Aug. 13, 2010
STANFORD, Calif. - There is no debate or discussion when the subject of Stanford's season objectives arises.
"Our goal is always to win the Pac-10 title and win the national title," Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said. "That's always our goal from the beginning of the season."
The Cardinal, which opens its season Aug. 20 at No. 7 Boston College, still yearns to call itself the best collegiate women's soccer team in the land, at last,and the team's progression in recent years makes a convincing argument that the wait could be short.
Stanford went 25-1 last season, reaching the NCAA College Cup for the second consecutive year and its first championship final. The Cardinal carried the No. 1 ranking and a season-long winning streak into the title match. But a 1-0 loss to North Carolina in the cold rain of College Station, Texas, left Stanford with a distasteful conclusion.
"In that final game, we didn't play well," Ratcliffe said. "That was disappointing that we never really played the way we played the entire season. Hopefully, that's in the back of their minds. Hopefully, they're upset about that and realize it was a great opportunity, and they've got to turn that around and have another great year.
"And if we get back in that situation, hopefully we've learned from it and we can accomplish our ultimate goal - win a national title."
The graduation losses will be felt. Stanford, after all, lost Hermann Trophy winner Kelley O'Hara, the nation's leading scorer and the school's all-time single-season record holder in goals (26) and points (65). She also had 13 assists.
Stanford scored a school-record 80 goals last season and, even without O'Hara's substantial total, still returns 50 of those goals in the form of seven of its top eight scorers of a year ago.
Chief among them is Christen Press, who formed half of collegiate soccer's highest-scoring tandem since 2005. The cold-blooded striker was the third-leading scorer in the country, with 21 goals and a school-record 16 assists, for 58 points. Only O'Hara's point total has ever been greater at Stanford.
The thought of a healthy Lindsay Taylor (16 goals in 2008, 6 in `09) up top, and an intact midfield that returns All-Americans Teresa Noyola and Mariah Nogueira is uplifting. So is a defense that features fourth-year starting goalkeeper Kira Maker and experienced internationals Alina Garciamendez and Rachel Quon.
The Cardinal, which also has a six-member freshman class of potential impact, is the favorite of conference coaches to repeat as Pac-10 champs and has earned a preseason No. 2 ranking in the NSCAA poll.
"It's going to be really entertaining team, with some very exciting players playing an exciting brand of soccer," Ratcliffe said. "They're enjoyable to watch, no doubt about it."
Here is how the team breaks down, by position:
Maker enters the season with 61 starts, 27 shutouts and a career goals-against average of 0.53. All three totals already stand among the best in Stanford history. Despite her credentials, the senior should be challenged by three talented young goalkeepers.
True freshman Emily Oliver arrives from the U.S. under-18 national-team pool with an aggressive style and strong presence in the net. Sophomore Lindsay Dickerson was Maker's backup in 2009 before suffering a foot injury that sidelined her for most of the season. And redshirt freshman Aly Gleason, who missed the first week of preseason training because she was jumping out of airplanes with the Air Force ROTC, also has joined the battle for playing time.
For the second consecutive year, the team must replace two key starters. In 2009, two freshmen - Garciamendez and Quon - immediately stepped in and settled into a backline that didn't allow a goal during the run of play for 12 consecutive matches.
Central defender Garciamendez, a full Mexican national-team player, and outside back Quon, a starter during the United States' Under-20 World Cup run in July, should keep the defense strong. Only sophomores, they will be the most experienced in the back.
Ratcliffe and his staff were closely watching training sessions to see who would fit in best at the other defensive spots, particularly as an offensive-minded outside back. Position changes were possible with among forwards such as Courtney Verloo and freshmen twins Shelby and Sydney Payne.
Attacking midfielder Noyola, playmaker Allison McCann, and defensive midfielder Nogueira, the 2009 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, keep this returning starting unit intact. However, Camille Levin, an energetic and skillful junior, will be in the rotation if not the starting lineup.
Noyola, a 2008 first-team All-American, arrived at camp as sharp as ever after a summer of training and World Cup competition with the United States U-20 national team, and Nogueira was a revelation last season for her ability to stifle opposite attacks and dominate in the air.
Another source of speculation is how Press will combine with fellow forwards after such a perfect partnership with O'Hara. Fortunately for Ratcliffe, he will have plenty of players to test. Forward, along with goalkeeper, was the strongest position on the roster.
Not only can Stanford line up two All-Americans (Press and Taylor) on the same line, but Verloo boasts U-20 national team credentials and Morgan Redman, a deadly striker when given the opportunity, has been a top reserve for years and is eager to seize the role as a full-time starter.
"We have more options up front now than we had in the past," Ratcliffe said. "We're just trying to find the right chemistry among those players."
If that chemistry can be captured, Stanford could be well on its way to satisfying its unapologetic goals.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics