The women's college scene awakes from its holiday slumber and gets moving again this weekend. The South inaugurates its matrix season, while Northern California will absorb the influx of several great DI and DII teams at the Stanford Invitational.
In the South, a team's strength is generally measured against how it performed against North Carolina, which has been the South's representative to DI nationals for the last several years. Last year, ECU defeated UNC in regular season, then finished second in the South finals to the Tar Heels. NC State defeated North Carolina during the fall friendly season.
The two teams will surely push UNC again this spring, as the reigning South champ is still rebuilding after losing heavyweights like Kimber Rozier. UNC begins its matrix season against South Carolina, and should exit the weekend with the win.
Elsewhere, Clemson takes on Georgia Tech and is favored to win, while Tennessee and Georgia Southern go at it for their first matrix match of the season.
In the South's DII, the College of Charleston is favored over UNC Wilmington, Kennesaw should down North Georgia, and Lee University has the edge over Middle Tennessee. And if Florida, look for Central Florida to defeat South Florida, and a battle of rivals to go down between Florida State and Florida.
There are only three conferences in the South DII, and the fourth seed to South Championships will be filled by a Texas team. Texas is floating in no-man's land after the creation of the Pacific Coast Mountain league, so the winner of the Challenge Cup series will compete receive the DI seed to playoffs, and the second-place team will take the fourth seed to the South's knockout round. As it stands, Texas unexpectedly is leading the standing at 2-0, while Texas Tech sits in second at 1-1. Texas A&M found itself in a similar situation last year when it was only A&M and Tech vying for a DI seed to Western playoffs. A&M rebounded after a couple of months of training and will need to do the same if it's to defend its Texas title. The teams have two more weeks of preparation before hitting the field.
In Northern California, nine of the best area teams will convene in Stanford for the annual winter tournament. It's typically served as the kickoff to the teams' competitive season, but this tournament will prove even more important than in years past. Oregon and Oregon State, which opted out of this year's event, are no longer isolated in the Pacific Northwest. They are now part of the Pacific Mountain North conference and will see many of the weekend's teams in regular season. Oregon will have its work cut out for them, as they take on Colorado, a former Stanford 15s champion, and California in pool play.
UC Davis headlines pool B and will duke it out with Chico State and DII's Western Washington, which lost a tough match to Washington State (17-12) early in their regular season.
Stanford is the favorite in pool C, but coach Matt Sherman isn't necessarily concerned about bringing home the title so much as getting everyone ample playing time.
"We plan to get our entire squad some experience and use the tournament primarily as a development opportunity," Sherman said. "But at some point I think we’ll try to get our strongest team on the field playing together."
UCLA and Sacramento State round out pool C, and we expect to see a solid performance the Bruins as per usual.
Stay tuned for all the breaking scores and match reports.