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Stanford women head to NCAA semis with eye on title shot

 

Stanford just missed accomplishing its first goal of winning the Pac-12 women's soccer title. The third-ranked and No. 1 seeded Cardinal (20-1-3) would prefer not to miss its second objective.

Stanford finished second to UCLA in conference play and there's still a chance at the national title. The Cardinal meets fellow No. 1 seed Florida State (22-1-1) in a national semifinal match Friday at 4:30 p.m. (PT) in Boca Raton, Fla.

Should Stanford reach Sunday's final, it would play either No. 1 seed Texas A&M or No. 3 seed Virginia, who also will meet Friday. The Cavaliers knocked off the overall number one seed and defending NCAA champion Bruins last week.

"It's crazy to think there are just four teams remaining in contention," Cardinal sophomore goalie Jane Campbell said. "It's special just to make this far. It's a great feeling."

Campbell delivered the game-winning goal during last Friday's quarterfinal victory over Florida in a shootout. She saved two penalty shots by the Gators to give herself the chance to play hero.

"This team always seems to find a way," Campbell said. "We played a tough schedule and had to beat some great teams. At the end of the day, we have one loss. I'm so proud of everybody, but mostly the backline who I work with."

The Cardinal has qualified for 17 consecutive NCAA tournaments and 24 overall. Included are 11 quarterfinal appearances, seven semifinals, and three finals.

With its penalty-kick victory over Florida in the quarterfinals, Stanford extended its home NCAA unbeaten streak to 25 matches. The Cardinal has an all-time NCAA tournament record of 44-19-6 (.681), including 33-9-3 (.767) in 12 seasons under coach Paul Ratcliffe.

"It's never going to be easy," Ratcliffe said. "We're happy to be going back. This is something everybody has been looking forward to. I'm proud of what we've done and there's another big push."

Last year, Stanford was eliminated in the third round by eventual champion UCLA and missed the Women's College Cup for the first time since 2007.

While it will be the first trip to the semifinals for half the team, the seniors were part of the Cardinal's last national championship, in 2011. Stanford beat Florida State in the semifinals that season to advance to the finals.

"It's a different team, of course, but Florida State is very organized defensively," Stanford forward Chioma Ubogagu said. "They have great talented players. They're a great team. They stick to their game plan. Records at this time of the year, in my opinion, are meaningless."

The Seminoles' lone loss this year came at the hands of the Gators. They don't give up much, averaging 0.38 goals allowed per match. Stanford is at 0.50.

"Florida State is a great team." Campbell said. "They have been dominating the tournament and winning big. It will be fun to play them in Florida."

Florida State also has played a difficult schedule and has wins over Notre Dame, Virginia and North Carolina under its belt.

The Seminoles are on a 19-match unbeaten streak and eight-match winning streak. They advanced to their fourth consecutive College Cup with a 5-0 victory over South Carolina and haven't allowed a goal in five consecutive matches, a 450:03 shutout streak.

Florida State tied the Tar Heels for the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title with a 9-0-1 record and captured the ACC tournament crown, 1-0, over the Cavaliers.

The Seminoles dominated the All-ACC awards, with 23-year-old Dagny Brynjarsdottir, a member of the Iceland national team, named the Offensive Player of the Year, Kristin Grubka was Defensive Player of the Year and Mark Krikorian was Coach of the Year. Both players are Hermann Trophy semifinalists.

"It's a great program and a great coach," Ratcliffe said. "They are a talented team. That's what you expect in the Final Four: four of the best teams."

Stanford leads the all-time series, 2-0. The teams met two consecutive years in the NCAA tournament, with Stanford combining to outscore FSU, 8-0.

Ubogagu had a goal and an assist to lead the Cardinal to a 3-0 victory in 2011. In a 2010 quarterfinal match at Stanford, the Cardinal scored four second-half goals to win, 5-0, with Hermann Trophy winner Christen Press, a current member of Team USA, among the team's five goal scorers.

After failing to make it last year, Stanford simply regrouped and redefined its priorities.

"The veterans on the team want it so bad," Ubogagu said. "We all want to leave our imprint. There is no better feeling than to get to the Final Four and the younger players have done a great job of buying in."

The season started with a victory over North Carolina, a first for the Cardinal. It's been rolling ever since, with one more weekend remaining.

"Paul says we're still peaking," Ubogagu said. "To start out and beat our biggest rival when we played so well, it's crazy to see how much growth this team has done since then."

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