Sept. 11, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. - For the third consecutive season, Stanford's women's soccer team could find itself on a familiar perch - No. 1.
Stanford's undefeated weekend - victories over defending NCAA champion Notre Dame and No. 11 UC Irvine - combined with top-ranked North Carolina's loss to Texas A&M could vault the Cardinal into the No. 1 spot that it occupied most of the past two seasons. The NSCAA coaches poll will be released Tuesday.
Chioma Ubogagu and Teresa Noyola scored within two minutes of each other in the second half to lift No. 2 Stanford to a 2-0 victory over UC Irvine on Sunday and capture the four-team Stanford Nike Invitational.
With No. 17 Santa Clara tying No. 8 Notre Dame, 1-1, at Santa Clara's Buck Shaw Stadium, Stanford finished the tournament with a 2-0 record, with Santa Clara second at 0-0-2, and UCI and Notre Dame each at 0-1-1.
"The job wasn't finished for us," Stanford senior captain Camille Levin said. "Beating Notre Dame was great, but as soon as it was finished, we had to get focused for Irvine."
Stanford (6-0-1) had trouble solving the zonal pressure of UC Irvine (5-1-1) in the first half, but at halftime, coach Paul Ratcliffe emphasized the need for quicker buildups and a faster style of play. Stanford players began making more runs and the result were breakdowns in the Anteater defense.
The adjustments paid dividends with the goals, which came in the 71st and 73rd minutes.
Ubogagu broke the deadlock after taking a long pass from outside back Annie Case at the top of the penalty area, and then used her skills to free herself among several defenders before firing a hard left-footed shot to the upper right corner.
Moments later, Noyola met a UCI clearance with a first-time shot from 15 yards that again reached the upper corner.
For the freshman Ubogagu and the senior Noyola, the goals were the fourth of the season for each.
Ubogagu's came a day after her 18th birthday. Her skill produced a later opportunity when a quick move left her open in front of the net, but she was unable to convert.
"She's such a technical player on the ball," Levin said. "She's just an outstanding player, and everyone on the team appreciates what she can do."
One player who made the most of her opportunity was goalkeeper Aly Gleason, a junior, who made her first career start.
With Emily Oliver on the bench after suffering a minor knee injury on Friday, Gleason earned her first career shutout, making one save.
"It's more of an honor than anything else," Gleason said of her starting assignment. She recalled a conversation with goalkeepers coach Jay Cooney, who told her, "Hard work will eventually pay off."
It did with Gleason, who said competing for playing time with Oliver and Lindsay Dickerson makes all of the goalkeepers better.
"We have a group of three who could probably start for 95 percent of the teams in the country," Gleason said. "Every practice counts."
Such competition, at many positions, has helped carry the Cardinal. Just as in Friday's match, Ratcliffe substituted often, and the team maintained its level of play.
Stanford, which extended its home winning streak to 39, will continue to be challenged when it plays at perennial West Coast power Portland on Thursday night in a match televised live by Fox Soccer. Stanford then plays at Santa Clara on Sunday in the next chapter of their South Bay rivalry.
The Cardinal hopes next weekend will be just as productive as this one was.
"We've had to learn how to come from behind (against Notre Dame) and how to win when we're not at our best," Levin said. "There's been a carryover from each game. It was another step toward winning a national championship."
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics