Nov. 5, 2009
STANFORD, Calif. -
They didn’t start off with championships in mind. Their motivation was Squeeze-Its, Pop Rocks, orange slices and Capri Sun.
The 27 players that make up the No. 1-ranked women’s soccer team in America started off playing the game just like everyone else – on neighborhood teams like the Bumblebees, Unicorns and Pink Panthers.
The first strokes of artistry were painted on tiny fields in places like Escondido Elementary School in Palo Alto or Shadow Ranch Park in Woodland Hills. However, those early works may have more closely resembled stick figures than masterpieces.
Lindsay Dickerson could not even make it through a 10-minute quarter before wanting to be replaced. She later became a High School All-American goalkeeper. Ali Riley avoided the ball like chicken pox, but later played in the Olympics and World Cup. Christen Press rarely touched the ball as one of the few girls on a coed team and wanted to quit. Today, she’s one of the top scorers in the country.
Somehow, and at some point, their talents blossomed – sometimes because of the influence of a coach, parent or mentor, sometimes as they discovered their own physical skills, and sometimes because of their own competitiveness and drive.
Regardless of their paths, they somehow came together at Stanford University to become a great team.
Here are the origins and early memories of the 2009 Stanford Cardinal:
First team: Pink Lightning
City: Potomac, Md.
Memory: I played center forward, not goalie, and I remember picking lots of daisies.
First team: The Golden Nuggets
City: Newport Beach, Calif.
Memory: I remember running all over the place, and that my dad helped coach me.
First team: The Blue Bombers
City: Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Memory: Sitting in the grass picking flowers.
First team: The Dandilions
City: Allen, Texas
Memory: What I remember most is that my dad was the coach, so I would always play the whole game.
First team: The Leopards
City: Tualatin, Ore.
Memory: I most remember, and my favorite part, was eating orange slices at halftime.
First team: The Bobcats
City: Placerville, Calif.
Memory: Drinking Squeeze-Its after the game and sitting down whenever I had to play goalie.
First team: The Silver Rockets
City: Palo Alto, Calif.
Memory: After scoring my first goal I proceeded to sit down on my mom's lap thinking it was over, and my job was done.
First team: The Pink Panthers
City: Los Gatos, Calif.
Memory: The quarters were only 10 minutes long, but after only five minutes, I had to be subbed. I couldn’t even make it for a whole quarter.
First team: The Golden Tigers
City: Woodland Hills, Calif.
Memory: I mostly remember the orange slices and Capri Sun juice we got at halftime.
First team: The Green Shamrocks
City: Midlothian, Va.
Memory: The thing that I remember most were the green shamrock tattoos that we put on our cheeks. And also one time at practice a girl actually kicked the ball over the goal when we were shooting and I was just in such shock that she could physically do that.
First (travel) team: Lake Forest Poprocks
City: Lake Forest, Ill.
Memory: We would get the Pop Rocks candy after every game.
First (travel) team: Turlock Tornadoes Thunder
City: Turlock, Calif.
Memory: The thing I remember most about playing on that team was having to juggle before every practice, until we reached the number our coach asked of us before we could start playing. I also remember how fun it was to make friends with new people who were not from my hometown.
First team: The Geckos
City: Manteca, Calif.
Memory: I had a curly-haired girl on my team and I always turned the other way when she looked at me.
First team: The JCC Flash
Age: 6 or 7
City: San Francisco
Memory: I remember that I was ALWAYS the only girl on the team, but I would still kick the boys' butts on the field.
First team: The Wild Things
City: Scripps Ranch, Calif.
Memory: I most remember the pink uniforms because those things rocked and everyone was clearly jealous.
First team: The Gazelles
City: Montclair, N.J.
Memory: The story of my team name is what I most remember about my first team. My dad, being the overactive parent he is, was the volunteer coach for my team. We didn't have a name yet but I always wanted the team name to be something cool like the Thunderbolts or the Strikers. Well, my dad had different ideas I guess. He went to the first club meeting and was asked to come up with a name on the spot. So what does he choose? The Gazelles. When he came home from the meeting and told me I burst into tears!! It was the lamest name I had ever heard. So our team was the Gazelles and we remained the Gazelles for the 6 years I played for the team... long surpassing my dad as a volunteer coach and competing in State Cups and invitational tournaments. What makes the story even better is that after I left that team to go play for another one they kept the name and were The Gazelles until all the girls went off to college!
