Nov. 18, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. - Stanford has had its eyes fixed on capturing a women's soccer national title for so long that it might be forgiven for overlooking the journey.
But that wasn't the case on Friday night during its rainy 2-0 victory over South Carolina in the second round of the NCAA tournament, or in any other match in the push for its first championship.
The appreciation for the effort, and the accomplishment of each victory, was evident as goals by Mariah Nogueira and Taylor McCann propelled top-seeded Stanford into the Sweet 16 for the sixth consecutive season.
Stanford (21-0-1) will play host to Boston College (12-5-3) on Sunday at 1 p.m. Boston College tied California, 0-0, through two overtimes and 110 minutes in the first match of the Cagan Stadium doubleheader before eliminating the Golden Bears on penalty kicks, 3-1.
The Cardinal is only too aware of the dangers of the tournament after reaching the past two NCAA finals, only to fall, 1-0, each time.
"Losing once was enough," Nogueira said. "And twice was just a dagger in the heart.
"We have a lot of experience - a lot of players have been to the College Cup. Nobody wants to feel like they did in the past two years. I think we're going to bring the heart that we might have lacked the past two years."
Each time the Cardinal takes the field, it could be the last time, a factor that is at forefront of each player's mind as the team maneuvers its way through the 64-team field.
With that in mind, Stanford broke out quickly against South Carolina (16-7), the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division champion, outshooting the Gamecocks, 15-1, in the first half.
Before a crowd of 2,032 at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium, defender Kendall Romine lofted a deep shot in the ninth minute that was pushed against the crossbar by the fingertips of South Carolina goalkeeper Sabrina D'Angelo. Another shot, this a hardstruck attempt by Sydney Payne late in the half, was saved by a brilliant two-handed diving save.
But, in between, came Nogueira. On a free kick deep on the right on the right side of the penalty area, Teresa Noyola sent in a swift service that the midfielder met decisively front and center in the 34th minute.
The goal marked the second opening score to come off Nogueira's head in as many matches. She did the same to open the scoring against Montana in a 3-0 first-round triumph last week. It also was the junior's fourth goal of the season.
For Noyola, the assist was her 12th of the season, tying her single-season personal high, and moving her into a tie for sixth on the school single-season list.
"The weather conditions slowed us a bit," Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said. "We weren't as crisp as I would have liked us to be, or as sharp as I would have liked. But, in saying that, you need to get that first goal, and we got a good one. From there, we really settled in and played even better."
McCann entered the match in the 66th minute. Only 41 seconds later, the sophomore from nearby Burlingame, was the beneficiary of one of outside back Camille Levin's brilliant runs down the right flank.
Levin beat her defender and sent in a centering pass that Lindsay Taylor pushed along across the penalty area to McCann, who fired a 15-yard shot from just left of the goal mouth. She then celebrated by removing her shoes, holding them upright on top of her head and bouncing around like a rabbit.
"It was awesome, just being able to help the team," said McCann, who scored her third of the season. "We were playing so well and pressing so much. To get that second goal lifted our spirits and helped us finish it."
Stanford outshot the Gamecocks, 26-5, and had nine corner kicks to South Carolina's zero. Stanford also extended its home winning streak to 48 and its home NCAA winning streak to 14.
"Obviously, we knew that Stanford was a very good team," South Carolina coach Shelley Smith said. "They showed that and proved it tonight. They are excellent. I think it would be hard for anyone in the country to beat them."
Stanford earned its fourth consecutive shutout and 15th of the season as sophomore goalkeeper Emily Oliver dropped her national-leading goals-against average to 0.23. In its past 16 matches, Stanford has allowed only two goals in the run of play.
Central defender Alina Garciamendez, a captain and Mexican World Cup veteran, played a typically outstanding match. She helped limit South Carolina's all-time career points leader Kayla Grimsley to one shot during mostly one-on-one marking, and provided blanket coverage for the rest of the defense.
Boston College, seeded No. 4 in their 16-team bracket, presents itself as the next hurdle, just as the Eagles have the past two years. This will be their third consecutive NCAA meeting, with Stanford eliminating B.C. in the College Cup semifinals last season (2-0 in Cary, N.C.) and in the 2009 quarterfinals (3-1 at Stanford).
"B.C. is a very strong opponent," Ratcliffe said. "They are historically a very good team, so we expect a real challenge on Sunday."
With top seeds such as UCLA, Florida, and Texas A&M eliminated on Friday, as well as three Pac-12 teams - leaving Stanford as the last conference survivor - the journey cannot be overlooked.
"We just want to have a good game, keep playing well and keep gaining momentum," McCann said. "And keep going further and further into the tournament."
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics