Nov. 19, 2010
STANFORD, Calif. - Christen Press didn't curse the rain Friday night, she welcomed it.
The high-scoring Stanford forward saw the elements as a challenge. And, as she has done all season, she rose to it by scoring two goals in the Cardinal's 3-0 victory over UCLA before 1,896 soaked fans at the NCAA Tournament third-round women's soccer match at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium.
The rain may have contributed to a costly mistake for UCLA (13-8-2), which lost its chance to appear in an eighth consecutive College Cup final four, but it didn't seem to have any effect on the zigzagging runs and cutback moves that make Press so hard to mark.
"A lot of the game turns into heart when it's raining," Press said. "But things went our way early on, so we were able to control the game a little more.
"Games likes these are usually really tight if you don't get goals early and conditions get really bad. But we were able to control the game."
Stanford (21-0-2), the nation's top-ranked team, advanced to the quarterfinals for the third consecutive season and will play the winner of Saturday's match between Marquette and Florida State at a date and site to be determined.
The Cardinal, which is 98-0-5 since 2006 when scoring at least one goal, opened the scoring in the fifth minute when a ball played in by Mariah Nogueira glanced off the head of UCLA defender Elise Britt, off the post and into the goal. Last year, when the two teams met at Stanford, an own goal also gave Stanford a 1-0 lead.
"It could have been this rain," Britt said. "I haven't exactly played in it for a while and it just skimmed off my head the wrong way. I definitely wasn't anticipating it being that slippery."
Press made it 2-0 in the 29th minute when she took a pass from Camille Levin on the right side, cut left past a defender, and then cut right past another before unleashing a right-footed shot inside the right post.
In the second half, Press had more chances. On a breakaway, she released a shot that goalkeeper Chante' Sandiford, a summer club teammate of Press, reached with her fingertips, causing enough of a ripple to force the ball inches over the crossbar.
In the 60th minute, a shot by Lindsay Taylor deflected off, apparently, the arm of a UCLA defender. But while the Stanford bench was pleading for a handball, Teresa Noyola calmly sent a pass toward the top of the box, where Press met it for her 25th goal of the season.
For Press, the national scoring leader, the goals brought her within one of Kelley O'Hara's year-old single-season Stanford record of 26.
Afterward, coach Paul Ratcliffe was just as impressed with another aspect of Press' game.
"Everyone talks about what a talented player she is, but for me, her leadership skills have been tremendous this year," Ratcliffe said. "She really cares about everyone on the team, she works so hard in training, and she's an example for all the younger players. She has really emerged as a great leader and that's been a big part of our success."
UCLA outshot Stanford, 14-13, but Cardinal goalkeeper Emily Oliver was hardly tested, other than placing herself in front of a slippery ball. She earned her eighth shutout and the team earned its 13th, having allowed only five goals in its past 18 matches.
Courtney Verloo returned to the lineup in central defense after missing two matches with an injury. Her presence allowed Levin to move from defense back to forward, allowing Levin to pick up her 10th assist. Noyola later tallied her 12th assist, moving her into a tie for sixth on Stanford's single-season list.
"We scored pretty early and we were able to be a little more conservative, especially when we got a two-goal lead," Ratcliffe said. "So, we were kind of absorbing pressure and counter attacking. It was a tactical move."
Stanford extended a few winning streaks: 20 consecutive victories, 34 in a row at home, and 11 straight at home in NCAA Tournament play.
But for Press and her three fellow seniors - Kira Maker, Allison McCann, and Morgan Redman - the only streak that mattered was the one that allowed them to continue to play.
"Going on a playoff run as a senior it resonates totally differently because you can fight twice as hard, and you're fighting just to be on the team for another day," Press said. "For the four seniors, we want it so badly just because we love our team. We've had such a good experience we don't want it to end."