By Mark Soltau
STANFORD, Calif. - With the graduation of national player of the year Christen Press, Stanford women's soccer coach Paul Ratcliffe knew he would have to look for new scoring this season. Fortunately for Ratcliffe, he didn't have to look far.
Senior forward Lindsay Taylor has had the breakout season seemingly everyone expected. The Los Altos product and graduate of Palo Alto's Castilleja School has scored 20 goals in 24 games and was named Pac-12 Player of the Year. She'll lead the top-ranked and undefeated Cardinal (23-0-1) against Florida State (18-6-1) Friday at 2 p.m. PT in Kennesaw, Ga., in the semifinals of the NCAA College Cup. The winner advances to the final on Sunday.
"Definitely," Ratcliffe said this week, when asked if he thought Taylor would emerge as an offensive star. "When she came in as a freshman, she scored 16 goals. Then she had some health problems. Now she's at full form and making a huge name for herself."
Taylor credits a healthy hip and great help from her teammates for the standout season.
"It's definitely something I thought I could do in terms of scoring goals, because I've done that in the past," she said. "But there are also a lot of other players on this team that have stepped up and scored a lot of big goals. So I think the goals are really coming from a lot of different places and we've done a really good job in the big games to get to the point where we are now."
Two years ago, Kelley O'Hara of Stanford was selected the national player of the year. Last year, the honor went to Press. Taylor has a shot to make it a three-peat for the Cardinal.
"Technically, she's one of the most gifted players I've ever coached," said Ratcliffe. "Her goal scoring with both feet is the best I've ever coached. She can also head the ball very well. She's just an outstanding talent."
Not that anyone is taking anything for granted. In each of the last two years, Stanford has reached the College Cup title game, losing heartbreaking 1-0 matches to North Carolina in 2009 and Notre Dame in 2010.
"That final game last year has really been ingrained in our memory," said Taylor. "It's not something we'll ever really forget, but it's something hopefully we can learn from this year. This team is really taking pride in trying to correct those mistakes that we have made in the past and really taking one game at a time."
More often than not, Taylor leads the Stanford charge. A dynamic player who is adept with either foot, she grew up playing soccer on her front lawn with younger brother Matthew, a redshirt sophomore on the Stanford men's soccer team. Older brother Jonathan swam at Yale.
"Her goal scoring with both feet is the best I've ever coached."
"We had a lot of battles," Taylor said of Matthew. "I think he'll say they went his way, but I'll say they went the other way. He's a defender. Once he got bigger, it was definitely a little more competitive. We pushed each other to be the best we could."
Taylor also excelled at basketball and still loves the sport.
"I talked to some schools, but it wasn't anything big or anything I pursued," she said. "I potentially could have played in the Ivy League. I don't think I could have played here."
The loss for Tara VanDerveer, the Setsuko Ishiyama Director of Women's Basketball, is Ratcliffe's gain. After scoring 16 goals as a freshman, Taylor notched 6 goals and 11 assists as a sophomore and 11 goals and 6 assists as a junior. This, despite playing hurt the last two years.
"It's hard when you're going through that," said Taylor. "I really thought we had a chance to win the national championship those two years and it wasn't something I was going to give up on. There were times when it was really frustrating because I couldn't run and could only do parts of practice. Just getting back and being healthy has really been rewarding."
So has spending time with her teammates. It's a tight group she calls "family."
"I live with a bunch of the seniors and we're always relaxing, hanging out, watching TV, and joking around," Taylor said. "There's definitely a great, lighthearted spirit on this team. We're pretty relaxed off the field."
Asked to compare the previous two teams with the current Cardinal squad, Taylor is hard-pressed for an answer.
"Every team has been different," she said. "Maybe better in some ways. I think this team works harder than any team I've been on. We have put in so much work and so much time. Every team was great in its own way."
Should Stanford go on to claim the national title, Ratcliffe thinks Taylor is a no-brainer for national player of the year.
"There's no doubt in my mind she should be if we keep winning," he said.