May 29, 2006
The 2006 season saw a long list of historical firsts for the Stanford women's lacrosse program, but the year will forever be remembered for one particular accomplishment. For the first time in the 25 years of the NCAA Women's Lacrosse Championships, a program hailing from west of the Mississippi broke into the 16-team field. A group of 28 players, led by head coach Michele Uhlfelder and her staff, charted new territory for the program and the sport alike. In doing so, they etched their names in the history books as pioneers of women's lacrosse.
Since coming to Stanford in 2001, Uhlfelder has worked to build a program with NCAA Tournament credentials. For 2006, she lined up yet another one of the toughest schedules in the nation. Seven Cardinal opponents were ranked in the preseason top-20, and three were coming off of successful runs in the 2005 NCAA Tournament. Three foes hailed from the competitive Ivy League and, for the first time in school history, the defending national champion was on the Cardinal agenda.
Stanford was up to the challenge.
In the season-opener, the Cardinal, which had finished 2005 on a 7-game run, picked up where it had left off and downed the Oregon Ducks in a 19-8 rout at Maloney Field. Senior Megan Burker netted the 100th goal of her career midway through the second half, becoming just the sixth player in Cardinal history to reach the notable mark. Eleven players contributed to the Cardinal scoring effort, goalkeeper Laura Shane racked up 15 saves and the road looked smooth for the 2006 squad.
A week later, however, the team was handed a humbling loss, as Bay Area rival California pulled a shocking upset over the No. 20 Cardinal. The 9-6 defeat ended a 30-game regular-season conference winning streak and marked just the second conference loss of Uhlfelder's Stanford career. But the Cardinal was not deterred by the early setback. Rather, the loss fueled what would become the most successful season in Cardinal history.
On February 24, Stanford, while clinging to a No. 20 national ranking, pounded Ohio State, 17-9, behind career-high scoring performances from Burker and junior attacker Michelle DeChant. Two days later, Stanford battled Notre Dame, a squad that eventually reached the 2006 NCAA Final Four, but fell in a double-overtime heartbreaker, 12-11, after holding a four-goal halftime advantage. The books recorded a loss, but the Cardinal squad knew what it was capable of, having held one of the best teams in the country without a lead for 67 minutes. At the end of the weekend, junior Liz Piselli was named the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Player of the Week for the first time in her career, after registering a hat trick in each match.
Stanford rebounded from the trying loss with a three-game home winning streak. On March 5, senior Sarah Bach recorded a hat trick in each half and led the squad to victory over then-No. 12 Vanderbilt (15-9). The six goals were a career-high and matched a Stanford single-game scoring record. For her efforts, Bach was named the MPSF Player of the Week for the third time in her career and received Inside Lacrosse Player of the Week Honorable Mention. A week later, the Cardinal topped Columbia for the first time in school history (13-4), before routing Saint Mary's for the 17th straight time (18-7).
After a week off, Stanford faced a three-game stretch which included the eventual NCAA Tournament finalists, Northwestern and Dartmouth, as well as fifth-ranked North Carolina. The Cardinal dropped a home match to the Wildcats, 19-8, before falling 13-9 on the campus of the Big Green. Against North Carolina, Stanford struggled in the first half and trailed 11-2 by halftime.
Things were about to change.
With 30 minutes left to play, Stanford decided it was time for a turnaround. In the second period, the Cardinal outscored the No.5 Tar Heels 3-1, and held them to their lowest single-half scoring total of the season. Shane broke a Stanford single-game record with 22 saves. Although the effort was not enough to upend the Tar Heels, Stanford had begun a powerful rally.
On April 10, the Cardinal returned home to blast UC Davis, 20-6, in the team's highest scoring affair of the season. The next week, Stanford halted Denver's 11-game win streak (11-9) and pulled into a tie for first place in the conference. Piselli scored four times in the second half, and was named the MPSF Player of the Week for the second time. The streak continued the following week, as sophomore Anna Brown netted a game-winner to lift the Cardinal over Loyola on the road (13-12). In the final weekend of regular season play, Stanford claimed its first-ever victory over Connecticut, 10-7, for its fourth consecutive win.
On April 30, in the final match of the regular-season, the Cardinal got a chance to attract some national attention. The squad was up against No. 10 Cornell, a team that had claimed the Ivy League regular-season title just 48 hours earlier. Stanford seized the opportunity and edged the Big Red 5-4. The momentous win marked the program's first-ever victory over a top-10 team and drew the late-season attention that the Cardinal needed. After two key saves in the final minutes, Shane was named the MPSF Co-Player of the Week and garnered Inside Lacrosse Player of the Week Honorable Mention. Uhlfelder joined an elite group of division I coaches as the U.S. Lacrosse Coach of the Week.
