Wednesday turned into a golden day for Stanford athletics, as much for the present as for the future.
Aaron Kovar took care of the present, scoring the golden goal in the 92nd minute to lift the Stanford men's soccer team to a dramatic 2-1 victory over No. 5 California in the Pac-12 finale for both teams.
Kovar's goal gave Stanford (3-5-2 in the Pac-12, 9-6-3 overall) some hope of gaining entrance into the NCAA tournament for the first time in four years. The team will find out if it did enough when the NCAA selection committee reveals its choices on Monday morning.
(A video recap from Pac-12 Networks is available by following this link.
"We knew we had to win," Kovar said. "We knew that losing wasn't an option and I think the guys really had that attitude. I'm just proud of the guys and the way they rallied in overtime. We just pulled it out one way or another and still did it."
California was ranked No. 1 for several weeks, with its recent struggles costing it the conference title. The Bears also lost to UCLA and Washington this month.
The Huskies hold their own destiny, with a win Sunday at Oregon State. The Bruins, who play Saturday night at San Diego State, need a win and a Washington loss.
"We set a very simple goal at the beginning of the year, that we wanted to play as many games of soccer as we could," Stanford coach Jeremy Gunn said. "It's a great group of players, three tremendous seniors, and we'll be looking forward to hopefully being selected."
In the latest RPI rankings released Monday, Stanford ranked No. 41, though the win over the Bears should improve that rating. UCLA, Washington, Notre Dame and California, in that order, are the top four teams in the ratings.
"We don't make the selection but you have to look at it and expect us to be in it," Gunn said. "From there we'll be excited to play anybody. We've played nine out of 18 games against top seven or eight opponents, so there can't be too much out there that we haven't seen. I'm thrilled for our players."
The Cardinal has played nine games against teams ranked among the top seven in the RPI ratings, with a 2-6-1 record in those games.
For the second straight match the Cardinal needed overtime to seal the victory. This time it was Kovar picking up a loose ball and weaving his way into the box from 30 yards out, through four defenders before firing with his right foot past Cal goalkeeeper Alex Mangels.
"Earlier in the game I tried passing on one of those, but I just saw it and I'm like 'just keep going.' I ended up getting it on my right foot and firing it past the keeper," Kovar said.
The goal was a fitting end to a match the Cardinal had controlled throughout. Stanford played one of its best halves of the season the opening 45 minutes and only crucial saves from Mangels and a ball cleared off the line by a defender kept the Cardinal from running away with it early on.
"We knew we had a great opportunity against an unbelievable team, and our players were incredible," Gunn said. "The first half couldn't have gone any better for us, other than if we'd gotten another goal. We played some great attacking soccer."
Freshman Jordan Morris was a nuisance for the California defense early on, first getting clear in the seventh minute but firing right into the chest of Mangels. He got another chance in the 14th minute, but again Mangels would be equal to the task.
Despite the stops Stanford was full of momentum and the deadlock was finally broken in the 19th minute on a picturesque counterattack started by Kovar.
The sophomore midfielder gained possession deep in his own end and played a curling deep ball down the left flank to Morris, who beat his defender to the pass.
Morris broke into the box to Mangels' right, bringing the keeper out then tapping into the center for Zach Batteer, who coolly finished with the left-footer for his team-leading eighth goal of the campaign.
Stanford nearly scored again in the 22nd minute as Morris fired low to the far post only to have Mangels tip the shot wide. The ensuing corner kick was cleared of the box but Ty Conklin served it back in towards the far post, where Mangels came off his line in an attempt to punch out but came to a stop outside the six-yard box.
Brandon Vincent, who scored the winner in Sunday's match at Oregon State, went high and headed towards the open goal but a California defender reacted in time to clear the attempt before it could reach the line. Kovar's ensuing corner kick was headed just wide by Batteer.
For the half Stanford outshot California, 11-1, and forced Mangels and the defense into four saves. The plot took a twist as the second half got underway, leading to California's equalizer in the 52nd minute.
Ryan Neil served a corner kick into the box but Mason Case's header was blocked. A scramble for the loose ball ensued and in the fracas the Cardinal was whistled for handling the ball in the box, awarding a penalty kick to the Golden Bears.
Alec Sundly stepped up to the spot and sent Drew Hutchins the wrong way to knot the match up at 1-1.
Hutchins, however, bounced back to give the Cardinal life late in the match, making a pair of excellent saves. First the Cardinal keeper denied a close-range effort from Nick Lima in the 79th minute and just four minutes later again rejected Lima, keeping things even on the scoreboard.
Stanford had a great opportunity in the 89th minute when Batteer hustled around a defender to rescue a ball off the Cal goalline and break into the box. He fed Eric Verso for the left-footed shot but the Cardinal forward's initial hesitation allowed the Golden Bear defense to converge and Verso's shot was blocked.
"Regardless of results this season, you have to look at how the team has responded and played," Gunn said. "We've been absolutely magnificent. The attitude from the players, the work rate, the soccer, it's been so consistent no matter how good the opponent's been."
Women's water polo
Stanford coach John Tanner announced the signing of five prep standouts to National Letters of Intent Wednesday.
Set to enroll at Stanford for the 2014-15 academic year and join the women's water program for the 2015 season will be Natalie Chun (La Jolla, Calif./The Bishop's School), Shannon Cleary (Goleta, Calif./Dos Pueblos HS), Katie Dudley (Lansing, Mich./Okemos HS), Lauren Norheim (Lake Forest, Calif./El Toro HS) and Jordan Raney (Huntington Beach, Calif./Mira Costa HS).
"This group is ready for takeoff. They are excellent athletes who have had brilliant coaches preparing them for this opportunity," Tanner said. "And they are full of enthusiasm for Stanford University, Stanford Water Polo and their upcoming journey here."
Chun is a 5-11 driver and utility out of The Bishop's School in La Jolla. Last prep season (2012-13) she was named to the All-CIF San Diego Section First Team after helping lead Bishops to its third straight SDS Division III title.
In 2012 she was a member of the USA Water Polo Cadet National Team, and at the Junior Olympics was named a first-team All-American after leading her club, San Diego Shores, to the U16 title.
"Natalie is an explosive, attack-minded player who is comfortable anywhere in the pool," said Tanner. "She moves easily from role to role with her high school and club teams and seems well equipped to handle the transition to this high intensity environment."
Cleary, from Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, is a decorated two-meter player at the prep level. She helped lead DP to the CIF Southern Section Division I title in 2011 and was a first-team All-Channel League selection as a junior last year. This season she will serve as one of the team's captains.
At the club level, Cleary has helped the Santa Barbara Water Polo Club to the U18 Junior Olympic title (2013) and at that same event was named to the Junior Olympics All-America Second Team.
"Shannon is a relentlessly mobile, tireless athlete who keeps adding to her skill set," Tanner noted, "She had a terrific summer, culminating at Junior Olympics, when she looked ready to flourish as a college polo player."
Another two-meter offensive player in the group is Dudley, out of Okemos High School. Dudley is a versatile athlete, competing in three sports at Okemos (water polo, swimming and basketball). She has been named to the all-state team in each of the past three seasons and helped lead Okemos to the 2011 state title.
The "State of Michigan" Player of the Year in 2011, Dudley has earned her area's player of the year honor in each of the past three years as well. She has also been part of the Midwest Olympic Development Program for the past five years, and during her summers plays club water polo for San Diego Shores, helping the club to the 2012 U16 Junior Olympic title and being named an All-American at both the U16 and U18 levels.
"Katie is a powerful and dynamic competitor who puts pressure on defenses facing or with her back to the goal," Tanner said. "She gets comfortable fast in difficult situations, which is probably why she's done so well in multiple sports, in multiple venues."
Norheim, another two-meter defender coming to The Farm, was named to the CIF Southern Section Division II Third Team this past season. In 2012, Norheim helped lead El Toro to the CIF Division II playoffs and is an all-league performer. She is also a member of SoCal Water Polo Club, where she played in over 12 championship games over various age groups.
With SoCal, Norheim captured a gold (2012) and silver (2011) medal at the U.S. Club Championships, a gold at the Cal Cup and silver at the Junior Olympics (16U).
"Lauren is fast, alert and athletic, a major presence in front of the goal at both ends of the pool," Tanner commented. "Her length, determination, and defensive skill set make her a nuisance to play against."
Raney, out of Mira Costa High School, is another two-meter defender joining the group, excelling on the defensive end of the pool. She has been a member of the USA Water Polo Cadet and Youth National Teams, earning a silver medal at the 2011 Youth Pan-Am Games in Puerto Rico. Most recently Raney participated at the USA Water Polo Futures 50 Classic this past October along with six current Cardinal players.
At Mira Costa, Raney was named to the All-CIF Southern Section First Team and league player of the year as a junior, and will captain the team for the upcoming season. On the club level, she has twice earned Junior Olympics All-America honors (2012-13) with Huntington Beach Water Polo Club.
