By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online
The top-ranked and top-seeded Stanford women's soccer team would love to put an exclamation point on Big Game week with its own victory over California, and it could very well happen.
Curiously there is one event leading up to the Big Game in which Stanford fans can actually root for a California victory. That would be Friday afternoon, when the Bears (12-6-3) and Boston College (12-5-2) meet at Stanford in the second round of the NCAA tournament at 4:30 p.m.
The Cardinal (20-0-1) would have to do its part by beating No. 22 South Carolina (16-6) in the 7 p.m. nightcap on Friday in the first-ever meeting between the two teams.
Should both Pac-12 teams win, it would set up an extra edition of The Big Kick, with added importance, on Sunday at 1 p.m., also at Stanford. Sunday's winner advances to the Regional final next weekend.
Cal's goalie, Emily Kruger, graduated from Woodside High. Senior defender Danielle Brunache is a Belmont resident and attended St. Ignatius Prep.
The Gamecocks, meanwhile, are dangerous in that they are making their fifth consecutive trip to the postseason party, and have won three consecutive first-round matches. They also own a victory over a top-ranked opponent, beating North Carolina in the 2007 season opener.
Stanford looks to continue both its home winning streak, currently at 47, and its consecutive home streak in the NCAA, currently at 13. The Cardinal also owns a 51-match home unbeaten streak. The senior class has never lost at home.
"We take it game by game," Stanford junior midfielder Rachel Quon said. "Our two goals that we set up this spring are winning the Pac-12 and winning a national championship. The journey, obviously, is a huge part of it. Not losing is key to our success, so we'll see how it goes."
South Carolina, traveling to the Pacific Time Zone for the first time in 10 years, swept the SEC top honors, with Shelley Smith named Coach of the Year, senior Kayla Grimsley named Offensive Player of Year and Sabrina D'Angelo named both Co-Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year.
Castilleja grad Lindsay Taylor, who has 10 goals in the last eight games, was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year, Chioma Ubogagu was named Freshman of the Year and Paul Ratcliffe earned his fourth consecutive Coach of the Year honor.
Taylor led the Pac-12 in scoring (14th in the nation, and tied for eighth in goals scored) while Grimsley is South Carolina's all-time leading scorer and the only active Division I player with at least 40 goals and 30 assists. Palo Alto grad Teresa Noyola led the Pac-12 in assists and goalkeeper Emily Oliver led in goals-against average.
Stanford advanced by beating Montana, 3-0, last weekend while the Gamecocks downed Texas, 1-0. Boston College took care of Marist, 6-1, and Cal advanced past Santa Clara on penalty kicks.
"Every week is a new week," Quon said. "Even after our Friday games, we want to learn what we need to learn from that game and move on to Sunday's game. I think the coaches have done a good job of keeping the team focused, and staying focused every weekend."
The Pac-12 went 4-0-1 in the first round, with UCLA and Washington State also earning victories, while Oregon State and Portland played to a 1-1 tie, with the Pilots advancing on penalty kicks.
South Carolina has played two Pac-12 schools this season, beating host Arizona, 1-0, in overtime and losing, 2-0, at Arizona State. Both matches were played in late August.