Nov. 1, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. -
Having wrapped up its fourth consecutive Pac-12 Conference women’s soccer title last weekend in Los Angeles, top-ranked Stanford looks to close out the regular season with a perfect league mark Sunday at Cal. If recent matches are any indication, expect some drama.
The cardiac Cardinal has captured nine contests this season by one goal, including three of its past four matches. Stanford survived a dramatic one-two punch from USC and UCLA last week, going double-overtime to trim the Women of Troy, 1-0, then rallied to beat the Bruins in the 79th minute, 2-1.
The Cardinal, 16-1-1 overall and 10-0 in Pac-12 play, hasn’t lost since Aug. 26, when it dropped a 1-0 decision to West Virginia at the Penn State Invitational.
Less than a week later, Stanford and Boston College played to a 1-1 tie on the Farm in the Nike Invitational. Since then, the Cardinal has reeled off 14 straight wins.
Head coach Paul Ratcliffe, who guided last year’s team to a national championship, credits four-year starters/tri-captains Rachel Quon from Lake Forest, Ill. , Mariah Nogueira from Westminster, Calif., and Alina Garciamendez from Fairview, Texas, for sparking and inspiring their teammates. All are primarily defenders, but have the versatility to contribute from anywhere on the field. Garciamendez is a member of the Mexican national team and started in the 2011 Women’s World Cup.
“They’re amazing leaders, great players and great people,” he said.
During their four-year stay, Stanford has a combined record of 89-3-4. Perhaps more impressively, the trio has never lost a home match, going 48-0-1.
“Our success comes from hard work and really talented players,” said Ratcliffe. “You can definitely say a big part of our success is character. They all really care about each other.”
Quon, Nogueira and Garciamendez have competed in three College Cup finals. This year, it will be played in San Diego on Nov. 30 and Dec. 2.
Unlike the previous three seasons, when Stanford produced Hermann Trophy winners Kelley O’Hara (2009), Christen Press (2010) and Teresa Noyola (2011), an award recognizing the top women’s soccer player in the country, the 2012 team has no clear-cut star.
Eleven players have scored two or more goals, topped by Nogueira with seven. Courtney Verloo and Garciamendez have tallied six each, while Quon has two goals and seven assists.
“There’s a different hero every game,” Ratcliffe said.
That includes junior goalie Emily Oliver from Flossmoor, Ill. She has allowed only five goals this season and has made 34 saves, none bigger than a diving two-handed stop against second-ranked UCLA last Sunday to help preserve the win.
Ratcliffe said the personality of his teams change from year to year, but he loves the chemistry of this group. It’s a strong, resilient, tough-minded squad that plays hard for each other and keeps finding ways to win.
Whether that translates into another national championship remains to be seen. But he isn’t ruling it out.
“Definitely,” Ratcliffe said. “I think it’s going to take a lot of hard work and luck. Hopefully, down the road, we’ll continue to find ways to score goals.”
-- By Mark Soltau, Stanford Athletics
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Palo Alto native Mark Soltau has spent his whole life and much of his career around Stanford sports. A sportswriter for 35 years, Soltau spent 16 (1981-97) at the San Francisco Examiner, where he covered not only the Cardinal, but all five 49ers Super Bowl-championship teams. Golf always has been his passion and Soltau served as the golf beat writer for the Examiner, as well as national golf writer for CBS Sportsline, and contributing editor to Golf Digest. He has been the editor of tigerwoods.com since 1997.