Aug. 15, 2006
Stanford, Calif. -
The Stanford women's soccer team began training last week in preparation for the 2006 season. The team begins play against Utah next Friday at the Santa Clara/adidas Classic.
This year, Stanford is determined to continue its winning ways, looking to battle for a position among the country's top women's soccer programs in 2006. The Cardinal is already one of the most consistent clubs in the nation, as the team is riding a streak of 18 straight winning seasons and eight consecutive NCAA Tournament berths.
Yet, the Cardinal is determined to do more than just win games. A five-time Pac-10 Champion, the Stanford program looks to regain the title that has eluded them since 2002. After a disappointing loss in the NCAA First Round last year, the squad is motivated to make a deep run into the postseason. With 17 returning letterwinners and five talented freshmen, Stanford is prepared to challenge for a spot at the top.
Head Coach Paul Ratcliffe, who enters his fourth season at the helm of the Cardinal, is confident that his team has the potential to excel this season.
"We have a strong nucleus and a really talented incoming freshman class," said Ratliffe. "I'm excited about the possibilities for a successful season."
Stanford will be led by a pair of seniors, Shari Summers and Jenny Farenbaugh, who bring a wealth of experience and leadership to the squad. Additionally, the team returns All-Pac-10 Second Team selection Rachel Buehler and All-Pac-10 Freshman honorees Marisa Abegg and Allison Falk.
Once again, Ratcliffe has challenged his team with one of the toughest schedules in the nation. This year the Cardinal will face nine 2005 NCAA Tournament participants, including four teams that reached the Sweet 16. Additionally, the squad will face two NCAA quarterfinalists, an NCAA finalist, four conference champions, six teams that finished in the top-25 and three top-10 finishers.
"We have a very competitive schedule this year," said Ratcliffe. "Our tough early season opponents should prepare us for a strong Pac-10 season."
The Cardinal wastes no time jumping into the competition, opening the season at the Santa Clara adidas Classic in late August with two of last year's fellow NCAA Tournament participants. During the opening weekend, Stanford will face the 2005 Mountain West champion Utah Utes as well as traditional soccer powerhouse Wake Forest, a team that climbed as high as No. 8 in the polls last year.
After hosting a pair of California rivals, San Francisco and Cal Poly, the squad will travel to Piscataway, N.J. to compete in a tournament hosted by Rutgers University. The Cardinal then returns home to host the Stanford Invitational, where four teams with NCAA credentials will square off for the championship. The Cardinal will face Boston University and No. 15 Tennessee in the event, two programs that won their respective conferences and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Following meetings with UC Irvine and San Diego State, Stanford will travel south for the annual showdown with Bay Area rival Santa Clara on September 30. The Cardinal looks to repeat last year's upset of the No. 5 Broncos before diving into the competitive Pac-10 season.
The fight for the Pac-10 title will once again be fierce, as half of the conference returns from NCAA appearances. Stanford's top four conference opponents, UCLA, USC, Arizona and California, all advanced in the postseason tournament last year and finished in the NSCAA top-25. The Cardinal begins the conference season in Los Angeles with USC on October 6 and NCAA finalist UCLA on October 8. Additionally, the conference season is highlighted by a meeting with No. 17 Arizona at Maloney Field on October 15 and the regular-season finale at California on November 5.
"Our first goal is to win the Pac-10 title," says Ratcliffe. "Then, we'll look to not only make the playoffs but go deep into the NCAA Tournament and attempt to win a national title."
Here's a look at the 2006 Cardinal by position:
Junior Erica Holland and sophomore Alex Gamble will compete for the starting goalkeeper role after sharing the spot last season. Both young players saw significant playing time after the graduation of Nicole Barnhart in 2003, and bring experience that will be an important asset to the Cardinal defense.
Gamble started 14 games in her first season on the Farm and tallied 40 saves. As a rookie, the Temecula, Calif. native faced three of the top five teams in the nation, posted a 0.94 goals-against average and recorded seven shutouts. With more than 1200 minutes of collegiate action and an 8-5-1 record under her belt, Gamble is expected to make a significant contribution to the team's defensive effort in 2006.
Holland, another solid goalkeeper, was a significant contributor for the Cardinal during the 2005 Pac-10 season and brings key experience against conference opponents. In six starts and eight appearances, Holland allowed only four goals. She finished the season with 29 saves, including a career-high eight against Arizona State, and an impressive .879 save percentage.
"Both of our goalkeepers come into this season with valuable experience in the net," says Ratcliffe. "They will definitely challenge each other and vie for the starting spot."
The Stanford back line is anchored by U.S. Senior National Team member Rachel Buehler, who brings a wealth of experience to the Stanford squad.
"Rachel will be a significant player for our team this season and definitely stands out as one of our leaders," says Ratcliffe. "The experience she brings from the U.S. National Team will definitely benefit us this year."
Buehler co-captained the team last season and will likely return to that role in 2006.
In addition, sophomore Marisa Abegg returns to her starting role on the Cardinal defense, following an outstanding rookie campaign. Abegg and the rest of the Stanford defense allowed only 17 goals and 178 shots last year and held opponents scoreless 11 times. Abegg and fellow defender Allison Falk were named to the All-Pac-10 Freshman Team last year and will continue to build on their early collegiate success.
Falk and junior April Wall will be contenders to fill the defensive vacancies left by the graduation of Hayley and Lindsey Hunt. Additionally, newcomers Ali Riley, a member of the New Zealand National Team program, and Katie Riley, a standout from St. Mary's High School in Stockton, will make an immediate impact on defense for the Cardinal.
Senior Shari Summers will be the rock of the Stanford midfield in 2006, starting in the center position and directing the Cardinal offense. Summers has started 46 games in her career, including all 20 last year, and brings valuable experience to a key position in the Cardinal lineup. Summers, Buehler and fifth-year senior Jenny Farenbaugh will be the primary leaders on the Stanford squad.
The remaining midfield positions will be filled out by a group of versatile players who have the ability to contribute in a variety of places on the field. Junior Lizzy George returns as one of last year's top-three scorers, with three goals on the season and the gamewinner at Tennessee. Farenbaugh, a former All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention recipient, returns to the Cardinal lineup after redshirting last season. Sophomores Lea MacKinnon, Kelley Birch and Lauren Shapiro will also compete for spots in the Cardinal midfield, as will newcomer Kristin Stannard. Birch netted two goals and tallied an assist in her freshman campaign, while MacKinnon gained valuable experience in 17 appearances. Junior Mimi Yuhas and senior Melissa Esparza will also compete for time in the midfield.
Farenbaugh will be an important player on the Cardinal front line, as the senior has the most scoring experience of any player on the 2006 squad. In her first two years on the Farm, Farenbaugh scored nine goals and knocked in four gamewinners. In 2004, she was named to the Second Team All-West Region by the NSCAA and Soccer Buzz and is prepared to bring her offensive prowess back to the Cardinal lineup.
Additionally, sophomores Kate Mannino and Hillary Heath will be looked upon as key offensive players for Stanford. Mannino started 16 games in her first year on the Farm and netted a goal against No. 22 Arizona. In her debut season, Heath contributed a goal and an assist and will be looked upon to step up as a significant scorer in 2006.
Sophomore Austinn Freeman, a strong performer during the spring season, will compete for time at the forward position. Freshmen Alicia Jenkins and Kelley O'Hara, two high school standouts with National Team experience, will also be important contributors to the Cardinal attack.