By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Paul Ratcliffe knows a thing or two about the UCLA women's soccer program. After all, he was there when it all began.
The current Stanford coach, however, won't have any awkward moments when the top-ranked Cardinal (11-0-1, 3-0) hosts USC (3-9, 0-3) on Friday night at 7 p.m. and the second-ranked Bruins (10-0-1, 3-0) on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Sunday's UCLA match will feature several of the top young players in the sport. The Bruins feature Team USA World Cup member Sydney Leroux, while Stanford's Alina Garciamendez and Teresa Noyola, who was named for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, represented Team Mexico at the World Cup.
Sacred Heart Prep graduate Abby Dahlkemper has started all 11 games as a defender for the
Bruins. She has an assist, and has taken eight shots, four on goal. She was named to the all-tournament team at the Tennessee Lady Vol Classic in late August.
Geena Graumann, a former high school teammate of Dahlkemper's, is a midfielder for the Women of Troy. She has appeared in five matches.
Ratcliffe no longer knows any of the players, he's committed to Stanford and guiding it, hopefully, to a national championship.
There was a time, though, when Ratcliffe took over the head job at St. Mary's, when he would be coaching against players he recruited, and the occasional "Go Blue" would escape from his throat.
Ratcliffe played for the UCLA men's national championship team in 1990 as a sophomore. In 1993, he was in his fifth-year at the school, and was serving as a graduate assistant.
That's when UCLA started its women's program and then-men's coach Sigi Schmid urged him to help the women's team instead "of kicking the ball around with the men's team," Ratcliffe said. "I had just graduated so it was difficult to be coaching the guys I played with. The women's team needed more help anyway and I would take a more active coaching role."
At the time, Ratcliffe said it was a way to help make ends meet and stay involved with the sport. He still held aspirations of playing professionally, and spent a year playing for the Anaheim Splash and Los Angeles United in the professional indoor league.
The next year, women's coach Joy Fawcett asked him to return to help the Bruins.
"I didn't realize it at the time that it was leading to a career," Ratcliffe said. "I worked camps for Sigi to make some extra money."
Ratcliffe was named UCLA's interim coach when Fawcett announced her retirement following the 1997 season, and that's when he made the decision to pursue a coaching career and give up playing professionally.
It has clearly worked in his favor.
He never got the chance to coach a match as the head coach at UCLA, but it did help land him his first head coaching job at St. Mary's.
"I didn't know anything about the school or the area," Ratcliffe said. "My wife (Amy) is from the area (San Jose) and sold me on it."
He was hired at Stanford in 2003 and has brought the Cardinal to the verge of its first championship the past three years.
"I knew Stanford was one of the best programs in the country," Ratcliffe said. "I knew that from my UCLA days and I was lucky enough to get the opportunity. I give the players all the credit. You need great players to have a great team."
Stanford hasn't missed a beat this year, even after losing the last two national player of the year honorees. That's because it seems a new class of recruits steps into the voids left behind.
This year it's freshman Che Obagagu, who has seamlessly taken a leading role for the Cardinal. She's also helped ease the pain of losing forward-defender Courtney Verloo for the majority of the season.
"She is a great talent and I am excited for the future with her," Ratcliffe said. "She's only going to get better and better and she's already a phenomenal player."
Men's water polo
Top-ranked Stanford opens Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play with a contest against visiting Pepperdine at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Cardinal (7-2) moved into the top spot of the CWPA rankings this week after winning the SoCal Tournament for the first time in nine years.
Freshman utility Alex Bowen earned MPSF Player of the Week honors after scoring six times in Stanford's 10-9 overtime victory over California in the championship game at the Los Alamitos Olympic Training Center in Long Beach.
The Cardinal ended USC's 22-game winning streak, and eight-year reign as SoCal champs in the semifinals, beating the Trojans, 6-4.
Stanford also had a tough game with the eighth-ranked Waves (7-5) on the first day of the tournament, getting fourth-quarter goals from Bowen and Peter Sefton to pull out the 7-6 win.
There's not an easy game in the MPSF, as all nine teams enter conference play with overall winning records.
Only Stanford, on a four-game winning streak, and Pepperdine, which finished seventh at the tournament, have yet to play a home match among MPSF teams.
The Cardinal also hosts UC Santa Barbara, coached by Stanford graduate Wolf Wigo, on Sunday at noon. Palo Alto graduate Geng Wang is a junior attacker for the Gauchos.
Seventh-ranked Stanford looks to continue its recent success when it hits the road for a pair of Pac-12 Conference matches this weekend.
The Cardinal (10-3, 4-3) travels to meet host Oregon State (11-5, 3-3) for a 7 p.m. match Friday in Corvallis. Stanford is at No. 15 Oregon (12-2, 5-1) for a 7 p.m. match Saturday.
Stanford won a pair of home games last weekend, beating Arizona State in three sets Friday night and going four sets in Sunday's win over Arizona.
Sophomore middle blocker Carly Wopat earned Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors after hitting at a .502 clip in the two matches.
Wopat leads the nation with 1.71 blocks per set. She has recorded nine blocks in three separate matches on the season.
The Cardinal leads the Pac-12 with 3.30 blocks a set and 17.21 digs.
Seventh-ranked Stanford (9-1) travels cross country to play a pair of nonconference games, beginning with Saturday's match at Harvard. The Cardinal plays at New Hampshire on Sunday.
Stanford is riding an eight-match winning streak and can set a school record for consecutive victories with two wins this weekend.
It was an interesting week for Stanford and the national rankings.
Football, women's volleyball and field hockey all won last weekend and each sport dropped a spot in the rankings. Oddly enough, each sport dropped from sixth to seventh in the nation.
Becky Dru continues to lead the Cardinal with nine goals and 19 points. Hope Burke has four goals and six assists for 14 points while Stephanie Byrne has 10 points on a goal and a team-high eight assists.
Top-ranked Stanford returns to the fairways this weekend for The Prestige at PGA West Invitational in La Quinta. The tournament begins Sunday.
Stanford opened the season with a team victory in Illinois last month.
Freshman Patrick Rodgers, who won individual honors at the Fighting Illini Invitational, was named Pac-12 Golfer of the Month, it was announced Wednesday.
Rodgers met the team in Illinois after returning from Aberdeen, Scotland, where he competed in the Walker Cup. He became the first Cardinal golfer to win his first collegiate tournament since Tiger Woods accomplished the feat 17 years ago.