Florida State's Jaelin Howell (Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. While the playoffs are heating up in the NWSL, the NCAA Women’s College Cup begins Friday with the best college soccer has to offer.

To get you ready for the tournament, we take a closer look at five players on some of the NCAA’s top-ranking teams.

Jaelin Howell – No. 1 Florida State

The 2020-21 MAC Hermann Trophy winner has been the ultimate playmaker for her team from the six position, leading the Seminoles to their second consecutive ACC title this season and third since Howell’s freshman year. The senior midfielder won a national championship with Florida State as a freshman in 2018 and last season led them to another final appearance, where they lost to Santa Clara in penalty kicks.

In addition to her accomplishments at the collegiate level, Howell has been on the U.S. women’s national team radar for many years. She earned her first call-up in March 2017 but did not earn a cap. The 2021 ACC Midfielder of the Year made her debut with the USWNT last November and appeared a second time at the SheBelieves Cup in February.

Howell and Florida State will meet South Alabama in the first round Friday at 6 p.m. ET.

Anna Podojil – No. 2 Arkansas

This year, junior Anna Podojil led the Razorbacks to their third consecutive SEC final with 13 goals and six assists in 17 matches. The forward finished the season ranked second in the SEC in points and goals, one point and two goals behind Georgia’s Mollie Belisle.

The Cincinnati native made her mark at Arkansas right away, scoring 14 goals and seven assists in 2019 to lead her team in both scoring and points and earn SEC Freshman of the Year. In 2020, she was named SEC Forward of the Year after recording 24 goals and 10 assists.

Arkansas will face Northwestern State on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET in the first round.

Talia Staude – No. 1 Virginia

Contributing to Virginia’s 11 shutouts this year, defender Talia Staude helped the Hokies earn their third regular season title before falling to Florida State in the ACC championship. The junior is a force in the back who likes to push up into Virginia’s attack, as her two career goals and three assists indicate. The Atlanta native also leads the team in playing time, with 1,717 minutes logged this season.

Virginia takes on High Point in the first round Friday at 6 p.m. ET.

Lilly Reale – No. 2 UCLA

Freshman Lilly Reale has been attending U.S. youth national team camps since 2017, playing most recently with the U19s in April. Though a center back for UCLA, Reale has offensive potential. In high school in Hingham, Mass., she scored 15 goals as a freshman and 21 as a sophomore before moving to the backline.

At UCLA, Reale has started all 18 games she’s played in and has helped her team to 10 shutouts, including eight straight clean sheets in the first half of the season. The Bruins were the only team in NCAA women’s soccer to go undefeated through the regular season, posting a 16-0-3 record.

UCLA will face UC Irvine in the first round Friday at 9 p.m. ET.

Claudia Dickey – No. 7 North Carolina

A senior, Claudia Dickey has been to the ACC championship three times, winning the title in 2019 in a season where she started 11 games, allowing just six goals in 1671 minutes played. The Charlotte, N.C. native has helped her team to six shutouts this season, playing the full 90 minutes in all 17 matches.

Arguably one of the best goalkeepers in the NCAA, soccer isn’t the only sport Dickey excels at. She also represented North Carolina in basketball during her freshman year, appearing in six games. Growing up she pitched in boys’ all-star baseball.

Coming into the College Cup as a second seed, North Carolina plays South Carolina on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET.

Jessa Braun is an editorial intern for Just Women’s Sports. She is also the Head of North American Content for the Women’s Sports Alliance. You can find her on Twitter @jessabraun.