Oct. 16, 2009
But the 4-0 victory over No. 15 USC before an overflow crowd 2,150, the sixth-largest home crowd ever for the Cardinal women, only added to the anticipation.
Stanford now gets the showdown it wanted, with No. 3 UCLA, the six-time defending conference champion, looming on Sunday in a pivotal Pacific-10 match at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium.
"We've got to stay level-headed," Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said. "We've only done half the job this weekend. We've got to go into the UCLA game very confident, but also aggressive, and we've got to earn the win."
The Cardinal (14-0 overall, 3-0 Pac-10) had to do so against USC (10-4, 2-1) after being held scoreless in the first half. But, as is Stanford's custom, it burst forth with four goals in a 16-minute span of the second half to salt away the victory.
Stanford has been tied or behind at halftime nine times this season, but has outscored opponents 39-5 in the second half.
Stanford outshot the Women of Troy 19-3 in the first half, with one Lindsay Taylor shot glancing off the post. But USC seemed to have the best chance when a flick off the foot of Samantha Johnson skirted just wide.
Stanford too often settled for long-distance shots. With the skill that Stanford's forwards have, Ratcliffe felt his team could do better.
"They were dropping off on us defensively and we were shooting from distance, which is OK, but their goalkeeper is superb and she was making the saves," Ratcliffe said. "So, I encouraged the players to take two extra touches to get a little bit closer to the goal."
The strategy worked. Stanford players challenged the defense, especially O'Hara, who helped break down the USC defense initially with a run and a hard shot. USC goalkeeper Kristin Olsen saved the shot, but couldn't prevent Press from stuffing in the rebound to put Stanford ahead 1-0.
Olsen played splendidly, but all she got for it was a bloody nose after making one of her 13 saves with her face.
O'Hara scored in the 55th and 63rd minutes, first with a far-post touch after Lindsay Taylor beat a defender to the end line and sent a pass across the goal mouth, and later with a sizzling shot that was tipped by a defender.
Press later delivered with a long-distance run followed by a shot from the top of the penalty area.
O'Hara and Press continue to skyrocket up the Stanford all-time scoring lists.
With 17 goals, O'Hara jumped from No. 5 to No. 2 among the most prolific Cardinal single-season goal-scorers, trailing only Sarah Rafanelli's 20 from 1993. In addition, her five points moved her to fourth on the single-season scoring list, with 41 points, and into fifth on Stanford's all-time scoring list, passing Marcia Wallis (1999-2002) with 121 points.
Press, a junior with 14 goals and 10 assists, is seventh all-time in career points (103) and goals (38).
"Even though we're not scoring in the first half, we're breaking them down," midfielder Teresa Noyola said. "We know we're going to break them eventually."
But will UCLA break down? The Bruins were the only team to beat Stanford in the regular season last year. In fact, UCLA has won 22 consecutive conference games and hasn't allowed Stanford to win in the series at Cagan Stadium since 1999.
The Cardinal gets its next try at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
The importance wasn't lost on Cardinal assistant Jay Cooney, who e-mailed the team at 10:35 p.m. on Friday night and included these words: "Great work tonight. Sunday starts now, get some sleep."