Q&A: Jenn Hildreth previews the College Cup
Hildreth will be announcing her third College Cup this year
The top seeded Stanford Cardinal are the reigning NCAA division 1 women's soccer national champions. (Photo credit: Erin Chang/isiphotos.com)
The top seeded Stanford Cardinal are the reigning NCAA division 1 women's soccer national champions. (Photo credit: Erin Chang/isiphotos.com)

The 2018 NCAA Division 1 Women’s College Cup kicks off at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C., home of the NWSL’s North Carolina Courage on Friday night. The four remaining teams are Stanford, Florida State, Georgetown and North Carolina. Ahead of the semifinal matches, NWSL Media had the chance to speak to NWSL Game of the Week on Lifetime play-by-play announcer Jenn Hildreth. Hildreth will be announcing her third Division 1 Women’s Soccer College Cup for ESPN this weekend and will be joined by Julie Foudy on the broadcast for the College Cup.

The first match-up is Stanford vs. Florida State at 5 p.m. ET on ESPNU followed by Georgetown vs. North Carolina at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU. The championship match will take place on Sunday, December 2, at 1 p.m. ET on ESPNU.

Q: What excites you the most about this year’s College Cup?

Jenn Hildreth: Honestly, I think were going to get some really good games. The teams here are just so good! Of course it is somewhat unique that we do have all four number one seeds for the first time since 2011. I just think to look at these matches, Florida State vs. Stanford is probably the one with a little more flash to it, but you can’t overlook North Carolina and their 21 national championships getting to play in their own backyard. And then, Georgetown. I think on the national scale people probably know the least amount [Georgetown] and they are going to take that underdog role and run with it.

Q: Who do you think has the edge out of the four teams?

JH: I think you have to go with the defending champs and the team that hasn’t lost in 45-straight matches, Stanford. That said, all four teams are capable of winning. We spent all day today, the day before the semifinals, talking to all of the teams and you get a really good sense of how the teams are feeling coming in and this year. You truly can look at these four teams and you think any of them can win it. Stanford does have the edge because they are such a complete team and no one has found a way to beat them in the last two years — not since Florida did it in the 2017 season, so they have the edge, but that is not a guarantee or a given by any means.

Q: All of these teams have been on this stage before, but for Florida State, they haven’t been here since 2014. What do you think about them this year?

JH: I think what you see with Florida is a team that is finally coming together literally and figuratively. They are so internationally based with their roster. They had a ton of players out on international duties this season; be it youth World Cups or with senior teams training with them and playing in games. I found out they took their team photo right before the ACC tournament because it was the first time they had all of their players together. It gives you a pretty good indication that this team, only maybe in the last month, has been playing to its full potential and that is pretty scary because they keep the ball really well and they have so many different and great individual talents and such a great a mixture of what they bring to the field. Whether it’s Deyna Castellanos from Venezuela, or Gloriana Villalobos from Costa Rica, and then you’ve got the ACC Freshman of the Year Yujie Zhao from China! The big question for this match up though, is their goalkeeper Brooke Bollinger being injured, a redshirt freshman, but she started the majority of the season for the Seminoles. Head coach Mark Krikorian said it will be a game-time decision whether she plays or not. He truly appeared to believe that when we talked to him today, but says she has been training. She hasn’t played in the NCAA tournament yet, but I think when you’re playing the nation’s number one overall seed and the number one offense in the country [Stanford], you’re going to feel a lot better if you’ve got your number one goalkeeper to do it.

Q: On the Cardinal side, who are some players to watch?

JH: You have to start with Catarina Macario. She is such an phenomenal talent. Talking to Stanford head coach Paul Ratcliffe, he said she may be one of the best he has ever seen. And to think about the talent that he has seen come through that program is really saying something. She is just at a different level. And by the way, has her heart set on playing for the U.S. Macario was born in Brazil, but wants to play for the U.S. and is in the process of trying to make that happen. If you have watched her play, you should be rooting for that to happen. Alana Cook is another one. She’s a great leader and I love spending time with her. This is the second-straight year I got to talk to her. She really makes that backline so difficult to break down and she had to do it without Tierna Davidson next to her. There is a chance Davidson could play, by the way, but you probably won’t see her on the backline if that happens. Cook has started every game of her career and was just named a first team All-American. And then Jordan DiBiasi. She just scores big goals it seems like. She was big in the NCAA tournament last year.

Q: What about this Georgetown team? They also have players that can score big goals it appears — Caitlin Farrell in particular with 18 goals this season!

JH: When we talked to Dave Nolan and we talked to her today, we talked about what lightbulb went on for her this year, because she had 12 goals in her first three years. He said confidence. She just believes she can do it now. It’s not that simple, she’s put in a lot of the work too, but she also knew she was going to have to step up this year. This Georgetown team entered this season having lost their entire midfield. Rachel Corboz for so long was one they could rely on for the ball in the back of the net. That was a huge question coming into the season; who would play those midfield roles to help set up those players like Farrell? Farrell stepped up and finished. Also a really interesting situation on this team is with Kyra Carusa, who won the national championship with Stanford last season and is now a graduate transfer student playing for Georgetown. I can’t even imagine what that might feel like for her. She has had a terrific year for them, just in setting players up and also putting goals away herself, but if both of those teams should advance I can imagine that will be a difficult situation for her, although exciting at the same time.

Q: With North Carolina it doesn’t appear that they have any one specific player who has poured out goals. What have you seen in their team this year?

JH: There is no one big dog when it comes to scoring for North Carolina. Freshman Brianna Pinto does have the six goals and eight assists, but they are truly a really balanced team. When you think North Carolina traditionally you think pressure. They put teams under pressure and they force you to make decision quickly. This team can still do that, but they added an element this year. They play a little more. They break down lines and that has to do with the players in the midfield, Pinto being one of those players, along with Taylor Otto and Dorian Bailey. Those three have really been the key to North Carolina being a different looking North Carolina team this season.

Q: Spending time with all four teams today, what has the general feel been? Excitement? Nerves?

JH: I would say for the most part excited. It really is enjoyable, but as excited as they were, you did also feel that they knew they were here to get the job done. A big difference that [Georgetown] talked about today was that when they were here two years ago, they admitted they were just happy to be here because it was the first time in program history that Georgetown had made it to the College Cup. This time, they don’t want to just be here, they want to win it. They actually talked about that they have 27 goals that they wrote down as a team and they have them up in their locker room. And one thing they did after going through conference play unbeaten, they changed one of those goals. It had been that they wanted to get to the Elite Eight, get to the quarterfinals, and they changed it to win a national championship, because at that point they believed they truly had what it takes to do that.

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