The top programs across the nation started off the season proving why they are so well regarded. Updating the top ten of my earlier rankings, UNC, Notre Dame, UCLA, Penn State and Portland could almost interchangeably trade spots in the top five. All the squads have unblemished 4 - 0 records and look threatening on the attack and solid on defense.
1. Notre Dame: 4 -0
ND rampaged through its season opener, clearing double digits in an 11-1 victory over New Hampshire, then added a more conservative scoreline of 6-0 against Vermont. Proving that they could execute as well against stiffer competition, the Irish squad dispatched Florida 4-1 and Maryland, 6-0. Katie Thorlakson has been as stellar as expected - and freshman Kerri Hanks has stepped up beyond expectations.
2. UNC: 4 - 0
I'm a believer - and Heather O'Reilly is on a tear, scoring her first hat trick of her college career against Davidson in a 6 - 0 win. The squad had a bit of trouble putting away a feisty Yale, but they emerged victorious thanks to a single Jaime Gilbert goal. A 7-1 win in the season opener over Tennessee and a 3 - 0 triumph over Colorado were much less taxing.
3. UCLA: 4 - 0
The Bruins proved they could win without freshman sensation Kara Lang, putting Princeton away 1-0 and Florida Atlantic 2-0, while she was away on Canadian national team duty. Lang also proved her worth to the Bruins in the season's second game, where she notched a hat trick in a 4-1 victory over San Diego. Long Beach State gave the deep squad no trouble, either, and was dispatched, 3-0.
4. Penn State: 4 - 0
A well-balanced team has dealt handily with a tough schedule, including early games against ranked opponents Connecticut (2-1) and Washington (3-2). Despite a relative breather (5-0) against Loyola, the preparation against difficult teams held the Lions in good stead when they faced off against Virginia and, behind the two goals of star Tiffany Weimer, overcame a one-goal deficit to triumph 5-2.
5. Portland: 4 - 0
This team has gelled in stunning fashion behind the leadership of senior Christine Sinclair, who nearly has a double digit goal total (9) only four games into the season. Her potent partnership with Lindsey Huie (3 assists) continues to produce results for the team. What's really surprising, however, is how well the redshirt sophomores are fitting in. Stephanie Lopez has contributed to a defense that has yet to give up a goal and Megan Rapinoe is providing Sinclair with support as a legitimate scoring threat, since she has contributed three goals. Portland opened the season with a convincing 3 - 0 win against a quality Stanford team, romped over Oregon 6 - 0, added another 3 - 0 victory over San Diego State and finally let off the gas a little in beating Pacific 2 - 0.
6. Santa Clara: 2-0-1
Still undefeated, but with a scoreless tie against a scrappy Wake Forest team in their second game, Santa Clara must capitalize on the linking skills of Jordan Angeli and Brittany Klein, who combined well in the team's two wins against Arizona State (2-0) and Virginia Tech (3-1).
7. Virginia: 3 - 1
Left on the outside of the top five, and looking to return is this talented squad. Though the team started off with a goalfest (6-0) against Rhode Island, a pair of 1 - 0 wins versus West Virginia and James Madison, respectively, showed that the finishing on the attack was an issue. It was a weakness that Penn State would exploit in their showdown. Virginia actually led in the first half before falling 5 - 2, though they outshot the Nittany Lions. The Kellys - super-sub Quinn and Hammond respectively, need to become more consistent in their production, while Jess Rostedt also looks to get more out of the shots she takes.
8. Duke 3-0-1
With only a tie against William and Mary holding them back from a perfect record, Duke looks to post more shutouts like the ones this past week against Yale (1-0) and Davidson (2-0). Midfielder Darby Kroyer, who scored against Yale, is one of three captains leading this squad.
9. Boston College 3-0
The preseason win over ranked Connecticut has proven to be no fluke, as Boston College has been both consistent and focused in notching the exact same scoreline, 2-0, in their wins over Boston University, Holy Cross and Sacred Heart. The defense, led by Lindsey McArdle and goalkeeper Ariana Criscione, has stonewalled opponents repeatedly, while top striker Kia McNeill is on the board with two goals thus far in the season.
10. Florida: 3 - 1
It's not a shame to lose to the top-ranked team in the country, which Florida did in falling 4-1 to Notre Dame. They bounced back in high style by defeating higher-ranked Connecticut soundly, 5-0, with a varied attack, as different Florida players scored every goal. With a pair of 3-1 wins over Drake and Jacksonville State already in hand, the team is one to keep an eye on for the season. Jasmine Johnson helps this squad stay in the mix with both her scoring and passing skills.
Other notable teams include the undefeated Florida State University Seminoles. Coach Mark Krikorian has the team off to their best start in history with a 4-0 mark. Pepperdine also has yet to lose or tie a match.
USC bounced back from an opening day loss to record two high-scoring wins. Stanford also recovered from a season starting loss to post two straight wins, though not with as impressive a goal tally.
Connecticut slips out of the top ten with losses to both Florida and Penn State, though their defeat of Maryland was a quality result. Nebraska also loses a close one to Illinois, 1-0, but just enough to knock them out of the top ten.
Last season's surprise team, Princeton, have yet to earn a win, falling to UCLA 1-0 and Miami 3-0.
Texas A&M got bogged down while in Michigan, losing to State in overtime, 1-0 and then playing the full overtime against the University of Michigan to a scoreless tie.
This upcoming week should see a shake-up at the top, as some of the teams face each other, notably Notre Dame versus Santa Clara and UCLA taking on Penn State.
Matchups like these are what separate the contenders from the pretenders. The programs that are really the cream of the crop will rise to the top.
Andrea Canales covers MLS and women's college soccer for ESPNsoccernet.com. She also writes for topdrawersoccer.com and soccer365.com. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org