Final Four: No. 1 Alabama faces fellow top seed UCLA for berth in title match

Will Miller, Staff Reporter

The women’s college soccer road has reached Cary, North Carolina, and so has Alabama. The No. 1 seed Crimson Tide will compete in the program’s first ever College Cup and will take on fellow top seed, UCLA, in the national semifinal. 

Alabama (23-2-1) earned a gutsy overtime win over the Duke University Blue Devils in the quarterfinal round to advance to Cary. The Crimson Tide has now won four matches in a row and has the ultimate goal — a national title — in its sights. Jackson State, Portland, UC Irvine and Duke were all defeated in Tuscaloosa in Alabama’s second straight NCAA Tournament run. 

The UCLA Bruins (20-2-1) have been a top team in the sport throughout the fall. The Bruins and the Crimson Tide have spent much time occupying the top five of the rankings for a substantial amount of time. UCLA’s tournament run has seen the end of the seasons of Northern Arizona, Central Florida, UCF and Virginia. The Bruins have seen overtime twice in the NCAA Tournament, escaping UCF with a win on penalty kicks.   

“[There was] a lot of excitement, a lot of energy in training,” head coach Wes Hart said. “Training was sharp and intense. The overall vibe is awesome right now.” 

“There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re going to come with energy,” Hart said. “We need to be able to be composed with the ball and make sure we’re making good decisions with the ball. We were able to do that against Duke, and that’s why I thought we were so successful. My hope is that we can do that again [against UCLA].” 

During the 2022 season, Alabama ascended to the No. 1 ranking in some polls. In the United Soccer Coaches rankings, the Crimson Tide climbed as high as one spot down from the top line. In that top spot? UCLA. 

“I’m excited to play UCLA,” Alabama midfielder Macy Clem said. “They’re a team that likes the ball and likes pretty soccer, and I really think that us pressing them, hitting them, it’s going to scare them a little bit.” 

“We were fighting for that No. 1 or No. 2 ranking with them the whole year, and to finally get the matchup in the Final Four, it seems correct,” defender Brooke Steere said. 

“We know that they’re going to be a very technical team to play, and they have some very good talent all around the field. I think we’re going to match up pretty well, and I’m excited to see how they’re going to do with our press,” defender Gessica Skorka said. 

The Crimson Tide’s patented press-and-hunt style has led to 17 goals scored in the NCAA Tournament alone. The team leads the country in goals scored as a unit. There are two players on Alabama who have scored 10 or more times this fall, and there are many more who have found the back of the net on at least five occasions. Midfielder Felicia Knox still leads the country in assists, and the Crimson Tide is the best remaining team in goals per match. Alabama forward Riley Mattingly Parker has the most goals in the nation of anyone still playing. 

The defensive side of the ball is also strong for Alabama. Several of the country’s best have been either blanked or held to one against Alabama. Duke came the closest to handing Alabama a home loss, and they did this by scoring more than one time, making the Blue Devils the only team to do that in Tuscaloosa in 2022. 

“I think the defense is what holds the team together in a sense,” Clem said. “The more pressure you can put on someone, the harder you’re going to make their job.” 

“Riley Parker always says it best,” Steere said. “[The defense] gives them confidence to do what they need to do, knowing our defense is back there, and we’re always solid, it gives them the confidence to do whatever they need to get those goals in. It’s helping score the goals in a sense.” 

Alabama will debut in the College Cup to a tough challenge, and a chance at playing in the season’s final game for it all is in front of the Crimson Tide.  

Kickoff in the semifinals will be on Friday, Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m. CT on ESPNU.

Questions or comments? Email Austin Hannon (Sports Editor) at [email protected]