May 2, 2009
PHILADELPHIA - In perhaps the biggest victory in the 15 years of Stanford women's varsity lacrosse, the visiting Cardinal stunned No. 3 Penn, 8-6, on Saturday in a regular season finale crucial to its NCAA hopes.
Lauren Schmidt scored three goals and Annie Read made 11 saves as Stanford (14-4) made its case for an at-large berth in the 17-team NCAA field. The selections will be announced Sunday between 7-8 p.m. PT on the CBS College Sports Network.
"I told the players after the game, we can't say with 100 percent certainty that we're in, but it was a quality win for us and I hope the committee recognizes that," Stanford coach Amy Bokker said. "I think we have a really good chance."
A day after a second-half collapse nearly cost the team in a 14-12 victory over visiting Louisville, Stanford players met at 4:30 a.m. on Friday for an early flight, and then had a late-afternoon walk-through at Franklin Field in preparation for Saturday's 1 p.m. start.
Despite the potential for jetlag, Stanford players said they felt nothing but a surge of energy at the opening draw.
"There was a lot of emotion out there," Stanford senior Jamie Nesbitt said. "There was no doubt in anyone's mind that we were going to pull it off."
Said Bokker, "We wanted to put it all on the line and have no excuses."
Penn (14-2) scored first and broke to a 3-1 lead after 15 minutes. But Lauren Schmidt had three goals and an assist over the next 15 to ignite a five-goal run that put the Cardinal in front at halftime, 6-3.
Goals by Sarah Flynn and Dana Lindsay within a span of one minute not only put Stanford in control, at 8-4, but signaled that this would not be a repeat of Thursday's performance during which the Cardinal was outscored 10-1 down the stretch.
"The lesson we learned from Louisville, was that we wanted to keep attacking," Bokker said. "Especially in beginning of the second half, we had to do what we had done to be in the position we were in."
With help from Nesbitt's four draw controls, which enabled the Cardinal to maintain possession, and Read's outstanding performance, Stanford held Penn scoreless for a stretch of 40:41, and held the Quakers to their lowest scoring output of the season.
"Annie Read was amazing," Nesbitt said. "She gave the defense confidence. That was a huge emotional lift."
Read deflected praise to her teammates, saying "It was just a matter of believing in ourselves. It was a collective group effort, working together on both ends."
That effort helped Stanford match its single-season school record for victories and break its 1999 mark for total goals, with 264.
Stanford entered the week at No. 18 in the Ratings Percentage Index, a primary criterion for NCAA selection, and a national rank of No. 13. That meant the Cardinal was a classic bubble team and perhaps on the outside looking in.
Stanford, which has been to the NCAA's once before, in 2006, has won the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation title the past five years, but the MPSF has no automatic bid.
But while Bokker had said that a competitive game against Penn would be enough for an NCAA bid, the Cardinal now has a much stronger case. By beating what is believed to be the highest-ranked opponent in its history, Stanford will likely vault several spots in the RPI.
All four of Stanford's losses have come to teams ranked among the Top 10 in the most recent IWLCA coaches' poll, and the team is undefeated against everyone else. Now, it has a marquee victory it can showcase for NCAA inclusion.
To get an idea of Penn's stature, the Quakers have reached the past two NCAA title games and were 47-1 record over the past three years against teams other than four-time defending champion Northwestern. Now, that record is 47-2, with both losses coming to Stanford. Last year, Stanford beat then-No. 6 Penn, 10-8, at home, and duplicated the feat Saturday with even more on the line.
"We took care of what we needed to do on the field," Nesbitt said.
The team was already set to watch the selection show together on campus, but now will do so with a greater sense of entitlement.
"Our record shows we deserve to be there," Read said.
STANFORD 8, PENN 6
Stanford 6 2 - 8
Pennsylvania 4 2 - 6
S - Lauren Schmidt (3 goals-1 assist), Dana Lindsay (2-0), Sarah Flynn (1-0), Leslie Foard (1-0), Jamie Nesbitt (1-0), Claire Hubbard (0-1), Amanda Schwab (0-1).
P - Ali DeLuca (2-1), Courtney Lubbe (1-1), Giulia Giordano (1-1), Erin Brennan (1-0), Emma Spiro (1-0), Samantha Bird (0-1).
Records - Stanford 14-4, Penn 14-2.