Winning the title in his first season as head coach would be a storybook beginning for new UCLA boss B.J. Snow, but that's the scenario we are predicting as we look through our admittedly muddy crystal ball and release the TopDrawerSoccer.com Tournament 64 rankings, preseason version.
Look, trying to predict what will happen in the women's college soccer world almost four months from now in Kennesaw, Georgia, is pretty hazardous, but we do like the look of Bruins this season, as Snow replaces previous coach Jillian Ellis, who made trips to the College Cup finals almost a ho-hum event in Westwood. Here's our preseason top 10.
1. UCLA. This year's UCLA team has goal-scoring standout Sydney Leroux back for a final bite of the apple, returning midfield stalwarts Jenna Richmond, Ahsha Smith and Chelsea Cline, goalkeeper Chante Sandiford, high-profile transfers Chelsea Stewart and Charney Burk plus a dynamite incoming freshmen class. The team will need to gel together in short order, but we're tabbing them to be up to the task.
2. Notre Dame. Defending national champion Notre Dame may have snuck up on some people last year after being handed a fourth seed prior to the tournament, but the Fighting Irish were clearly deserving of their national title, punctuated in the final with a virtuoso midfield performance from Courtney Barg. Barg is back for coach Randy Waldrum along with her youth teammate and goal-scoring force Melissa Henderson, plus Mandy Laddish, Elizabeth Tucker and Jessica Schuveiller.
3. Stanford. The battle, of course, will be fierce, starting right in the Bruins' own conference with last year's national runner-up Stanford, which loses goal-scorer Christen Press but returns top talents like Teresa Noyola, Alina Garciamendez, Rachel Quon, Camille Levin and Lindsay Taylor, along with adding some highly-touted freshmen of their own. Paul Ratcliffe's squad has come so close two years in a row, you know they will be gunning for the title like never before.
4. Boston College. BC is another loaded team in the ACC, while perennial contenders Portland, Florida State and Virginia will also be major factors. Add to that teams who broke into the top echelon last year like Ohio State and Maryland, and guessing who will prevail in the end proves to be just that, a guess.
5. North Carolina. Oh, and then there's North Carolina, where anything short of a national title is considered a disappointment for Anson Dorrance's crew. Look for Crystal Dunn, Courtney Jones and Kealia Ohai to be a powerhouse offensive trip, with Amber Brooks and Meg Morris providing steel and a remarkably deep cast of supporting talent fueling the Tar Heels' high-pressure system.
Rounding out the rest of the top 10:
8. Florida State
10. Ohio State
See the full rankings: Tournament 64 Rankings | College Soccer News