First team: Lavender Lightning
Age: 6 or 7
City: Los Altos, Calif.
Memory: It was bumblebee soccer. Everybody was running everywhere.
First team: Walpole Chicks
City: Walpole, N.H.
Memory: Orange slices at halftime and crazy parents.
First team: The Bumblebees
City: Fayetteville, Ga.
Memory: My first practice, the coach said, “Today, we’re going to learn how to dribble, and you can’t use your hands.” I didn’t realize you couldn’t use your hands.
First team: The Unicorns
City: Huntington Beach, Calif.
Memory: I remember wearing those silly scrunchies with pieces of cloth tied to it to match our jersey, which was purple.
First team: The Scorpions
Memory: It was a coed team, and Taylor Mays (now an All-American safety on the USC football team) threw orange slices at me.
First team: The Rosebuds
City: Carlsbad, Calif.
Memory: Both my mom and dad were the coaches. I don’t remember too much except for my dad always yelling at me to “run, run!” or “get the ball!” but I was usually distracted and just stood talking to my friends on the team.
First team: The Pumas
City: Palos Verdes Estates, Calif.
Memory: It was a coed team that played 11 v. 11, and I was one of only four girls. I didn’t like soccer. I didn’t touch the ball and just made daisy chains. I told my mom I didn’t want to play anymore. She told me to play one more year. The next year was a much better experience, it was 6 v. 6, all girls, and I remember scoring a lot of goals.
First team: Can’t remember, but it was in the Glendale Soccer Association
Memory: My dad coached, and I liked that it was really competitive. I was a really competitive kid.
First team: The Turtles
City: Corvallis, Ore.
Memory: My team was named the Turtles and we wore red jerseys. The most memorable event was when the coach passed out our jerseys and we realized that we would be wearing red. I just remember being really upset because Turtles should be green – it only makes sense!
First team: The Purple People-Eaters
City: Reston, Va.
Memory: It was a co-ed team. The thing I remember most about it is sprinting up and down the field as a whole team following the ball wherever it went and being extremely competitive with the boys on my team.
First team: Sereno 1991 Golden Eagles
City: Scottsdale, Ariz.
Memory: Flapping my hands like a bird as I ran around the field running to wherever the ball was, regardless of my position, and running alongside the player whether they were a teammate or not. It was all about making friends and sharing the ball in those days. Things have changed.
First team: The Skyhawks
City:Woodland Hills, Calif.
Memory: I remember never wanting to take my soccer uniform or cleats off after the games. I’d hang out the rest of the day in my uniform.
First team: Heather Brown (that’s the color of the uniform, not a person)
City: Wellesley, Mass.
Memory: That’s before I was a goalkeeper. I remember scoring a lot of goals.
First team: I don’t remember what we were called, but we wore pink
Age: 5 or 6
City: Lynnwood, Wash.
Memory: My dad, John Wagner, was the coach. He was a great motivator, Mr. Positive. That’s probably why I still play.
Just how much correlation is there between the talent displayed at such a young age and the potential for stardom?
Christen Press, a junior with 16 goals and 13 assists this season, said that there were some signs in her experience that could pinpoint potential.
“I developed skills that are important, but not necessarily soccer skills,” she said. “I was really competitive and I learned how to be a teammate. Those are things I learned a very young age that correlate.
“If you start later, or if you start off not very good, I don’t think it really matters. As long as you have the physical ability to be good, you can pick it up at a later age. But I was hugely competitive by my second year of soccer and I think that is a good reason why I’ve gotten this far.”
Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said talent may not be evident at first, but can develop over a number of years.
“I have two daughters, so it’s something that I think about,” he said. “For me, you can see that they have the balance. But the truth is, the golden age of learning is probably 7 to 12. So, any time they’re working with the ball from ages 7 to 12, I think that can really help.
“I don’t think you can identify at 5 or 6. You can see that good balance and that they’re kind of athletic, but it’s until 10 or 12 that you can really see where they’re going to go.”
As Stanford progresses into the postseason, a little bit of “every kid” goes with them. After all, the Cardinal players were Dandilions once too.
* * *
FOOTBALL: Powers’ breakthrough season
In one swift motion, Will Powers showed why he was one of the most highly recruited football players in local history.
The senior at San Mateo’s Serra High School, playing in the California Division I basketball championship game in Sacramento’s Arco Arena, grabbed a missed layup and, from a flat-footed start, leaped straight into the air to slam the ball with two hands.
The game was a blowout loss, against Los Angeles-power Westchester and its straight-to-the-NBA star Amir Johnson, but the dunk left an indelible memory for spectators who marveled at the athleticism to pull off such a feat.
But Powers’ transition from top prospect to Stanford starter has taken five years and is proof of how difficult that path can be at this level.
For all his physical gifts, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Powers had trouble overcoming the mental barriers. In particular, he over-analyzed each play to the point where he would be slow in reacting.
“I would say, early on, that was one of my fatal flaws,” Powers said.
However, intensive work under co-defensive coordinator Andy Buh has helped change that. Buh has drilled technique so much that Powers has built enough confidence to trust it. He also has taught Powers to narrow his focus on the field.
“This is where your eyes start,” Buh tells him, and then they work on a progression.
“In the past, I’d read a play and say to myself, ‘It could be this, it could be that, Oh shoot!’” Powers said. “Now, I don’t need look at a quarterback to confirm what I’m seeing. The bottom line is believe what you see.”
Powers has done so this year. He’s started all eight games at strongside linebacker, after a combined six starts in his three previous seasons. He has 33 tackles, including five for losses and three sacks, and leads the Cardinal in pass breakups (six) and fumble recoveries (two). His hit on UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft on fourth down with 1:07 left preserved Stanford’s 24-16 victory.
“Maybe it’s gotten to the point where I’ve been completely comfortable with what I’m doing, or maybe it’s experience,” he said. “I’ve been around a long time. I have the confidence in knowing that nothing is really new. It’s a very simple game. I guess I was trying to do too much instead of what I was supposed to do.”
* * *
FOOTBALL: Lions, water buffaloes and ducks
As coach Jim Harbaugh watched Oregon dismantle USC, 47-20, on television Saturday, the thought of facing the powerful Ducks this week brought to mind … water buffaloes?
“I’ve been watching this YouTube video about this baby water buffalo attacked by some lions,” he said. “You’ve got these lions and they get this baby water buffalo and drag it into the water, and it’s in the water and it’s fighting for its life. The lion’s got its claws on its head and neck, and this alligator is biting at this baby water buffalo.”
The water buffalo survived, creating a lesson for his Stanford team.
“So, if we think we’ve got it bad, that baby water buffalo was in a little bit more of a predicament. And he survived.”
* * *
WOMEN’S WATER POLO: Cross-training
The freshmen on the Stanford women’s water polo team are certainly versatile. In what is becoming a tradition in the program, the freshmen choreographed and performed a synchronized swimming routine at halftime of the men’s water polo game Saturday against UC Santa Barbara.
The general reaction: They weren’t bad.
* * *
HOME GAME OF THE WEEK: Football vs. Oregon, Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
Stanford’s remote Pac-10 title hopes hinge on its ability to beat No. 9 Oregon on Saturday at Stanford Stadium. A victory would draw the Cardinal within one game of first place in the loss column.
The Cardinal (5-3, 4-2) has suffered its share of heartbreak against the Ducks (7-1, 5-0) in recent years, dropping seven consecutive contests, including a 35-28 defeat in Eugene last year on a touchdown scored with six seconds left.
Stanford running back Toby Gerhart enters the game six yards short of his second consecutive 1,000-yard season and only 142 yards short of his school single-season record of 1,136.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics
Ideas for future notebook items are welcomed. Please contact David Kiefer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Past editions of the weekly Cardinal Insider can be found on the main page of gostanford.com by clicking on "General Releases" from the "Sports" pull-down menu.