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Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - December 2, 2011

Stanford goes after its first NCAA title

by Rick Eymer

Perhaps the biggest disappointment for the Stanford women's soccer team last year was not being able to unveil its "100th NCAA title" banner they had hidden at the championship site in Cary, N.C.

The Cardinal needed to beat Notre Dame in the finals to do that, but it didn't happen.

There are no plans to bring out a "102nd NCAA title" banner this weekend. It just doesn't have that historic feel to it, even though a victory by the Cardinal would be just that.

Top-ranked and top-seeded Stanford (23-0-1) will continue its quest for the first national title in program history when it takes on Florida State (18-6-1) on Friday in the semifinals at Kennesaw State in Georgia at 2 p.m.

Stanford will be looking to advance to its third consecutive title match against either Wake Forest (18-3-4) or Duke (21-3-1). The championship match is scheduled for Sunday at 10 a.m.

The Cardinal earned its trip to last year's Women's College Cup with a victory over the Seminoles from the ACC, which has a huge presence in this weekend's Final Four with three teams from the conference out to spoil Stanford's party.

Stanford was denied by Notre Dame in last year's championship match, and that banner was wisely placed aside.

Friday's semifinal against Stanford is a rematch of last year's Elite Eight, a game the Cardinal won, 5-0. It marked the most goals allowed by the Seminoles in an NCAA Tournament match. This will be only the second meeting between Florida State and Stanford all-time.

The Cardinal played an early-season tournament in Chapel Hill and several players had the idea of creating the "100" banner. They managed to find a way into the stadium in Cary and taped the banner, signed by the entire team, under the bleachers.

The coaching staff even got into the act, getting it framed as a surprise in case the Cardinal won last year's title.

This year's team may have the confidence but they weren't going to tempt fate and decided it was better to err on the side of caution. Stanford realizes by now winning a national title is hard.

Just ask the current senior class. Kristy Zurmuhlen, Teresa Noyola, Lindsay Taylor and Camille Levin have been the most successful, in terms of wins, senior class (93-4-4) in NCAA history. They went through their careers without losing at home.

They've won back-to-back-to-back conference titles, gone unbeaten in three straight regular seasons and advanced to their fourth Final Four. They are still looking for their first national title.

"It's been a huge disappointment," Cardinal coach Paul Ratcliffe said. "I hope we can use that as motivation. Everybody was so somber and quiet. It was like we were in shock."

Stanford grad Katie Riley was part of that run, although injuries kept her from fully realizing her potential on the soccer field. She gets one more chance at it, as a Florida State defender. Riley spent five years with the Cardinal and earned her degree in psychology and religious studies, and is enrolled in graduate school at Florida State while working toward a master's in sports psychology.

At Stanford, Riley used a redshirt year and then missed another season because of injury. She played 1 1/2 years at Stanford. She's appeared in 21 matches for the Seminoles, including two starts.

Riley has helped Florida State to a 10-match (9-0-1) unbeaten streak entering the College Cup. Stanford is the third Pac-12 team Florida State will play in the College Cup. FSU faced UCLA in the 2005 semifinal and USC for the 2007 national championship game. Against Pac-12 teams all-time, Florida State is 13-4-1, including 3-3 in the NCAA Tournament.

As for the Stanford seniors, all those victories won't amount to a hill of beans unless they can capture the school's first soccer title.

"There have been so many exciting games," Levin said. "At this moment, though, we're looking at the national title. We're not done and we won't be satisfied without it."

Stanford leads the all-time series against Duke, 6-1 and has yet to beat Wake Forest in three tries (0-2-1).

The most recent meeting (a 2-1 overtime loss on Aug. 27, 2006 at Santa Clara) was the last time the Cardinal scored and lost. Stanford has gone unbeaten in its past 127 matches when scoring a goal.

Stanford is 18-14-7 all-time against the ACC, 18-6-4 against schools other than North Carolina. The Cardinal is 7-3-1 against the three teams remaining, including a 3-1-1 mark against them in tournament play.

Stanford has allowed only nine goals in 24 matches and is second in the nation in goals-against average (0.37). The Cardinal has had two long shutout streaks, most recently one that lasted 604 minutes, 40 seconds until Oklahoma State scored last week in the quarterfinals. Earlier, Stanford assembled a stretch of 675:24. That streak included seven consecutive shutouts, tying a school record that has been reached four times.

There's a sense among people who have been around the team all year that it's all about business. Don't expect to see any planned celebrations.

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