STANFORD, Calif. – With each new season comes a challenge: replace the pieces of last year’s puzzle.
But that’s no trivial task, considering Stanford has reached the NCAA College Cup every year since 2008, picking up four Pac-12 Conference titles along the way.
Yet year after year, Stanford finds away to replace some fairly irreplaceable players.
This year will be no different, as 2012 team captains and four-year starters Alina Garciamendez, Mariah Nogueria and Rachel Quon have graduated and left some big shoes to fill.
Their leadership is gone, and head coach Paul Ratcliffe will look to captains Courtney Verloo, Alex Doll, Kendall Romine and Emily Oliver to lead the Cardinal in 2013.
“We have a tradition of excellence when it comes to leadership and we want to keep that going,” Ratcliffe said. “I have a lot of faith in them and I think they are going to do a great job leading us.”
Departing along with the leadership of Garciamendez, Nogueria and Quon is their impact on the field.
All three were fixtures at their positions since 2009, with Garciamendez as the anchor at central defense, Nogueria at midfield and Quon at outside back.
The trio received NSCAA All-America selections last year, with Garciamendez and Quon garnering first team honors.
“Every year since I’ve been here we’ve graduated amazing players,” Verloo said. “It always seems to work out and we have some younger girls who are doing great. It’s definitely a challenge losing someone in the back like Alina who’s a captain and a national caliber player, but I think we are starting to find the rhythm.”
Maddie Bauer, Siobhan Cox and Ryan Walker-Hartshorn are three freshman defenders who have looked strong in preseason camp.
When asked how she feels about taking over for Garciamendez and Quon, Walker-Hartshorn didn’t sugarcoat it.
“Nervous,” she said. “But really excited. They definitely held the back line. I just want to be able to do well and not let my team down.”
Sophomores Maya Theuer, a 2012 Pac-12 Freshman team selection, and Laura Liedle, who started 23 matches in 2012, will also bolster the defense.
“We have some younger players who have stepped in and done a great job in training camp,” Ratcliffe said. “They’re young and they’re talented. We’re hoping they can establish themselves. The future looks very bright.”
Although the Cardinal defense will see big changes in 2013, offense shouldn’t be a problem.
Stanford returns top scorers Verloo (10 goals, 31 points, 11 assists) and junior Chioma Ubogagu (5 goals, 21 points, 11 assists).
Stanford also welcomes transfer student Taylor Uhl to the Cardinal attack. The junior led the nation in scoring at the University of Minnesota a year ago, racking up 21 goals and 51 points.
“Taylor’s been a great boost to the squad,” Ratcliffe said. “Fantastic person and superb player. She scores goals, she has good composure and she’s a physical presence for us up front.”
If preseason play is any indication, Uhl is the real deal.
The junior forward collected a goal and an assist within the first five minutes of Stanford’s 8-0 exhibition victory over Grand Canyon on Saturday, and found the net again 15 minutes later.
“It’s going to be a really fun and exciting attack this year,” Verloo said. “The offense is so talented in different areas. I think there will be goals from the forwards, from the midfielders, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some defenders got in.”
Between the goalposts, Ratcliffe has an interesting situation on his hands.
On one hand, there’s Oliver, a senior team captain who has started 58 games at goalkeeper in her three-year Stanford career, which began with a Soccer America All-Freshman first team selection in 2010.
Since then, Oliver has notched three NCAA College Cup all-tournament team selections, climbed the Stanford career lists for shutouts (26) and goals-against average (0.34), and landed on the NSCAA All-America third team in 2011.
“She’s critical to our success in so many ways,” Ratcliffe said. “Emily is a leader. She’s a competitor. She’s a winner. She’s the player you want on the field to lead the team and she’s proven over the years that she’s one of the best competitors in the game.”
On the other hand, there’s freshman Jane Campbell, who at age 17 became the youngest goalkeeper ever called into a full U.S. national team camp.
The Georgia native is a two-time NSCAA Youth All-American and in 2011 was named the NSCAA Youth Girls Player of the Year.
Add Pac-12 Defensive Player of the week (Sep. 17) Aly Gleason and 5’11” sophomore Sarah Cox to the mix, and Ratcliffe will have some tough decisions to make.
“We have a great group of keepers,” Ratcliffe said. “Whichever one is in form for that week and steps in between the goal posts is going to do an amazing job for us. It’s still up in the air. No one has established anything and said ‘I’m going to start every game.’”
The Cardinal is picked to finish second in the country behind reigning champion North Carolina. But before Stanford can reach the NCAA College Cup, it will need to get through Pac-12 opponent UCLA, ranked first in the conference coaches’ poll.
“To win a Pac-12 championship will be a great honor if we can do it, but it’s going to be really challenging,” Ratcliffe said. “There are no easy games in the Pac-12. You can’t take anything for granted.”
Stanford is a different team in 2013. All-Americans who led the Cardinal to five straight NCAA College Cups depart year by year, and pass on the torch to the players below them.
“The dynamics change every year.” Ratcliffe said. “You lose your seniors and you get a new freshman class, so they have to step up and keep the traditions that you have in place alive.”
Regardless of the players on the field, the goal remains the same for Stanford.
“It’s definitely a journey,” Ratcliffe said. “Every practice, every game you play is leading you up to winning a championship at the end.”
That journey begins Friday at Boston College, as Stanford begins the campaign for a 10th Pac-12 Championship, a 23rd NCAA College Cup appearance and a second national title.
-- By Jacob Lauing, Stanford Athletic Communications intern