NCAA explainer. Wake has an interesting résumé, holding a 2-5 record in Q1 games, a 2-1-2 record in Q2 games, a 3-0-1 record in Q3 games, and a 2-0 record in Q4 games. By whatever metric you use, Wake’s win over Clemson is its best, a dominant performance against the #25 team in the United Soccer Coaches Poll and the #18 team in the RPI. Their other Q1 victory came against Georgia, who are the #29 team in the RPI at present, and are the only team in a power conference with double digit victories that the Deacs have defeated. Their five losses against Q1 teams came against top ten opponents (Duke, UNC, UVA, ND) and NC State, who are the #38 team in the RPI. Q2 and down are of lesser importance to Wake’ tournament chances, but there are a few games that could keep the Deacs out of the Dance. They have a home loss against a VT team that is also on the bubble, although they seem to be a near lock for the tournament. They have road draws to Boston College and Loyola Maryland that will be looked upon harshly by the Selection Committee. The question is whether voters put more weight on big wins than bad results, and if they view teams’ full body of work or put more stock in form.

The NCAA Selection Show is Monday at 3:30 and should be broadcast on the NCAA’s social media channels.