"Jordan is a hard-nosed, poised one on one defender who is well prepared for the college game," Tanner noted. "She is a highly skillful and talented player, someone who can battle on the defensive end and be a multiple threat on offense."
The quintet will join a Stanford team that went 29-3 and reached the NCAA title game for the fourth straight season in 2013. The Cardinal will open the 2014 season in January.
Stanford senior running back Tyler Gaffney is among 10 semifinal candidates for the 2013 Doak Walker Award as announced by the PwC SMU Athletic Forum Board of Directors on Thursday.
The Award is named after three-time SMU All-America running back and 1948 Heisman Trophy winner Doak Walker.
Walker, who also punted, returned kicks and kicked extra points, led the Mustangs to two Southwest Conference Championships. He was drafted by the Detroit Lions and led the league in scoring his rookie year.
During his six years with the Lions, he led the team to two NFL championships and was chosen All-Pro four times. Walker is a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame.
Gaffney returned to Stanford in the 2013 spring quarter after leaving school to play professional baseball in the Pittsburgh Pirates' organization.
Gaffney (1,834) is the third Stanford player since 2009 to record at least 1,000 career rushing yards, joining Toby Gerhart (3,522) and Stepfan Taylor (4,300).
Senior Anthony Wilkerson (1,146) became the fourth player since 2009 to eclipse 1,000 career rushing yards.
Gaffney has more rushing touchdowns (13) this season than yards lost (10). He has lost yardage on just six carries.
His school-record 45 rushing attempts vs. Oregon were the most by an FBS running back since 2010 and his 24 first half attempts are the most in a first half by an FBS player this season.
With his three touchdowns at Oregon State, Gaffney became the first Stanford player with three rushing touchdowns in a single game since Josh Nunes vs. Arizona on Oct. 6, 2012.
On Monday, Nov. 25, three finalists will be named. A second vote by the Doak Walker Award National Selection Committee will determine the recipient.
Stanford senior free safety Ed Reynolds was named among nine semifinal candidates for the 10th annual Lott IMPACT Trophy, presented by the Pacific Club IMPACT Foundation.
A National Voter Panel will determine the winner and finalists, all of whom will be invited to attend the Lott IMPACT Trophy banquet Dec. 8 in Newport Beach.
The semifinalists also include Anthony Barr (LB, UCLA), Chris Borland (LB, Wisconsin), Aaron Donald (DT, Pitt), Devon Kennard (DE, USC), James Morris (LB, Iowa), C.J. Mosley (LB, Alabama), Ryan Shazier (LB, Ohio State) and Kyle Van Noy (LB, BYU).
After logging seven interceptions a year ago, opposing teams have stayed away from Reynolds this year in a show of respect. He has just one interception and one breakup but ranks third on the team with 58 total tackles and leads the way with 40 solo efforts.
His presence was felt in the Oregon State game when he broke up a pass in the end zone on the final play of the game to preserve a 20-12 road victory. All told he was four passes defended this year.
The Lott IMPACT Trophy, which has now donated more than $1 million to charities, including universities throughout the country, is the only college football award where character counts.
The school of the winner will receive $25,000 for its general scholarship fund with each of the runnerups receiving $5,000 for their universities.
Stanford senior defensive tackle David Parry is among 53 candidates for the Burlsworth Trophy, presented by the Springdale (Ark.) Rotary Club.
The 2013 list includes standout players and national statistical leaders from every major conference in the nation.
The Burlsworth Trophy is given to the most outstanding collegiate football player who began his career as a walk-on.
Parry, a 6 foot 2, 303-pound tackle from Marion, Iowa, has been a stalwart presence in the middle of Stanford's defensive line.
The Cardinal ranks among the nation's top defenses in sacks, tackles for a loss and rushing defense. He has officially started seven of the nine games.
Stanford graduate Griff Whalen, a current member of the Indianapolis Colts, was one of three finalists for the award in 2011.
The trophy is named in honor of Brandon Burlsworth, who walked on to the Arkansas Razorbacks in 1994, worked his way to being a three-year starter and was eventually named an All-American in 1998.
Burlsworth was selected as the 63rd overall pick by the Indianapolis Colts in the 1999 NFL Draft but was killed in a car accident 11 days later.
The Burlsworth Foundation was created in his memory and supports the physical and spiritual needs of children, in particular those children that have limited opportunities.