Dec. 4, 2009
COLLEGE STATION, Texas - After their Thursday morning practice session, Stanford women's soccer coach Paul Ratcliffe joined players Ali Riley, Kelley O'Hara, and Christen Press in a press conference to preview Friday's NCAA College Cup semifinal against UCLA.
Ratcliffe, who normally keeps his comments low key, broke from that for a moment, when asked about O'Hara, the senior forward who leads the nation in goals (25) and points (63).
"She's probably the best college soccer player right now in the women's game," Ratcliffe said.
Asked for her reaction, O'Hara laughed.
"I really did pay him $5," she said.
Later, Stanford's got the red-carpet treatment from host Texas A&M. Stanford, and the other three semifinalists, were each picked up at the team hotel in a stretch limousine and driven to Kyle Field, the football stadium where the tournament banquet was held.
The limo drove up to a red carpet where Morgan Redman led her teammates down the carpeted walkway past screaming youth soccer girls who slapped high fives with the players as they walked by. They headed toward the stadium skybox where the banquet was held.
At each table setting were drawings of soccer players by elementary school students from the area towns of College Station and Bryan. The best drawings were framed and presented to each of the four head coaches by the young artists themselves.
A player from each team was brought to the front for an informal question-and-answer session with master of ceremonies Beth Mowins, who will be the play-by-play announcer on ESPN2 on Friday. Riley was Stanford's player and talked about the importance of the College Cup in comparison to other competitions she's played in, like the Olympics and World Cup. Riley gave a thoughtful answer complementing the teams involved and level of play.
Press also had a great line during the earliar press conference. For most of it, she was ignored, but when finally asked a question - on how last year's semifinal loss prepared the Cardinal for this season - she provided this answer: "At this point we're not looking back. We're here now and it's our moment."
The following is a full transcript of Thursday's press conference:
Head coach Paul Ratcliffe
"We're excited to be back to the final four and we're looking forward to strong competition."
on preparation standpoint and knowing UCLA so well ...
"We're more focusing on us, that we want to play to the best of our ability, but yeah, we know UCLA is a strong team and we've studied them and played them before. They are a good team and have a lot of good players. Jillian is a great coach, they are a quality team and we're going to have to play our best."
on being undefeated ....
"Now you're in the playoffs and you have to win to keep going on. So everyone as the same burden - win and stay, or lose and go home."
on team focus ...
"We've had great leadership. Kelley (O'Hara), Ali (Riley) and Alicia (Jenkins) are our three captains. They've been tremendous leaders the entire year and have kept the team very focused. They always work hard and give 100 percent effort so it's been a really good year."
on difference of this team to last year's final four team ...
"We're just more experienced. The most important thing is the leadership is there and the experience. We've been here before so we know what it takes."
on the inclement weather expected ...
"The field looks great so we're hoping it's going to be able to take a little bit of rain. And, if it snows ... we've come this far, we want to play our best and get after it. So, we're not going to let anything stand in our way."
on Kelley O'Hara's effort ...
"I always say that Kelly is an inspirational leader to this team year. She's a great competitor and her game has developed so much that she's creating great opportunities for others. And she's also capable of scoring at any time. Yes, she's been a fantastic player and I think she's probably the best college soccer player right now in the women's game."
Senior forward Kelley O'Hara
on last year's semifinal game (a 1-0 loss to Notre Dame) and experience gained from it ...
"We played pretty good possession soccer, but it was our inability to break them down in the final third because they played a style where they had their four backs and they would drop in. Moving forward from that game we kind of took that regardless of how the other team plays we need to be able to beat all different styles of play. That's something we've worked on this year and we've done a lot better job of being able to break any style down."
on whether going undefeated was a stated goal ...
"It's stated. Our mentality, even last season, was to take one game at a time. We don't look ahead and we're focused on that game. The game plan is to win, so that has led to an undefeated season."
Junior forward Christen Press
on last year, looking ahead to this season ...
"As soon as we walked off the field, that was everyone's mentality. At this point we're not looking back, we're here now and it's our moment."
Senior defender Ali Riley
on defeating UCLA earlier in the season ...
"It's nice knowing that we've beaten them before, this year, but in the postseason everything is different. It's been a while now since that game and I think we've improved and I'm sure they've improved. Both teams are going to bring it because it's the final four. So, it's a different game now."
on young players on team, specifically two freshmen (Alina Garciamendez and Rachel Quon) starting in defense ...
"They've done great this far. They know what it takes and they've played at high levels. They are ready. They've been great leaders themselves. Yes, we have three captains, but everyone on the field is a leader and they want to win. It's been great especially having Rachel and Alina in the back. They've taught Alicia and me things, so everyone out there really knows what they're doing. I think it's going to be exciting to see them on play this stage."