Dec. 3, 2011
KENNESAW, Ga. - Win or lose, the Stanford's women's soccer team will be saying goodbye to some of the most dynamic players in school history.
Not only will the collegiate careers of the four seniors be over upon the final whistle of Sunday's NCAA College Cup final against Duke (10 a.m. PT, ESPNU, ESPN3.com), but this will be the last time this team, as a whole, will be taking the field as one.
The four seniors - Camille Levin, Teresa Noyola, Lindsay Taylor, and Kristy Zurmuhlen - represent all that the program has accomplished, though there have been so many others who created the foundation and will see it through in the years to come.
That thought was not lost on junior defender Alina Garciamendez on Saturday after the team's final training session of the season, under sunny and pleasant conditions at the Kennesaw State University practice field.
Asked what will motivate her the most as a player Sunday, she replied:
"This is the last game I'm going to play with the seniors. It's just a matter of being there for them and playing for them. That's what goes through my head. Not letting any balls through for them, that's what I try to tell myself."
Playing in its third consecutive NCAA final but looking for its first national championship, Stanford (24-0-1) faces a strong opponent in Duke (22-3-1), the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season champion. The schools were the top two seeds in the 64-team tournament.
The series history has been one-sided: Stanford leads 6-1, but all but one of those meetings took place between 1989-96. The one exception was last season's contest, played on Aug. 29, 2010, at the Carolina Nike Classic in Chapel Hill, N.C., with Stanford winning 2-1.
Stanford fell behind in the 50th minute on a rebound by then-freshman Laura Weinberg, but rallied on a tying goal by Teresa Noyola in the 50th minute and got a Noyola assist to Christen Press in the 75th for the winner.
Duke has built a reputation as a second-half team, outscoring opponents, 35-6 in the second half. The Blue Devils scored three second-half goals in beating Wake Forest, 4-1, in the semifinals.
Stanford has thrived on balance this season. Yes, Lindsay Taylor became the third different Stanford player in as many years to score 20 goals (following graduates Kelley O'Hara and Christen Press), but the Cardinal has not overly depended on any one player to do the scoring.
In all, 15 players have scored for the Cardinal, including six with at least five goals and the Cardinal has outscored opponents, 72-9. On Friday, Taylor did not have a shot, and yet Stanford scored three goals - the most the team has ever scored in its seven College Cup matches all-time.
"We're fortunate to get another chance," Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said in reference to its pair of 1-0 losses in the past two finals. "Usually, you don't get second chances in life and I feel like we're getting a second chance here.
"We have to learn from the past experiences and I think it's got to be a great motivation - the feelings that we've had of not winning the final game. I'm hoping those feelings are going to come up and we're going to fight and play as hard as we can and try to get the win."
There seems little doubt that Stanford will continue to excel even after a senior class that has assembled a 94-4-4 career record leaves, but the seniors would like to leave a legacy.
"This team definitely has a competitive desire after losing the last two years, and I really think that the second last season ended, we really worked hard to get back to this point," Taylor said. "This team has a lot of confidence and a lot of hunger to win that championship."
For Stanford, that time is now -- now or never for the class of 2012, and for the memories they will leave behind.
"Living in the moment means wanting to play with my team one last practice, one last game," Garciamendez said. "Although this will be the last time we're together, I'll remember it forever."
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics