Nov. 11, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. - Stanford may not have expected a challenge on Friday night, but got one anyway. And that's the way coach Paul Ratcliffe wants it.
Mariah Nogueira's header in the 39th minute helped get Stanford rolling in a rainy 3-0 victory over Montana in the first round of the NCAA women's soccer tournament on Friday night, setting up a second-round home match against South Carolina.
The Cardinal (20-0-1) will play host to the next two rounds of the tournament, on Friday and Sunday, at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium.
Friday's first match will be played at 4:30 p.m. between the winners of Saturday's match between Santa Clara and Cal, and Sunday's between Marist and Boston College. At 7 p.m., Stanford plays South Carolina (16-6), a 1-0 winner over Texas. The winners advance to Sunday's third-round match at 1 p.m.
Tickets for both rounds will go on sale Saturday - online only -- at noon through gostanford.com. On Monday, starting at 9 a.m., tickets will also be available by phone at 1-800-STANFORD or in person at the Stanford ticket office at Gate 2 at Stanford Stadium.
Stanford, the Pac-12 champion outshot Big Sky tournament champ Montana (6-12-4), 29-5, but had trouble breaking through against an energetic Grizzly team.
Lindsay Taylor's corner kick found Nogueira at the far post for the go-ahead score and Taylor made it 2-0 when she converted a penalty kick in the 59th minute after Camille Levin was fouled. The goal was Taylor's 18th of the season.
The match figured to be one-sided, given Montana's record (now 6-12-4). But the Grizzlies, the Big Sky Conference champion, had a unique gameplan. They sent wave after wave of players directly at the Cardinal, disrupting passing lanes and holding Stanford at bay. The Grizzlies used 18 players in the first half and, what Montana lacked in skill, it gained in energy.
A half hour into the match, Stanford barely outshot Montana, 6-4, and seemed lacking in energy and ideas, with the exception of Ubogagu's 12-yard shot pushed spectacularly over the bar by Montana goalkeeper Kristen Hoon in the 17th minute.
Almost immediately, the Stanford attack seemed recharged. The offensive rhythm, which seemed dormant until then, shifted into gear and Stanford began move in unison.
A looping pass over the defense from Rachel Quon in the back to Payne forced Montana to concede a corner kick, and Taylor's service from the left was met by Nogueira at the back post to break the scoreless deadlock.
Montana's strategy seemed sound - pack the defense and pressure high.
"We've seen that a bit, and it's good for us," Ratcliffe said. "It creates more width for the attack and it makes it harder for us to score because they have numbers behind the ball. So, it's a good challenge for us. I want us to be challenged."
Stanford has been strong in the postseason in recent years, having advanced to the NCAA College Cup the past three seasons. But, at home in the NCAA tournament, Stanford is especially deadly.
The Cardinal has won 13 consecutive home NCAA matches - 11 by shutout. Stanford has outscored those 13 opponents by a combined 33-2.
"We're just going in this year taking it game by game," defender Alina Garciamendez said. "I still get butterflies because if we lose, we're out of the tournament."
Garciamendez, however, helped the Stanford defense record its 14th shutout of the season, and had a header smack the crossbar in the second half.
"It was a challenge for us to keep an eye on every player and have everyone marked," Hoon said. "I feel they may have held back a little bit, but when they went for it, it's pretty unstoppable. They had so many players involved, and I think that's what it takes to be the number one team. They're well on their way."
The victory extended Stanford's home winning streak to 47 and marked the sixth consecutive season the Cardinal has advanced past the first round.
"We had the opportunity to play quite possibly the best college team ever put together," Montana coach Mark Plakorus said. "That's the way I looked at it. We knew it was going to be a challenge and we just wanted to make it difficult for them. And I think we did."
Montana did indeed. But for Stanford, it's one down, five to go. Or rather, one down, and one to go. After that, one more. And so on.
"We're getting better and better," Ratcliffe said. "Tonight was a good performance given the conditions. This team is going to peak at the right time in the big games."
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics