Dec. 11, 2006
Stanford, Calif. -
The Stanford women's soccer team maintained its place among the dominant forces in the Pac-10 in 2006, continuing its winning ways and posting the program's most successful season since 2002. The Cardinal's long list of accomplishments - 15 wins, 10 conference awards, 13 conference academic awards, 15 shutouts, 37 goals, a top-10 ranking and another top-three finish in the Pac-10 - was capped by a run through the NCAA Tournament and an appearance in the Sweet Sixteen.
Head Coach Paul Ratcliffe lined up another one of the toughest schedules in the nation for the Cardinal in 2006, with nine 2005 NCAA Tournament participants, including four teams that reached the Sweet 16. Additionally, the squad was set to face two NCAA quarterfinalists, an NCAA finalist, four conference champions, six teams that finished in the top-25 and three top-10 finishers. The young Cardinal was confident and eager for the challenge.
Stanford faced a rough opening weekend, however, as the team went 0-2 at the Santa Clara/adidas Classic. In the season-opener, the Cardinal dropped a 2-1 decision to Utah, before No. 23 Wake Forest slipped past the squad in overtime, 2-1.
The Cardinal players and staff refused to let the disappointing start faze them, however, and responded by blanking seven of their next eight opponents. First, the squad returned to the Farm for its home-opener against San Francisco, and rattled off three goals to best the Dons for the 18th-straight time. Two days later, Shari Summers knocked in her first of five game-winners and the team evened its record with a 2-0 win over Cal Poly. Newcomers Alicia Jenkins and Kristin Stannard netted their first career goals in the weekend's action, opening up the gates for what would become a flood of freshman offense.
Stanford hit the road for the East Coast the following weekend, looking to continue its shutout streak against Rutgers and Long Island. For the first time, the Cardinal was back in full force, with freshman forwards Kelley O'Hara and Ali Riley back from the Under-20 Women's World Cup. On Sept. 8, Riley scored the game-winner in a 1-0 win over Rutgers and netted another goal 48 hours later in a 4-0 rout of Long Island. O'Hara collected the first points of her notable freshman campaign on Sept. 10 and the Cardinal headed back home to prepare for the Stanford Nike Invitational.
Entering as the only unranked squad in the tournament field, Stanford was ready for a challenging weekend. On the first day of action, the Cardinal dominated No. 10 Tennessee in both shots and possession, but dropped a 1-0 decision to the Lady Vols. Yet, once again, the squad responded quickly to the setback, unleashing a three-goal second half rally on No. 24 Boston University, a team that had upset No. 3 Santa Clara two days earlier. The win earned Stanford the Invitational title, as the underdog Cardinal scored as many goals as all three of the event's ranked foes combined.
Stanford held onto its momentum, and continued the offensive onslaught through another home weekend. The Cardinal topped UC Irvine, 2-0, while out-shooting the Anteaters, 27-1 before cruising past the Aztecs 4-0 behind two first half goals by Summers.
In the ensuing two weeks, the Cardinal was tested with three of the nation's top teams, No. 3 Santa Clara, No. 4 UCLA and No. 19 USC. Despite rattling off 33 shots over the three games, and out-shooting both Santa Clara and USC, the Cardinal suffered a scoring drought, and was shutout three consecutive times. Having matched its 2005 scoring total in just the first nine games, the Stanford offense knew it could do better.
The ever-determined Cardinal had a ready answer for the drought and bounced back with its longest conference winning streak since the team went undefeated in the Pac-10 in 2002. The squad pulled out its first comeback win in three years with a 3-2 win over Arizona State and followed with five-straight conference shutouts, rattling off wins over Arizona, Washington State, Washington, Oregon State and Oregon.
The Cardinal finished the regular-season with a heart-breaking 1-0 loss to California in Berkeley, and completed the regular-season third in the conference with a 13-6-1 record. Confident in its successes, the Cardinal awaited its NCAA Tournament fate.
Stanford opened the postseason in a familiar location, beginning the tournament at Santa Clara for the fourth-straight season. The Cardinal was determined for 2006 to be different than past years, however, and refused to let its season end at Buck Shaw Stadium. Stanford first topped Nevada, handing the WAC Tournament Champion just its fifth loss. In the Second Round, O'Hara scored a pair of goals to help the Cardinal to a solid 2-0 decision over USC, a team that had rallied less than 48 hours earlier to oust top-seeded Santa Clara.
The Cardinal earned the right to host the Third Round, and the squad returned to Maloney Field to meet Clemson. The Stanford offense dominated the possession and out-shot the Tigers 18-3, while the Stanford defense held the Tigers scoreless for 110 minutes and collected its 15th shutout of the season. Despite the impressive all-around effort, however, the Cardinal could not find the back of the net and fell in an emotional shootout, 4-2.
Stanford had much to be proud of in 2006, having posted the best season of Ratcliffe's career and advanced to the round of 16 for the first time in four years. The Stanford defense was one of the top-10 in the country with a .652 shutout percentage, allowing just 13 goals in 23 games. The Stanford offense stepped up as well, nearly doubling its scoring output from 2005 with 37 goals. And the Stanford Cardinal had done it all while facing 12 teams that appeared in the top-25 during 2006 and 12 that eventually earned an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
Stanford won more Pac-10 postseason awards than any season in history with 10 total awards, eight honorees and three spots on the All-Conference First Team. Summers, who had more than doubled her previous career scoring total in 2006, finished her career as one of the Pac-10's top scorers and earned a spot on the First Team. Rachel Buehler, the anchor the Stanford defense, was named to the First Team and later became Stanford's 26th All-American. In just her first collegiate season, O'Hara established herself as one of the top offensive players in the conference, and became Stanford's first freshman to earn All-Pac-10 First Team honors since 2000. Additionally, Cardinal players claimed two spots on the Second Team, four spots on the All-Freshman Team and an Honorable Mention. Thirteen players earned academic honors and throughout the course of the season, Stanford garnered more Pac-10 Player of the Week honors than any season in history.
One of the youngest teams in the nation, it appears that the best for the Cardinal is yet to come. Three of the team's five leading scorers were freshmen. The back line that shutout 15 opponents, held 17 to two shots on goal or less and boasted a .55 goals-against average is back in full force. Goalkeeper Erica Holland, who finished the season with the best save percentage and goals-against average in the Pac-10, will be back in the cage.
With 10 starters and 19 players set pick up where they left off, the Cardinal is ready to for another run.