Nov. 25, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. - In one thunderous slide, Lindsay Taylor did what Stanford had been fighting for all night and all season. She sent the Cardinal into the College Cup.
Taylor's golden goal, only 2:40 into the overtime, was the winner in Stanford's 2-1 victory over Oklahoma State on Friday night and triggered a celebration among the 2,000 fans at soldout Laird Q. Cagan Stadium.
The Cardinal (23-0-1), the top overall seed in the 64-team NCAA women's soccer tournament, advances to the semifinals for the fourth consecutive season where it will play Florida State (18-6-1) on Friday in Kennesaw, Ga.
Stanford will be the only outsider in an otherwise Atlantic Coast Conference affair, with fellow No. 1 seeds Duke and Wake Forest advancing as well. But Stanford should feel at home as the only Cup repeater.
The triumph also served as a fitting prize for Stanford's four seniors - Taylor, Camille Levin, Teresa Noyola, and Kristy Zurmuhlen -- who all played vital roles and completed the feat of never having lost at home. Their four-year home record: 53-0-1.
It also marked Stanford's 50th consecutive home victory in a match characterized by Stanford's early dominance, a shaky second-half stretch, and ceaseless efforts that finally were rewarded in the 93rd minute.
"We had to earn it," Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said. "We know it's not going to be easy when we get there, but I think that's going to help us."
In a matchup between the nation's two best defenses, only one team - Stanford - took any first-half offensive initiative. The Cardinal pelted the Cowgirl goal with shots, taking a 14-1 shooting advantage. Taylor had a first-half free kick glance off the crossbar amid the opportunities that often ended in the hands of agile Oklahoma State goalkeeper Adrianna Franch.
"I thought the first half, we were a little bit timid," Oklahoma State coach Colin Carmichael said. "Stanford really took the game to us. We defended well, but we just didn't have enough belief going forward."
It was gimpy senior Kristy Zurmuhlen, heavily-taped from an injury suffered a week earlier, who was the unlikely icebreaker.
The senior from little Walpole, N.H., took a pass from Mariah Nogueira at the top of the box. Zurmuhlen cut to her left, then to her right, to set up a hard 12-yard shot through the legs of a defender and inside the far post in the 52nd minute for her fifth goal of the year.
But rather than going for the jugular, Stanford shouldered the brunt of a renewed push by Oklahoma State. First, the Cowgirls forced Rachel Quon to save a ball off the line, and then cashed in with a 69th-minute score. Sarah Brown took a pass in stride to put the Cardinal defense on its heels and, against the run of play, lifted a 25-yard left-footed shot over goalkeeper Emily Oliver and into the upper reaches of the net to tie the match.
"We didn't really come to play until we got scored on," said Franch, who made six saves. "That's when we really stepped up and started to play OSU soccer."
The goal ended a Stanford shutout streak of 604 minutes, 40 seconds, spanning parts of seven matches, and was only the fifth goal allowed all season by Oliver, the national leader in goals-against average.
"I don't know what happened," Ratcliffe said. "After we scored, there was a let up. We need to change that. I've never seen that before."
Indeed, it was the first time Stanford surrendered a lead all season. But as the overtime began, the Cardinal seemed refocused. Ratcliffe removed Zurmuhlen, inserted Annie Case to left outside back, moved Rachel Quon to right back, and pushed Camille Levin from defense to the front line.
The offensive boost was felt immediately, as forward Marjani Hing-Glover met a cross with a close shot that went high. But the Cardinal would not miss again.
A minute later, Noyola pushed the ball wide right to Quon making an overlapping run. Quon reached the end line and pulled back a centering pass to the top of the six-yard box. Taylor met the ball with a sliding first touch for the winner, in the 93rd minute.
It was the 20th goal of the season for Taylor, who became the fourth Stanford player all-time to reach that figure in a season. Noyola's assist was her 14th, tying her for the second-highest season total in school history.
"We had a lot of confidence going into overtime," Taylor said. "We just wanted to take it to them."
Oklahoma State (22-2-2) was outshot 21-3 overall and didn't get off its first shot until the 42nd minute. But the Cowgirls had the distinction of pushing Stanford into a postseason overtime match for the first time at home since 2007.
But, ultimately, it wasn't enough to alter near perfection for the Stanford seniors.
"The people on this team are like sisters," Zurmuhlen said. "We just care about each other so much. As much as we do for ourselves, we want it more for each other. I think that's the difference."
Maybe that's the secret formula Stanford has been searching for in its past attempts to corral an NCAA championship trophy.
"You saw how fiercely competitive this team is," Ratcliffe said. "For me, the most important things are that competitive drive, that desire, and that character."
Stanford has it. But can the Cardinal maintain it through 90 minutes of two more matches?
We'll find out.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics