Oct. 7, 2009
STANFORD, Calif. -
Stanford is the top-ranked women’s soccer team in the country, but the Cardinal revealed its character in a different way in response to the tragedy that befell the family of teammate Rachel Quon.
The freshman defender had been with the team six weeks when she learned her brother, Chris, had died suddenly of heart failure on Sept. 19. Chris was a vibrant young man who played soccer and lacrosse at Colorado College, where he graduated with an economics degree last spring.
Rachel, who had started the first eight matches, returned home immediately. As the team prepared to play Wisconsin on the afternoon of Sept. 20, coach Paul Ratcliffe informed the team of the news, which hit them hard.
Normally smiling and upbeat, the team walked toward the field sullen and introspective that afternoon, and then proceeded to wallop the Badgers, 6-0.
Players texted Quon before the game with the same message: “We’re playing for you.”
As Quon later watched the goals on-line, she also noticed the black armbands worn by each player.
“That meant so much to me,” she said.
Others in the Stanford community offered their support, with professors providing their understanding while Quon missed the first week of classes, and teammates and new friends updating her on assignments and homework.
Quon tried to play some soccer on her own in the front yard of her home in Lake Forest, Ill., but was understandably preoccupied. However, during her nine days away from Stanford, Quon developed a strong desire to return.
That decision was “easy,” she said, “knowing they were supporting me.”
Quon returned to practice Tuesday, Sept. 29, suffering through an “awkward” training session, she said. But two days later, Quon returned to her starting right back position and helped the Cardinal to a 6-2 rout of No. 11 Santa Clara.
Afterward, Quon couldn’t hide her happiness while celebrating and joking with teammates.
“Nothing would have made Chris happier than to see that big win against Santa Clara and to see Rachel jump into her teammates' arms in celebration at the end of the game,” Rachel’s mother, Diane Quon, wrote in an e-mail.
“God couldn’t have put Rachel in a better place,” Diane wrote. “It’s a great place academically and athletically, but more importantly, I really get the sense there is a lot of heart among all the people.”
Rachel said she wasn’t surprised at the outpouring, but it may not have been entirely expected.
“We’ve only been together a few weeks,” she said. “And just being a freshman … I just want to thank everyone so much.
“I love this team. I enjoy everyone’s company, we just click, and there’s no drama. I think that’s why we’re so successful on the field too.”
Quon is up late most nights catching up on homework, but said she’s getting back into a regular schedule.
Of course, the transition will continue to be difficult. As Diane was going through Chris’ backpack, she found letters his three sisters wrote to him before he went away to college.
In Rachel’s, she thanked Chris for teaching her all his moves.
“I really believe he is still going to be there cheering her on and teaching her other things in life as well,” Diane wrote.
“Every day, I know he’s looking after me,” she said. “I know he wants me to be here. I’m playing for him.”
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WOMEN’S SWIMMING: Transfer meets Tiger
On Tuesday, swimmer Kelsey Ditto experienced her second classic Stanford moment, meeting Tiger Woods.
Ditto (just left of Woods in the photo), a junior transfer from University of Georgia, and her teammates met former Cardinal golfer Woods in the Stanford weight room, where he was working out with a personal trainer in preparation for this weekend’s President’s Cup in San Francisco.
The moment followed another weight-room sighting from the previous week, of pro golfer and Stanford student Michelle Wie.
“Now, I can cross two of the three off my list,” Ditto said. “The last one is Condoleezza Rice.”
Those “classic” Stanford moments should only get better for Ditto, a two-time NCAA qualifier in distance freestyle, who enhances Stanford’s scoring potential in those events and provides leadership.
Ditto was given a release by Georgia to compete for Stanford this season and captured a pair of firsts in the season-opening 183-103 dual-meet victory over visiting San Jose State on Friday.
It didn’t take long, but the Austin, Texas, native already is a West Coast believer.
“I love it here,” she said.
Ditto welcomes the academic challenges, which was the basis for her transfer, and has “made so many friends already,” she said. “I feel I’ve already become part of the family.”
The regimen for a distance swimmer is about 8-10 miles per day, but Ditto embraces such commitment.
“Distance swimming is about being the first one in the pool and the last one out and never stopping in between,” she said.
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FOOTBALL: Toby for Heisman
“His value to his team,” Harbaugh said. “Everything the Heisman stands for: production, value, character. That’s the person he is on and off the field.”
Gerhart ranks fourth nationally in rushing yards per game (130.0) and has led the Cardinal to a 4-1 record, its best five-game start since 2001.
“You dream about it as a kid,” Gerhart said of the award. “It’s always been a dream and an inspiration to get to that point. But it really covers the whole the team. The team has to be successful.”
If the voters haven’t been swayed yet, the fans seem to be. Gerhart said he got 265 requests after the UCLA game from those who wish to be his “friend” on Facebook.
Already, he’s accepted 1,200.
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FOOTBALL: More Gerhart
Photos of Gerhart during the UCLA game captured a stream of blood dripping down the senior’s left bicep, the product of a bolt from an opponents’ helmet.
“It looks like someone took a razor blade to him,” Harbaugh said Saturday.
Gerhart could see the blood, but not the cut during the game. When a trainer said it looked deep, Gerhart’s reaction was: “Cool! I’ll get some cool stitches.”
However, excitement turned to disappointment when he realized later that it was just a scratch.
“Dang,” Gerhart said. “All that blood for no reason.”
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FOOTBALL: Finishing it off
The Stanford defense’s ability to finish off UCLA in a 24-16 victory last week was due largely to co-defensive coordinator Ron Lynn’s willingness to take an aggressive approach in the latter stages of the game.
“We really threw them off guard by throwing a few blitzes at them,” safety Bo McNally said. “It gets in their heads. The quarterback doesn’t know what to expect. The coach put together a scheme that doesn’t let the quarterback know what’s happening until he’s two seconds into a play.”
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FOOTBALL: Stanford in the UFL
Former Cardinal receiver Mark Bradford will play the inaugural game of the United Football League, which makes its debut Thursday.
Bradford plays for the California Redwoods, who take on the host Las Vegas Locomotives.
David Lofton, a defensive back and receiver at Stanford, also plays in the league, for the New York Sentinels.
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FOOTBALL: Taggart to be honored
Stanford running backs coach Willie Taggart will soon be a Hall of Famer. Taggart, a standout option quarterback, will be enshrined at Western Kentucky University, which he led to an NCAA Division I-AA championship.
Taggart graduated as the Hilltoppers’ all-time leading rusher, with 3,997 yards, which also broke the Division I-AA mark for quarterbacks.
The two-member induction class was announced last week and the ceremony takes place on Nov. 7. Taggart, however, will be unable to participate, because of Stanford’s game against Oregon that day.
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STANFORD SPORTS: Three teams ranked No. 1
Of the seven “fall” teams at Stanford, three are ranked No. 1 in the nation. The release of coaches’ polls in women’s soccer and men’s cross country confirmed that Cardinal teams in those sports joined men’s water polo in the top spot.
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WOMEN’S SOCCER: Ratcliffe vs. Singletary
Ratcliffe must have given one heck of a pregame speech to outdo that of San Francisco 49ers coach and master motivator Mike Singletary, who gave the pep talk to Santa Clara before their meeting last Thursday. Stanford won 6-2.
“I don’t know, they scored first,” Ratcliffe said. “But I know my halftime speech was better, because he didn’t give a halftime speech.”
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WOMEN’S SOCCER: Barnhart, Buehler to national team
The two were named to the 18-player roster after a 12-day training camp in Carson, Calif.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics