Dec. 6, 2009
COLLEGE STATION, Texas - The Stanford's women's soccer season ended one victory short of perfect, as the top-ranked Cardinal conceded an early goal and was unable to rally in a 1-0 loss to North Carolina in a rainy NCAA final Sunday.
Jessica McDonald's first-timed shot inside the six-yard box in the third minute stood for North Carolina (23-3-1), which captured its 20th NCAA title and second consecutive championship.
Stanford (25-1), which had a chance to become the first team other than North Carolina to finish with a perfect record, was outshot (19-9) for the first time all season and had trouble establishing the possession game it favors because of the Tar Heels' stifling defense.
Still, the Cardinal had two goals disallowed by offside calls, including one by Christen Press in the 89th minute when the Cardinal was playing shorthanded.
National goal-scoring leader Kelley O'Hara was issued her second yellow card of the match in the 73rd minute for a tackle from behind, forcing her out and ending her collegiate career with 57 goals, the second-highest in Stanford history.
Despite the circumstances, Stanford nearly equalized.
"There wasn't very much time in the game and I knew that we were going to have to give it our all," Press said. "I just didn't want our mentality to be negative because we lost one of our best players. I knew that we did have a chance. And we could have won it, even playing a man down. I wanted everyone to know that."
Stanford continued to attack, moving outside back Ali Riley from defense to forward, and thought it got the break it needed when a long pass from defender Rachel Quon released Press on a breakaway. Her shot from outside the penalty area beat goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris and deflected off the far left post and into the net. But the linesman's flag was up, negating the score.
It was a repeat of the disappointment that Stanford felt earlier in the match. In the 39th minute, Press sent in a ball from the left side. Teammate Courtney Verloo lunged for the ball with her right foot, attracting the attention of Harris. But instead, the ball got past everyone and ended up in the back of the net.
Apparently believing Verloo touched the ball, offside was called as two Stanford players ended up in the goal mouth behind the defense. However, Stanford believed that if Verloo hadn't touched it, the call should not have been made, because those players broke for the goal on Press' contact.
Did she touch the ball?
"No," Verloo said. "It should have been a goal."
No matter, North Carolina was the first team all season to take Stanford out of its game.
"North Carolina does great job of pressuring and swarming the ball," Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said. "It's easy to talk about as a coach what you need to do, but it's difficult in there, especially with slick conditions. It was hard for us to get into a rhythm and really play our type of soccer.
"It wasn't a fantastic game for us, we can play better. But you have to give Carolina a lot of credit. They played, they put you under pressure, and they make it difficult for you to get into a rhythm."
Said North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance, "Stanford is a remarkable team with talent at every position and extraordinary talent coming off the bench. We've tried to develop a system that's hard to play against that's based on pressure and work ethic. I think it's hard for other teams to replicate that in practice."
North Carolina took the lead at 2:50, by taking advantage of a sloppy Stanford opening sequence in which the Cardinal repeatedly gave the ball up in its own end. The Tar Heels' Casey Nogueira slipped a right-footed pass from the left side to an onrushing McDonald, who got behind the defense for the point-blank shot.
"It was a fantastic bent-in cross, weighted correctly, and their player did a good job of getting good position and put away a one-touch finish," Ratcliffe said. "It was a high-level goal."
Stanford began to settle down as the match wore on, but still finished the first half with only two shots, its fewest in a half all season. Its previous low was four, in the first half at Washington on Oct. 25.
"It was really disruptive," Press said of the Tar Heel defense. "And I felt like we had so many open players and we were just struggling to get them the ball. That wasn't the type of soccer that we wanted to play today."
As did several of her teammates, O'Hara bounced back quickly from a bout of the stomach flu. O'Hara and five teammates, including fellow starter Rachel Quon, began suffering flu-like symptoms after Friday's semifinal victory over UCLA. None were able to practice Saturday.
O'Hara and Press, a junior, finished with the greatest scoring seasons in Stanford history. O'Hara shattered Stanford records with 26 goals and 65 points. Press scored 21 and had a school-record 16 assists. Together, they combined for 47 goals, 29 assists and 123 points, making them the top-scoring tandem in the country.
"What made them so dangerous is they are not only fast but also skillful," North Carolina defender Kristi Eveland said. "Most forwards we play against are either one or the other. Those girls could do both and are really talented. We stuck to our system and our forwards helped us so much. We did draw our line high, and we've been playing that way all year. We stuck to what we know and it worked out."
O'Hara left shortly after the match with volunteer assistant coach Nicole Barnhart, a goalkeeper, to join the U.S. national team at a camp that began Saturday and will continue through Dec. 15 in Carson, Calif. They are two of 24 players to receive a camp invitation from coach Pia Sundhage, who was in College Station for the semifinals on Friday night.
Alina Garciamendez, a freshman central defender who started every match this season, left immediately after the match to join the Mexican national team for a series of matches involving Brazil and Japan. It is the first full national team call-up for Garciamendez, giving the 2009 Stanford squad three full national-team players, including Riley, who plays for New Zealand.
"The same mentality has been here the entire time, with the goal of winning a national championship," Jenkins said of her Stanford career. "But this year, everything kind of came together. Obviously, today was really disappointing, but I'm really proud of every single person on the team and the effort that they've given every day, all season long."
Ratcliffe felt the same way.
"It's a disappointing way to end the season," he said. "But, overall, I'm really proud of this team and what they've accomplished."
For the past three years, Stanford has advanced one step closer to its first national title. What will it take to reach that final step?
"More hunger," Ratcliffe said. "We can definitely do it. We've got to keep working hard. And now we have more of a taste of what it's all about."
All-tournament team: Kelley O'Hara (Stanford), F; Christen Press (Stanford), F; Lauren Fowlkes (Notre Dame), D/M; Lauren Cheney (UCLA), F; Sydney Leroux (UCLA), F; Tobin Heath (North Carolina), M; Jessica McDonald (NC), F; Rachel Givan (NC), D; Ashlyn Harris (NC), GK.
Most Outstanding Defense: Whitney Engen (North Carolina), D.
Most Outstanding Offense: Casey Nogueira (North Carolina), F.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics