The final four returns to the West Coast for the first time
since 2000, and Stanford hopes to use a "home coast advantage" to
win back-to-back NCAA championships.
The top ranked Cardinal have compiled an impressive 21-1-1 record
despite having lost a trio of 2011 first team All Americans --
Hermann Trophy winner Teresa Noyola, runner-up Lindsay Taylor, and
Camille Levin -- from last year's undefeated and untied national
championship squad. Coach Paul Ratcliffe has built the strongest
program in the land as the Card make their fifth straight College
This year has perhaps been Ratcliffe’s greatest coaching
performance. He needed to replace the two best players in
women’s college soccer without any obvious Hermann Trophy contenders
returning to The Farm, and the team got off to a stumbling start.
After opening with a comeback home win over Santa Clara (down 0-1 at
half, winning 6-1 at the end) and a road victory over highly ranked
Penn State, the Cardinal lost to unranked West Virginia in their
third match of the season. They then came home to tie Boston College. At that stage, the team’s record was 2-1-1, a
shocking change from the last three years, which saw undefeated
marks going into the College Cup.
Part of the problem was the absence of star sophomore forward Chioma
Ubogagu, who missed LSJU’s first five games while playing for the
gold medal-winning United States under 21 women’s national team in
the World Cup in Japan. Stanford also started the season
without returning starting goalkeeper Emily Oliver, who missed all
of the non-conference games with an injury. But, part of the
challenge was simply trying to fit the returning and new players
together to replace Noyola, Taylor, and Levin.
The team, though, did come together and the Card have not lost or
tied since that Boston College match in late August. LSJU won
its next four non-conference games, then completed yet another
undefeated conference season -- though not without a few
scares. Stanford won six matches by a single goal, including a
double overtime win at USC [Ed: that rings a bell, for some
That same weekend, on Sunday, October 28, LSJU played at No.
2-ranked UCLA. The Bruins had long owned the Pac-10, winning
for five out of six years before Stanford started its own streak in
2009. Playing in front of home crowd that exceeded 4,000 fans,
UCLA had a chance to wrest the conference lead -- and the #1
national ranking -- from Stanford with a win. The Bruins
scored first early in the second half to take a 1-0 lead, but two
goals within 72 seconds around the 78th minute mark gave Stanford
the comeback win. That clinched the Cardinal’s fourth
consecutive conference championship, though a 1-0 win at Berkeley
the following weekend was a nice lagniappe.
Stanford then began the NCAA tournament with four games at its home
Laird Q. Cagan stadium (“the Q”). It beat an overmatched Idaho
State, 3-0; then had a very tough match with local rival Santa
Clara, pulling out a 2-1 win with two second half goals and 15
minutes of tough defense after Santa Clara pulled within a goal.
This was not an easy match! Denver, an upset winner over #4
seed Maryland, fell to Stanford 3-0 in the third round, setting up a
rematch in the quarterfinals with UCLA last Friday.
UCLA knew it could play with the Card, having done so less than four
weeks earlier. The Bruins came out aggressive, taking an early
1-0 lead in the seventh minute, a lead that held up throughout a
first half in which they seemed to dominate a sluggish Stanford
team. A different Stanford club came out for the second half,
with the seniors – especially Rachel Quon (with help from junior
Sydney Payne) – seemingly determined to make their last match at the
Q another victory. And they did. Lo’eau LaBonta pounced
on the ball in the front of the goal twice in post-corner kick
scrums – a goal in the 56th minute and another in the 69th.
Twenty-some nail-biting minutes later, the whistle ended the
quarterfinal: Stanford 2, UCLA 1. The team had another
undefeated season at home – and the seniors ended four years at the
Q with a record of 52-0-1!
Ratcliffe has eventually settled into a pretty consistent 4-3-3
starting line-up. Ubogagu, Courtney Verloo, and sophomore
Lo’eau LaBonta typically start at forward. Four year
starter Mariah Nogueira physically dominates the midfield, with help
from sophomore Alex Doll and junior Nina Watkins. The four
defenders include two more four-year starters: Mexican national team
player Alina Garciamendez in the middle and Rachel Quon on the
wing. They have been joined by the impressively solid freshman
Laura Leidle on one wing. The other center back position has
eventually settled down to senior Maddie Thompson after an injury to
last year’s starter, Kendall Romine, and some serious game time to
freshman Maya Theuer. Once back from injury, Emily Oliver has
been a fixture in goal, relieved occasionally by Aly Gleason late in
Sydney Payne has been a frequent early sub (and occasional second
half starter). When she comes in at forward, LaBonta typically
moves back to midfield and Nina Watkins comes out. Annie Case
at defender and Hannah Farr at midfield have also been frequent
subs, especially lately, with Natalie Griffin getting some important
minutes at forward.
After several years with dominant goal scorers, this year’s scoring
has been more distributed. No 20-plus goal scorers or 50-plus
point scorers exist this season. An opportunistic Courtney
Verloo leads with 10 goals and 31 points. Seven players,
though, have between five and seven goals. Chi is second in points
with 21, but her remarkable ball handling skills hold the promise of
more production in her junior and senior years. Lo’eau LaBonta
has been a pleasant surprise. She is Stanford's shortest player
(listed, quite unbelievably, at 5 feet, 5 inches -- we believe the
first five) brings high energy, sharp twists, and clever back heel
passes to the team.
The strength of the squad, though, is the four year senior
starters: Mariah, Alina, and, especially, Rachel Quon.
Through the Card’s 4-0 start to the tournament, Rachel has been
“Refuse to Lose” Quon, pushing herself and her teammates
relentlessly in quest to victory. She has often overlapped on
attack from her defender position and has, at times when LSJU has
needed goals, been dispatched to play an attacking midfielder or
Stanford will meet North Carolina (13-5-3) in the second national
semi-final on Friday evening at the University of San Diego’s Torero
Stadium. The legendary Tar Heels have won a record 20 NCAA women's
soccer titles, most recently in 2009 when UNC edged LSJU 1-0 in a
rain-soaked final. The Cardinal have never beaten the Tar Heels,
tying three times including a match last season, and losing the
UNC's roster is typically diverse, with several foreigners, from
Venezuela, Canada, New Zealand and Serbia, along with three Bay Area
natives and the obligatory Texans and Carolinians. The Tar Heels
have been inconsistent on offense, with nearly half their goals
coming in just four blowout victories among their 21 matches.
If Stanford can finally get its first ever win against UNC, it will
face another familiar foe in the winner of the Penn State—Florida State semifinal in Sunday's national championship match. LSJU
defeated Penn State 3-2 back in August and beat FSU in the 2011
College Cup semifinals and in the 2010 quarterfinals.
After falling in the semi-finals in 2009 and in the finals in 2010
and 2011 (both times by heartbreaking 1-0 scores) the Card finally
broke through last season to win its first College Cup with their
own 1-0 victory in the finals. Nothing is easy in high level
soccer, but a repeat victory couldn’t happen to a more deserving
group of players.
Are you fully subscribed to The
Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on
all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our
award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in
Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com