Stanford entered the MPSF Tournament in a must-win situation, needing to dominate the field in order to remain in contention for an NCAA berth. The squad stepped up to the challenge, blowing by two conference challengers in less than 24 hours. Stanford first avenged the early season loss to Cal, embarrassing the Bears 17-9, before soundly defeating the top-seeded Denver Pioneers, 12-6. Bach joined Burker in the 100-goal club in the first half of the tournament final, with an early free position goal. The MPSF title was the Cardinal's second-straight and extended the team's winning streak to 7 games, matching the second-longest single-season streak in program history. Burker was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, while Bach, sophomore Bri Ned, and sophomore Daphne Patterson were named to the All-Tournament Team. With 11 points in two days, Burker became just the second Cardinal player in history to be named the Inside Lacrosse Player of the Week. Stanford soared to No. 15 in the polls and awaited the announcement of the NCAA Tournament field.
With only eight at-large bids and a long list of deserving bubble teams, Stanford's fate was uncertain. But on May 8, as the bracket was announced live on CSTV, an eruption of cheers from the Kissick Auditorium on the Stanford campus confirmed an unprecedented accomplishment. The Stanford Cardinal had earned a ticket to the ultimate destination in college women's lacrosse: the NCAA Championships. The map of women's lacrosse powerhouses suddenly spanned coast to coast and Stanford, California became an official destination. The western-most division I women's lacrosse program had finally done it. The squad headed to Evanston, Ill., looking to dethrone the top-ranked Northwestern Wildcats in the first round.
Stanford fought to the final horn, but the eventual national champion claimed the first round victory, 17-9. Despite the loss, the team had much to be proud of. The Cardinal outscored the Wildcats 4-1 in the final minutes of the game and dominated the second half draw controls. With just 13 seconds remaining in her career, Burker reeled in a pass from Piselli and netted a long-range shot to break the Cardinal career scoring record with 143 goals. Stanford ended the memorable season with a 12-6 overall record, a 6-1 mark against MPSF opponents, an MPSF Championship trophy, a No. 15 national ranking and a slice of history.
Six seniors finished successful Cardinal careers at the NCAA Tournament. In addition to finishing as the Cardinal's all-time leading scorer, Burker concluded her career second in career assists (64), draw controls (120), shots (328), free position shots (63) and ground balls (155). She also finished tied for eighth on the career chart in caused turnovers (51). She remains one of only three players in Cardinal history to appear on every career statistical chart. Bach also finished an impressive career with the Cardinal. The attacker stands fifth in all-time scoring (104), third in career assists (52), sixth in shots (221), fifth in free position shots (48), seventh in ground balls (118) and seventh in draw controls (50). Defenders Thea Lorentzen, Kinsey Morrison and Nyerr Parham combined for 100 career caused turnovers and 180 career ground balls. Goalkeeper Kate Horowitz finished her career with 50 saves and a .505 career save percentage.
As a team, Stanford posted nationally ranked numbers in four categories. The squad's 2.61 goal scoring margin was 18th best in the NCAA, as was its .667 win percentage. Stanford also ranked in the top-25 nationally in scoring offense (19th) and scoring defense (22nd). Responsible for more than a quarter of draw controls won for the Cardinal, Burker consistently ranked in the top-20 nationally in the category and finished the season ranked 18th with 2.83 draw controls per game.
Shane finished the season with the third-best save percentage in the nation (.556) and stood as the only division I goalkeeper to register multiple 20+ save performances. Her 22 saves against North Carolina on April 2 tied for the top mark in the NCAA in 2006. The sophomore also ranked in the top-50 nationally in ground balls per game and was one of 21 players and three goalkeepers named as nominees for the Tewaaraton Trophy. She finished the season with 205 saves, the second-highest single-season mark in Cardinal history. The Baltimore, Md. native also notched 105 saves against ranked teams in 2006. Just halfway through her career, Shane is within 50 saves of a Cardinal career record.
Post-season honors continue to pour in for the Stanford players. Burker, Shane, Ned and Piselli were named to the 2006 All-MPSF Team. Last week, Burker and Shane became the first Stanford players in history to be named to an IWLCA All-Regional First Team. Both are now in contention for All-America honors.
The 2006 Stanford women's lacrosse campaign officially ended on May 14, but the Cardinal is far from finished with what was started this year. In Uhlfelder's first year as head coach, the Cardinal cracked the top-20. This year, they toppled a top-10 team and became the first program in the west to break into the NCAA Tournament field. The next step? A deeper run into the tournament and chance to become the first west coast national champion.
With 22 team members eligible to return and ten talented newcomers on their way west, Stanford is up to the task.