Sept. 14, 2012
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The shot was so familiar that it felt almost automatic for Courtney Verloo. That's why it seemed surprising that the goal was the first in three years for the Stanford forward.
Verloo's 25-yard free kick in the 30th minute stood up for the No. 3 Cardinal in its 1-0 women's soccer victory Friday over No. 15 San Diego State at the Santa Clara Classic. And the defense, supported by goalkeeper Aly Gleason's five saves, held firm as Stanford earned its third consecutive shutout while handing the Aztecs (7-1) their first loss.
Stanford (5-1-1) welcomed the return of sophomore forward Chioma Ubogagu, playing in her first match for the Cardinal this season after representing the victorious U.S. team at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Japan, which concluded Saturday.
Ubogagu, Stanford's leading returning scorer, added a dimension to the Stanford attack, with her quickness and substantial skills. But it was Verloo who provided the pivotal strike.
After outside back Rachel Quon drew a foul just outside the penalty area and just to the left of the goal, Verloo sent her dipping shot over the Aztecs' six-player wall and goalkeeper Rachel Boaz, and under the crossbar.
"It's been a while," said Verloo, who scored four goals as a freshman, before moving to defender as a sophomore and missed the 2011 season because of injury. She has a team-high five assists, but her first goal of the season was elusive.
"It's definitely been a little frustrating for me that I hadn't put the ball in the back of the net yet," she said. "I feel like I'm improving personally every game and the team is getting better every day. I think that I've helped with buildup as well. It was coming for me. I got the chance and I put it away."
The spot of the foul was ideal.
"I've been taking that free kick in that specific spot almost every practice," Verloo said. "I've been practicing those free kicks specifically. So, I knew exactly how I wanted to hit it. It was just a matter of repetition, and practice paid off ... finally."
For the record, the goal was the first for Verloo since a first-touch scoring shot in a 3-1 victory over Arizona State on Oct. 30, 2009. For it to stand, however, was largely thanks to Gleason, another redshirt junior who is receiving the first extended action of her career as incumbent starter Emily Oliver recovers from an injury.
With San Diego State pressuring late in the match, Gleason produced a game-preserving save when she made a full extension dive to her left to stop a straight-on blast from Haley Locker. It was among several strong plays for Gleason, though none were quite as dramatic.
Goalkeepers coach Jay Cooney"always talks about how if you make one big save, we usually come up with a win," Gleason said. "That was their one good shot, and I was able to come up with a big save."
The team has assembled a season-best shutout streak of 323 minutes, 19 seconds. Gleason, a two-sport athlete who also plays rugby for Stanford, is a big reason.
"I'm very proud of Aly Gleason," Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said. "She's an incredible goalkeeper. I'm happy she's getting this opportunity to show what she can do."
So is Gleason.
"It's been three years," she said. "I feel like I've earned a little bit of time, and here it is. It's good to be playing well. There's no greater feeling than coming up with a big save. It's just fun."
Stanford resumes tournament play on Sunday in an 11 a.m. match against UNC Greensboro, also at Buck Shaw Stadium.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics