A second NCAA title will provide plenty of firsts for Stanford women
While the Stanford women's soccer team will be making its fifth straight appearance in the NCAA College Cup in San Diego on Friday, its latest trip still will provide something unique for the Cardinal.
For the first time in program history, the team returns as the defending national champion. Moreover, Stanford is a victory away from a fourth straight appearance in the championship match — another first in school history.
"The College Cup is an unbelievable experience and we're really happy to be back there, and we're hoping we can come back with another national championship," Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said.
There's also another first that will be at stake when the top-ranked Cardinal (21-1-1) takes on North Carolina (13-5-3) at Torero Stadium in the semifinals at 8 p.m. — Stanford has never beaten the Tar Heels.
North Carolina, which has won 21 national titles, is 8-0-3 against Stanford. The teams have battled to a tie in their three previous meetings. The last time the Cardinal and Tar Heels met in the College Cup, North Carolina posted a 1-0 victory in the title match on a rainy day at Texas A&M.
Thus, plenty will be at stake for Stanford on Friday as it plays for a berth in Sunday's finals at 1 p.m. In the first semifinal, Florida State (20-3) will face Penn State (20-3-2).
Stanford brings a handful of impressive streaks into the latest final-four appearance, including a 152-match unbeaten streak (146-0-6) when scoring a goal. The last time the Cardinal scored and lost was Aug. 27, 2006, in a 2-1 setback to Wake Forest. Stanford also has a 10-match win streak in the NCAA Tournament, with its last setback (1-0 to Notre Dame) coming in the 2010 College Cup final.
Stanford's 10-member senior class also has compiled some impressive totals, including a 94-3-4 overall record during its time on The Farm. The current seniors are one victory away from tying the total of last year's class (Camille Levin, Teresa Noyola, Lindsay Taylor and Kristy Zurmuhlen), which went 95-4-4.
By winning the national title, the current seniors can depart as the winningest Stanford class ever.
The Cardinal earned a shot at all these milestones by rallying to beat No. 6 UCLA, 2-1, in a quarterfinal match last Friday in Laird Q. Cagan Stadium.
Lo'eau LaBonta scored two second-half goals to put Stanford into its fifth consecutive NCAA College Cup. Both goals came after corner kicks by Courtney Verloo. The sophomore tied the match in the 55th minute when a shot by Sydney Payne to the far post was redirected by LaBonta from point-blank range.
LaBonta then scored the winner when a shot by Alex Doll was blocked into LaBonta's path. Her first-touch shot from five yards scored easily in the 69th minute.
"We were down 1-0 and we just really are a second half team," LaBonta said. "We have great goal scorers. So when Sydney (Sydney Payne) lined up to wind up and take a shot, I was like, 'This is a great goalkeeper. It may ricochet off her.' Luckily, it went right to me and I was wide open in front of goal. Then the second one, it was a corner kick and we work on it all the time where Courtney Verloo sends it in, and then Alex Doll shouldered the goalkeeper and was trying to get one. But luckily, I was right there and I had the easy job, and just tapped it in."
Stanford's senior class completed its home career with a 52-0-1 record. The victory also extended Stanford's home unbeaten streak to 67 (65-0-2), second-longest in NCAA history.
UCLA (18-3-2) opened the scoring on a 25-yard shot by Samantha Mewis in the eighth minute, and outshot Stanford, 13-12. But Stanford ultimately earned its seventh consecutive victory in the series and third in four years over the Bruins in the NCAA tournament.
"This whole season, we've played huge games and in front of a lot of people already," said senior defender Rachel Quon. "It's just another game that we have to put away, it's business as usual and we'll take it one game a time. I think they know we trust them and they trust us, so they're just going to come out and hopefully do what we do."
Quon hopes to conclude her career on Sunday in the finals. Should that happen, she'll be joined by Annie Case, Lindsay Dickerson, Alina Garciamendez, Aly Gleason, Marjani Hing-Glover, Mariah Nogueira, Madeleine Thompson, Nina Watkins and Verloo, who has an extra year of eligibility if she wants.
Garciamendez, meanwhile, will finish her career having started every match in four years. She and Quon are among the 15 semifinalists for the Missouri Athletic Club's Hermann Trophy, the most prestigious honor in collegiate soccer. A national title, however, might be even better.