This year’s tournament saw unexpected early losses for the usually-dominant PAC-12 conference teams. USC and UCLA were knocked out in the second and third rounds, and Stanford didn’t even qualify. Because of the weakness of the conference this year, the quarterfinals featured three ACC teams: Virginia, Florida State, and North Carolina, and one WCC underdog: Santa Clara. At 5:30 PM eastern time on Monday, May 17th, the Santa Clara Broncos will face the Florida State Seminoles in the championship match of the NCAA Division 1 Women’s Soccer Tournament. Both teams had spectacular seasons and blew through their first few opponents in earlier rounds, and have earned their place as 2021’s two best teams in college soccer.
Santa Clara went 10-1 this year, meaning they won 10 games and only lost one. In conference play, they were undefeated. Their success in league play earned them a spot in the NCAA tournament as the 11th seed. They knocked off their first few opponents, then faced the second-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels, one of the best programs in all of college soccer history (having won 21 of the 38 NCAA women’s soccer titles), in the quarterfinals. North Carolina was a heavy favorite to win, having not conceded a single goal since the fall, but the Broncos pulled off a 3-1 upset and earned a ticket to the championship match.
On the other side of the bracket, the number one seed, Florida State, met unseeded Virginia in the quarterfinals. The Seminoles entered the tournament coming off an undefeated season bearing the ACC championship title in one of its most competitive years yet. They booted Milwaukee, Penn State, and Duke out of the tournament before facing Virginia. The game was close, and after running through normal time and overtime, the score was settled in a round of penalty kicks. The Cavaliers missed all three of their shots, with the help of freshman goalkeeper Christina Roque, and the Seminoles made all three, sending them through to the final round.
Although the Seminoles hold a much higher seed than the Broncos, the Broncos are riding the momentum from their powerful upset over one of the best teams in the country. The close match against Virginia might have slowed Florida State’s blazing path towards a history-making season and their third national title in the past decade. Should the Seminoles secure the championship, they would be tied with Notre Dame and Stanford for second-most titles (second to the Heels). The matchup could really go either way, as they are both stellar teams that excel in their own ways. It will come down to the team who wants it more and executes best.