For the first time since 2017, a team not named Saint Louis came out on top of the regular season table, with Lindsey Martin’s VCU side crowned as regular season champions. While the Rams ran the table until the final day, their birth in the NCAA tournament might not be secured just yet. All four quarterfinal matchups are rematches of games played in the last week of the season, meaning many contentious battles lie ahead. A full weekend of playoff action is just days away, so without further ado let’s break down the matchups!
#8 St. Joe’s at #1 VCU
After two straight seasons of missing the A10 postseason entirely, VCU ran the table on the league this year – that is, until the final day. The Rams won their first ever A10 regular season championship with a record of 13-3-0 (9-1-0 in conference), and finished the season with an RPI of 39, likely enough to get them into the NCAA tournament for the first time since they joined the A10 regardless of if they win the tournament. The only blemish on their record came in the final matchweek against none other than their first-round opponent, St. Joe’s. Despite outshooting the Hawks 24-10 and having 61% possession (and a whopping 17-4 advantage in corners), an 87th minute goal from Ashley Orendac propelled the Hawks into the postseason and cost the Rams an invincible year.
St Joe’s are heavy, heavy underdogs. They went 0-5-2 in non-conference play, and started the season on a nine-game winless run. But after sneaking past La Salle in extra time and playing spoiler against VCU last week, the Hawks wound up as the 8 seed. Despite the recent victory over VCU, I find it hard to believe that a team that was outscored 31-14 on the season and out-chanced at a rate of around 2.5 to 1 will be able to have lightning strike twice. With last Sunday’s game heavy on the mind of both teams (VCU will want revenge, and St Joe’s will have belief that they can replicate their smash-and-grab performance), the Rams should be able to ease into the semifinal round and host it themselves.
Prediction: VCU 2, St. Joe’s 0
#7 Richmond vs #2 Dayton
Richmond will likely be disappointed to have finished the season in seventh place, after an unfortunate last two games saw them face three seed St. Louis and two seed Dayton in the span of four days. After losing four of their first five games, including an 8-0 drubbing against UVA, Richmond could have been in contention for a top-four finish, but their final four games included matchups with three of the four eventual top seeds. Dayton, meanwhile, compiled an excellent conference season going 8-2-0, scoring like wildfire along the way.
The Flyers finished the season averaging 2.05 goals per game, leading the league in goals, shots, and scoring margin. (Five of their 37 goals were penalties, also tops in the league.) Dayton also fouls more than all but two teams in the league, were the only team in the A10 to record more than one red card, and picked up the second most total bookings. Richmond, however, were 1-8-0 away from home this year and created the fewest shots in the entire league while giving up more goals per game than any other playoff team. Richmond’s head coach Marty Beall is held in high regard and is known for being a tactician, but Dayton has lost just once in their last nine games. With two of the top four goalscorers in the league in the form of Itala Gemelli and Laney Huber going up against a porous defense, Dayton will keep their scoring ways and look to set up a revenge game with Saint Louis in the semis.
Prediction: Dayton 4, Richmond 1
#6 URI vs #3 Saint Louis
Were it not for the Bonnies, URI would be this year’s biggest overachiever (more on that later). After being picked to finish 13th in the league, Megan Jessee’s side enters their first postseason since 2016, just three years removed from going 0-17-1. The turnaround in Kingston is just beginning, but the Rams’ six wins this season are as many as they had in their last three seasons combined. That is progress worth celebrating. They’ll take on – wait for it – the Saint Louis team which they beat 1-0 in overtime in their final regular season match.
The fact that 2021 has been an off year for St. Louis is equally as remarkable. A true powerhouse program over the last five years, finishing third is reflective of a “down year” for Katie Shields, who could likely take just about any open Power Five job she wanted. Saint Louis scored just 21 goals this year. To put this in perspective, they scored 45 and 40 in their last two years, in which they cruised their way to the title. At the same time, the Billikens allowed the fewest goals this year (11) with a league-high 10 shutouts and were one of two teams to hold opponents to under one goal per game, all while facing a difficult non-conference schedule.
This is a particularly interesting matchup, for obvious reasons. Rhode Island are a defensively solid team with less dynamism in their attack than many. Rhody will have to travel to Hermann Stadium, home of the best atmosphere in the A10. And yet…I just think Rhode Island’s style of play is uniquely suited to the tournament. Don’t expect goals in this one, but an upset in this game is more likely to happen than in any of the other three.
Prediction: URI 0, SLU 0, SLU wins on PKs
#5 St. Bonaventure vs #4 UMass
With absolutely zero bias whatsoever, and certainly not because I will be doing play-by-play for it, this is the most intriguing fixture of the first round.
St. Bonaventure was picked to finish last in the A10. The Bonnies went 0-8 last season, being outscored 21-1 in the process; in 2019, they went 7-10-1, and in 2018 they were 2-13-4. This year, though, they were 7-7-4 on the back of Cristina Torres and her league-high 13 goals. Torres, a graduate student in her first year of college soccer, is a full Puerto Rican international with experience with SC Bastia in France as well as multiple Puerto Rican club teams. Now, the Bonnies do not score a ton – they only scored more than two goals in a game once, against a Robert Morris team that is the 18th worst in the country – nor do they have a lot of goalscorers (outside of Torres, they only got five goals all season). However, they keep games close, only losing one conference game by more than one goal.
Under head coach Jason Dowiak, UMass has made the conference tournament in four straight years, finishing in the top four three times. UMass have 22 underclassmen on their team and only three seniors. Chandler Pedolzky, prospective rookie of the year, had a conference-high eight assists, chipping in four goals along the way; fellow first year Ashley Lamond had a team-high five goals. UMass plays a high risk, high reward brand of football characterized by a unique 3-5-2 formation which is extremely uncommon at this level of soccer. They create a ton of chances, convert on some of them, and are fairly susceptible to counterattacks and set pieces.
When these two teams played to a nil-nil stalemate on October 21st, it was a game UMass wished they could have won. They hit the woodwork twice, and outshot the Bonnies 13-1 over the final 65 minutes. I’d expect a similar formula for this coming game. UMass’ back three were able to stifle Cristina Torres, who entered the game on a three-match scoring streak. If Steve Brdarski wants to commit another player forward, they will have to find a way to avoid sacrificing their midfield strength (defensive midfielder Kacie Fillian was the best player on the pitch in the last meeting). They pressed UMass high off of goal kicks while also keeping a very low back line, effectively letting UMass control the midfield but not play in behind. While containing Torres two games in a row would be a massive feat, UMass has struggled in games where they believe they are the better team. With the frustration of last week’s 0-0 draw (and subsequent 2-1 loss to La Salle) in the back of their mind, the Minutewomen will rebound and set up a juicy semifinal against VCU, whom they played their best soccer against back in early October.
Prediction: UMass 2, St. Bonaventure 1
Catch all the A10 Women’s Soccer postseason action on ESPN+.