Dec. 2, 2011
KENNESAW, Ga. - Stanford is back in the College Cup final.
For the third consecutive season, the Cardinal will play for the women's soccer national championship, this time after a 3-0 semifinal victory over Florida State on Friday night at KSU Soccer Stadium.
This sets up a final between schools seeking their first national title. Stanford (24-0-1) plays Duke (22-3-1), a 4-1 winner over Wake Forest, on Sunday at 10 a.m. PT (1 p.m. ET) at KSU Soccer Stadium.
For all the experience Stanford possesses - a combined 29 previous College Cup starts and 40 appearances - the Cardinal was led by a freshman. But that freshman was Chioma Ubogagu, an impact player all season who scored one goal and set up another within a three-minute span of the first half to break open a tight match.
"Honestly, I wasn't surprised because I know how special Chioma is as a player," Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said. "She's a very mature kid, I would never think she was a freshman.
"Usually freshmen won't talk to their coach too much, but she'll come sit down and talk to me like an adult. I'm very impressed with her as a person. She showed her character on the field in how she performed in a big game."
Florida State (18-7-1) threatened early, behind the play of forward Tiffany McCarty. And it was quickly evident that Stanford goalkeeper Emily Oliver would have to be on her game. She was.
Oliver made six saves, including a leaping tip over the crossbar in the second half and a lunging two-handed deflection shortly after.
"Our back line is very smart," said Oliver, a sophomore. "So, sometimes it takes a little adjustment and communication. We have to adjust to how they're going to attack us, whether they're going to pressure or sit back. Then we change up how we approach the game.
"We solved it pretty quickly tonight but it sometimes does take a little bit of communication or a change in our attack and strategy."
All told, Stanford was outshot 12-9 - only the second time the Cardinal had been outshot - and had only three shots on goal. All three went in.
The first was one to remember.
Florida State pushed forward on a corner kick, but the set piece was played high in the box where Stanford midfielder Mariah Nogueira cleared it with a strong header.
The ball went straight to Ubogagu, who rushed ahead alongside Teresa Noyola on a two-on-one breakaway, Ubogagu on the left, Noyola on the right.
"We talked about in the scouting report how they sent a little too many players on corners," Ubogagu said. "We just countered."
Noyola centered the ball across the top of the penalty area to Ubogagu, who cut right, forcing a scrambling defender to slip to the ground. That gave Ubogagu the opening to cut left and unleash a shot that deflected off goalkeeper Kelsey Wys' left ankle and between her legs into the goal.
The placement of the shot was no accident.
"Paul actually taught us that during practice," Ubogagu said. "We watch the English Premiership. They look for that. I saw the goalkeeper open up her legs a little bit and I looked for the goal."
Outside left back Rachel Quon set the second scoring play in motion by sending it up the line to Ubogagu, who worked a wall pass with Lindsay Taylor that sprung the freshman. As she approached the end line, Ubogagu peeled the ball back to the top of the six-yard box where Zurmuhlen met it with a sliding stab for a 2-0 lead.
"'Z' made a great near-post run," Ubogagu said. "We always work on near-post crossing and finishing. I had two options, I think someone was open on the far post, I just played her because I saw her first."
The Cardinal iced the victory moments after Madeleine Thompson entered the match at defensive midfielder. After a Stanford corner kick was cleared out, Thompson sent a long ball to Garciamendez, who, despite being sandwiched between two defenders, headed the ball over Wys and under the crossbar.
The three-goal total was the most for Stanford in seven College Cup matches all-time. Also, the assist for Noyola gave her 100 points for her career and left her within one of a pair of Stanford records, for assists in a career (Noyola has 40) and in a season (15).
The senior class of Camille Levin, Noyola, Taylor, and Zurmuhlen will take a 94-4-4 record into the final - a mark that's even more impressive (94-2-4) without the championship losses - particularly the 1-0 loss to Notre Dame in the 2010 final.
"We still feel that pain in that loss," Oliver said. "At the same time we're not dragging it with us. It's in the back of our minds but I can tell you we've moved on and we're looking forward. "It's just about creating a legacy that this team gets to the College Cup every year. That's starting to become a kind of routine now. It's not something we take for granted, but it's more something we expect.
"Going into Sunday we'll be confident, and the experience is priceless. We'll be ready to go."
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics