STANFORD, Calif. – Perhaps no other position on the field characterizes Stanford women’s soccer more than outside back. It’s a position that requires speed, stamina, strong offensive and defensive skills, and an uncanny ability to read the game and know when to push forward and when to stay back.
The position was truly defined by Ali Riley, now a stalwart on the New Zealand national team, and perfected by All-America Rachel Quon. Today, the outside backs are senior Natalie Griffen and sophomore Laura Liedle.
Griffen played forward during her first three collegiate seasons, starting eight times and scoring seven goals. This year, she has settled into the backline and found her niche.
The Pleasanton, Calif., native recently talked about her new role, the team’s reaction to its recent three-match losing streak, and an academic project that’s taken her to London and earned $12,000 in grants so far.
Q: It seems like a natural fit, given your speed, your attacking background, and Stanford’s style of play.
A: I played outside back until I was 15. My favorite thing to do was to deny people what they wanted. I really like it a lot. Going into games, I feel different, more self-assured. I know that I could do it every single time, whereas at forward, ‘I hope I get good passes,’ and ‘I hope we can build it up right.’
But now, even if everyone else gets beat, I know I can catch them. I have a lot of confidence there.
Q: It seems like you would get frustrated at times if you didn’t make the most of your opportunity at forward.
A: At forward, you rely on a lot of other people in order to help make your good fortune. But it’s always going to come to you on defense because, eventually, something’s going to break down and you have to save the day. Even if you have to make a simple play, it’s going to come to you.
Q: The position really shows off your athletic ability.
A: I love it. It’s interesting, because I don’t think I’ve been as fit, ever. It’s so much running. Laura is extremely fit too. It’s funny, because I’ve also never felt so broken after a game. But it’s a good thing. It’s a good kind of sore and tired.
Q: Tell me a little about your background?
A: Half my family is an immigrant family. I’m half Mexican, no one believes me because I’m blonde. That side of my family – except for both uncles and my aunt -- didn’t go to college. My mom didn’t and one of her sisters didn’t. So, it wasn’t expected from that side of the family. And then my other side of the family was total All-American
I've had a goal to come to Stanford since I was 8. I came here for a 4v4 tournament and I saw how pretty the campus was. ‘It’s so green,’ and my parents were like, ‘Yeah, it’s a really good school.’ Admittedly, my club team when I was younger brainwashed us into wanting to go to Santa Clara. So, I wanted to go to Santa Clara for like two years, and then I let that go by the wayside.
I always had it in my mind that I was going to come here and I was going to do what I had to do. To me, it’s weird because I rarely step back and think, ‘Oh my God, I actually did that.’ What are the chances?
Even to have a scholarship, it’s amazing. Because my parents said, ‘If you come here, we can’t pay for it. So you have to get in and pay for it yourself.’ I’m like, ‘OK’.
I guess I never saw it as pressure because I always like soccer and I always liked school, and school was like an off-the-field competition. I liked to beat everybody in everything. I was, like I said, very aggressive. I hate losing. Even in practice.
Q: Tell me more about your mom’s side.
A: My mom was born in the U.S., but her first language was Spanish. She never really liked school because it was really hard for her. If she was home, she had nobody she could ask for help. Grandpa was always a manual laborer and my grandma, who actually helps kids as a teaching assistant now, spoke hardly any English.
Q: So, you must speak some Spanish.
A: Some. I grew up singing songs about little chickens and stuff like that.
Q: Did that help when you went to South America last spring for a quarter abroad?
A: Yes, it was a quicker learning process, even though they used some different words. Also, the accent comes more naturally. I’m not a total gringo.
Q: If I have this correct, you have an interest in fashion design?
A: More like design in engineering. Right now, I’m working on a project about high heels. My focus is making them more comfortable. I’m getting a medical study done by the end of this year and then working on making them more easily manufacturable. I’m working with companies about making clickable parts that are easier than having people in Asia sewing them intricately. That takes forever and under horrible labor conditions.
I’m working more on the engineering of that sort of the design side, but I’m definitely not a fashion designer.
Q: Did you go to Europe for this?
A: I went to London. I’ve gotten grants of more than $12,000 from Stanford so far to fund my project, which is really cool.
Q: That was for the same project?
A: Yes, I got to go to a sweatshop and see how they make them. It was a horribly inefficient process. It’s just funny to me how it’s so old world. I’d like to bring it into the generation of the iPod.
Q: This interest began because you hate wearing heels?
A: It was a late-night conversation with my roommate my sophomore year. We were talking about what interests us. The weird thing is, what inspired us is how many shoes we get here as athletes and how shoe companies in sports seem to care about people’s feet.
I thought, why doesn’t anybody have that in a nice shoe environment – in flats, in heels (it doesn’t even have to be in stilettos). Just nice shoes that care about your feet as much as these athletic companies say they care. We’re not always athletes. Sometimes we need to go out and we don’t need shoes that kill our poor feet that are already hurting, have blisters, and that sort of thing.
Q: Tell me about the South America trip. You were based in Santiago, Chile, and went to Argentina. What did you learn from that trip?
A: It taught me that I was way more outdoorsy than I thought I was. That’s the whole reason why I went, because all my friends went to Europe, and I already did London. I didn’t want to go to Europe again. I initially planned to go to Berlin, but I withdrew and put in for Santiago. Berlin is the main product design thing. But I also hate being cold. Berlin is freezing in the winter. I would have been miserable. And I didn’t know anybody that was going.
(Teammates) Taylor (McCann) and Kendall (Romine) were both going to Chile. It would be nice to at least have them. The coolest thing was all the weekend trips we took, on a whim. Everything that could go wrong did, but we had to make due. It was hilarious. Weird things would happen to us, because that’s what happens when you go abroad.
My favorite memory was in Pucon, this mountain town in Chile. It’s a little bit lower, so it’s cooler there than in Santiago, which is pretty hot. It was Taylor and two guys. We rented bikes and biked for an hour and a half, two hours, to get to these waterfalls. After an hour, we figured, they don’t exist. Then it starts pouring rain on us.
Right when we were about to give up, we see them. We go in there, climbed over the fence, and stood on top of the waterfall and looked out at all of the nature. It was the coolest thing.
Of course, we were freezing. But we ended up in this little restaurant with no name and no menu. I asked for this sandwich and I had no money, so I gave him some coins and he made me a sandwich. Just stuff like that. I could also tell you that we climbed a volcano, which we did, and it was a huge thing, but to me, it was the tiny weird memories.
We ended up in this room, listening to ‘90s pop music, eating food off a menu that didn’t exist and talking to these old women in Spanish about their lives. This wouldn’t happen if we stayed in nice hotels or planned everything out. We were just rolling and dirty about 40 percent of the time. And that was the best part of it.
Q: And you broke into soccer stadiums.
A: Yeah, we did. We broke into the Boca Juniors soccer stadium (in Buenos Aires, Argentina). It was under construction and we went under this open garage door thing. And then these guys told us to get off the field. We did, but we took a couple of pictures first.
Q: Do you think that the Stanford team is getting settled now, with nine new teammates.
A: It looked like Paul had settled on a pretty consistent lineup until we experienced our losses. Then he had to re-evaluate where he wanted to play certain people, and at what point in the game he wanted to play them. He focused especially on finding a starting group that was going to come out with insane energy and confidence in order to intimidate and pressure our opponent, as well as uplift the spirit of the entire team. That’s what we did against Utah on Friday (in a 1-0 victory).
Q: How do you think the losing streak can help you in the long run?
A: From the recent losing streak, I think the team has learned that winning isn't -- nor has it ever been-- a given. We've been fortunate to have a few years of fairly clean records, but twice in the past we've had undefeated seasons that ended in heartbreak. It's better to lose early.
Personally, I'm glad the pressure to maintain that meaningless at-home streak is over (it stretched 73 games through six seasons). Streaks don't matter. A national championship matters. And now, after meeting as a team and re-evaluating what we really want out of this year, I know that's in the cards.
Losing allowed us to buckle down and toughen up and ultimately realize that if we want that ring, we have to work for it. And I think after my nearly-four seasons at Stanford, that's probably the most important lesson I've learned. Nothing is given. It's work. And now, after a few bumps in the road, we're ready to work.