By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
The Stanford women's soccer team has been in this situation before. Heading into the Women's College Cup (a.k.a. Final Four) as the top overall seed, the top-ranked and unbeaten Cardinal hopes to take the extra step to the national title.
Christen Press, the nation's top goal scorer, and her fellow upper classmates made their way to Cary, N.C. for a second time. The first trip resulted in a 1-0 national semifinal loss to Notre Dame. Last year in the Final Four in College Station, Texas, Stanford lost to North Carolina, 1-0, in the national championship match.
Press, with seniors Kira Maker, Allison McCann and Morgan Redman, would love to make this trip about winning it all.
Stanford (22-0-2) meets 18th-ranked Boston College (17-6-1) in the national semifinal Friday at 3:30 p.m. (PT) while No. 7 Notre Dame (19-2-2) and No. 17 Ohio State (17-4-1) meet in an earlier match at 1 p.m.
The two winners advance to Sunday's 9 a.m. championship match. For the seniors, it's a final chance to bring home Stanford's first-ever soccer title. It's also another chance for the university's athletic department to win its 100th NCAA title. Only UCLA has won more.
"It's a little nostalgic sitting with my team," Press said. "But we're all getting excited about going to the College Cup."
The Eagles are no strangers to Stanford and worked a 1-1 tie in the first game of the season.
"We all felt disappointed with that result," junior midfielder Camille Levin said. "I think we're definitely playing much better as a team now."
For one team, it will be the last game. The Cardinal ended Boston College's season last year, beating the Eagles, 3-1, in the national quarterfinals.
BC goaltender Jillian Mastroanni has seen Stanford's attack a few times now. The Cardinal knows what to expect from the Eagles, making their first trip ever to the Final Four.
"Knowing the opponent, I think, makes the game more even," Press said.
Press remains the face of Stanford's explosive offense, although eight others have scored goals during the postseason run.
"We attack from all angles," Press said. "Even when teams play defensive, we try to get around them, over the top, and try different things."
Stanford has a 13-1 goal advantage over its first four opponents, including last Friday night's 5-0 victory over visiting Florida State. Boston College, which beat Washington, 1-0, in overtime to advance, has outscored its opponents by a 10-2 margin.
Against the Seminoles, Press recorded an assist and goal, overtaking Marcie Ward for the career assists mark and matching Kelley O'Hara for the most goals (26) scored in a single season. Mariah Nogueira, Lindsay Taylor and Teresa Noyola each scored their first postseason goals
"Our entire team is top quality and I think that any of them are capable of scoring at any time," Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said. "I'm proud that the whole team is stepping up and making a difference, and each player is making an impact."
Stanford has not lost a home game in which it has scored at least one goal since 2003. The Cardinal also extended a variety of other streaks, as the team is unbeaten at home in 39 straight matches, has won 35 straight at home, and has won 12 consecutive home NCAA tournament games.
The Cardinal has recorded multi-goals in the first four rounds of the tournament for the first time in school history.
"Apart from experience, we're getting goals from a lot of different players," Noyola said. "That didn't happen in past years. We're more dangerous and you can't shut us down by stopping one player."
It may also be difficult to penetrate Stanford's defense, third in the nation with a 0.448 goals against average. Freshman Emily Oliver, who played in the United States youth developmental program, seems unfazed by the national scene.
"It helps to have a great team who makes you feel like you belong," she said. "Right now I don't feel like a freshman."
Redshirt freshman Annie Case and sophomores Alina Garciamendez and Courtney Verloo have also been impressive despite their relative youth. They form one of the top back lines in the country.
"Offense is what people like to see," Levin said. "But we may not be in this position without the defense. As a whole, we've been extremely solid."
Stanford is the lone No. 1 seed remaining. Washington eliminated Portland in the second round on penalty kicks. Georgetown upset Maryland on penalty kicks, also in the second round. Notre Dame knocked off two-time defending champion North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen.
Notre Dame is the only team remaining with championship experience, winning the title in 1995 and 2004. The other three teams are hoping to become just the eighth different school to win an NCAA title over the 29-year history of the championships. Stanford would be just the second Pac-10 team, joining USC's title run in 2007.