The Stanford women's soccer team will begin the season where it left off in December; at No. 2 in the nation.
The Cardinal sits behind top-ranked North Carolina in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America preseason poll, which is the same order the two teams finished last season, after North Carolina beat Stanford, 1-0, in the NCAA final.
Stanford may have a chance to reverse the order when the teams play Aug. 27 in Chapel Hill, N.C., at the Carolina Nike Classic. The match is only one of several high-caliber matches Stanford will play. Of the top nine ranked teams, Stanford will play five of them, and eight of the top 21.
"We want to test ourselves against the best opposition in the country," Stanford coach Paul Ratcliff said. "It prepares us for the Pac-10. You can identify where you need work. Hopefully it will help in the long run."
Stanford opens Aug. 20 at No. 7 Boston College, plays North Carolina a week later, and on Sept. 25 begins a stretch of five consecutive matches against ranked teams: at home against No. 5 Portland and No. 9 Santa Clara, at No. 19 USC and No. 3 UCLA, and back home against No. 21 Washington State.
"The challenge will be going on the road," Ratcliffe said. "Our first two games, we don't know what to expect."
Stanford returns 17 players and eight starters from last year's 25-1 season, including four All-Americans -- senior forward Christen Press, junior midfielder Teresa Noyola, junior forward Lindsay Taylor, and sophomore midfielder Mariah Nogueira.
Stanford was ranked 13th by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) in its preseason poll, released Tuesday. The Cardinal is one better than its 2009 season-ending ranking of No. 14.
Stanford, third in the Pac-10 in 2009, completed the season with a 12-6-2 overall record and advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament. This season the Cardinal will play a pair of ranked teams in No. 10 Harvard and No. 5 UCLA in a home and away. Stanford begins play September 1 against Vermont in Burlington.
UCLA is the only other Pac-10 team ranked and is the defending Pac-10 Champion.
Stanford grad Cassidy Krug, with partner Kassidy Cook, won the quarterfinal round of the AT&T National Diving Three-Meter Synchronized Diving Championship on Tuesday and is headed to Saturday's finals.
Krug is one of three Stanford affiliated divers in Texas this week, as fellow grad Dwight Dumais will compete in the one and three-meter competitions, while incoming freshman Stephanie Phipps will also compete in both events on the women's side.
Stanford, which finished fourth in the nation at the 2010 NCAA Championships in June, was named the recipient of the NCAA Division I Sportsmanship Award.
The Cardinal was honored for its various contributions both on and off the water. On the water, Stanford claimed second place at the Pac-10 Championships before turning in a fourth-place effort at the NCAA Championships two weeks later.