- Associated Press - Thursday, December 3, 2015

CARY, N.C. (AP) - Get ready for a different kind of Big Ten/ACC Challenge - this time in women’s soccer.

One semifinal at the Women’s College Cup on Friday matches Atlantic Coast Conference teams Duke and Florida State. The other pits Rutgers and Penn State of the Big Ten.

Rutgers coach Mike O’Neill said Thursday that it “speaks volumes about the level of soccer in the Big Ten” while Penn State coach Erica Walsh said, “I think that we’ve seen this coming, this evolution in the conference.

“To us, it’s no surprise that there’s two Big Ten teams,” Walsh said.

And if nothing else, there don’t figure to be any semifinal surprises.

Duke and Florida State played to a scoreless draw in September while the Scarlet Knights and Nittany Lions split two meetings.

“I would expect in Round 3 of the Penn State-Rutgers matchup that it will be a bit of a tactical battle,” Walsh said. “Ultimately, it will come down to the players being able to read what the opponent gives them and being able to execute in those moments.”

The four teams here this weekend have varying degrees of experience at this level.

Defending champion Florida State (18-2-4) is in the College Cup for the ninth time and fifth straight year, while Penn State (20-3-2) is here for the fifth time and first since 2012 - making this the second College Cup for the seniors. Duke earned its third national semifinal berth and first since 2011 and Rutgers is here for the first time.

“Coming in, having that expectation (of playing for national championships) and being held to that standard has always made us as a team come out looking very professional,” Florida State senior Carson Pickett said.

The Seminoles, Nittany Lions and Scarlet Knights have each played four straight shutouts in the NCAA Tournament while Duke is the only team here that has given up a goal.

The Blue Devils (13-5-5) are the first team since Portland in 2000 to make the College Cup one year after missing the NCAA Tournament. They got here by upsetting second-seeded Florida 2-1 in the round of 16 and top-seeded Stanford in a penalty-kick shootout after playing to a 1-1 draw.

After not making it in 2014, coach Robbie Church said “they made a pact and a goal that, ‘Hey, we’re going to be back in the NCAA Tournament, and we’re going to make a long run in the NCAA Tournament.

“The bigger the game, the better this team plays,” Church said, calling it “one of my favorite teams in 35 years. They say you’re not supposed to have favorites, but this is one.”

The Scarlet Knights (19-3-3) earned a third meeting with their Big Ten rivals. Rutgers won the regular season meeting 1-0 but lost 2-0 in the conference title game on Nov. 8.

“I think we have the advantage,” Rutgers captain Erica Skroski said. “To be able to get just another opportunity to prove ourselves, especially on the biggest stage in women’s soccer, is just an awesome opportunity for us.”

Rutgers has been getting it done with defense, allowing just eight goals in 25 matches and beating top-seeded Virginia in the tiebreaker after finishing in a scoreless draw.

O’Neill said he’d “put it up there” with his team’s best defensive performances because “when you get to this stage, everybody can play, and you’re going to have to bring your best, not only on the defensive side but on the attacking side as well.”


Follow Joedy McCreary at https://twitter.com/joedyap. His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/joedy-mccreary

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