Nov 10, 2011

Shift of power in women's soccer

Clackamas CC (white) and Lane CC face off in the one of the final
southern region matches in the 2011 season. Lane (7-6-1finished
second in the south behind Clackamas (10-5-1). Both teams are
 still alive in the NWAACC playoffs and will play Saturday.
Normally a fledgling program takes time to build a legacy. They struggle for years in futility until they finally strike gold and begin to gain traction. Other times, the complete opposite is true. Some teams hit the ground running and find immediate success. One of those teams is the still rather recently formed Clackamas Community College women's soccer program.

Started up in 2002, they finished the season an impressive 15-5-2, taking second in the powerhouse Southern Region in just their first season of play. Since then, the Cougars have made even more progress, winning an impressive six region titles and three NWAACC titles from 2004-2011. Clackamas has made it to the final four every year except 2006, when they lost to the eventual NWAACC champion Spokane CC in the first round, and 2009.

This year Clackamas has again won their region title and will be hosting a quarterfinal match, but there are some questions as to the strength of the southern region verses years past. Yes, three teams from the NWAACC south, Clackamas, Lane and Clark have all advanced past the first round, but the days of complete dominance seem to be behind us. The East and South aren't alone in women's soccer any more. 

That's not to say that the North and West haven't been there. The two conferences have seen plenty of appearances in the final four and championship games, but neither conference has won a title since 2003. That was before the NWAACC split into four divisions, and the team that won, Northern Idaho, is no longer a member of the league. 

The balance of power seems to be shifting. The South and East are still dominant, accounting for five of the eight teams still alive, but the Northern region is beginning to rear it's head with two representatives, and an impressive 2-0 defeat of the East's 3 seeded Yakima Valley. The South is having a down year, coming in second to last in non-league play just above the pitiful western region. 

2011 NWAACC Women’s Soccer Non-League Play

Part of that shift comes from a switch that the NWAACC made a few seasons ago. It used to be that the south would play the north and the east would play the west. It wasn't uncommon to see a 10-0 win for a southern or eastern team, and both divisions dominated until region play began. Now the south and east face off, and the north and west face off. This pitches the two strong conferences against one another and the two weak conferences against one another.

That creates a problem. Squads from the power regions that would normally roll to easy victories in non-league games are starting to lose more often when matched up against better competition and teams that would normally get steamrolled are able to make headway when playing much weaker competition. That can create the illusion that the south has faltered and the north has taken it's place, if the casual fan isn't careful.

But is it really incorrect? Could the perceived success in the northern region turn the tables on the NWAACC and create a new power conference? I think so.

People tend to look at wins and losses rather than the strength of schedule, so a team's attractiveness to recruits will be based on that team's record, regardless of who they play. An Everett Community College team that normally would have finished 0-3 against the powerful east now finishes at a respectable 2-1. All of the sudden, soccer players from around the area take a second look at the team that won the "strong" north division and back away from teams in the south and west. What started artificially now begins to gain some substance as the north continues to improve and work toward it's first NWAACC title in eight seasons.

Time will tell. It could be that the south will bounce back, and the north and west fill fall into mediocrity again, but now all eyes turn to the last three rounds of the playoffs. That's when the true test of superiority will be taken. Will the north finally rise to the top? Will the south reclaim the NWAACC title for the first time since Clackamas won in 2007? or will the east continue it's reign? We'll all just have to wait and see.

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