Stanford's return to the Women's College Cup became a lesson in just how much women's soccer has improved since the days North Carolina dominated the sport.
The third-ranked Cardinal showed it belonged with the last four teams standing but also showed just how much extra is needed to go all the way.
Stanford lost, 2-0, to Florida State on Friday in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament at Florida Atlantic Stadium in Boca Raton. The Cardinal finished its season a step short of the ultimate goal.
The Seminoles and Virginia, led by former Stanford coach Steve Swanson, will meet for the national title on Sunday. Both teams will be playing for their first national title.
The one thing Stanford (20-2-3) has in common with Florida State and Virginia is that all three teams beat North Carolina this year, a sign that times might be changing in the sport.
The Cavaliers (23-2) and Seminoles (23-1-1) will be meeting for the third time. Florida State won both of the earlier meetings.
The Seminoles' lone loss was to Florida, a team the Cardinal defeated in the regular season and then tied in the Elite Eight last weekend, advancing on penalty kicks.
Four years ago, when Chioma Ubogagu, Alex Doll, Lo'eau LaBonta and Kendall Romine were freshman on Stanford's national championship team, the Cardinal beat Florida State in the semifinal.
"You can't take anything for granted," LaBonta said. "We thought this was our year and we let it slip through with little stuff. You have to give everything you can, every game. Maybe we were looking past that game at the championship, but you have to give it your all and leave your heart out on the field."
LaBonta was the only Stanford player able to get off more than one shot, with three (two on goal) as Florida State held the advantage in that category, 11-7, including 4-3 on goal. Doll, Romine, Ubogagu and freshman Andi Sullivan each recorded a shot. The shots were a season low for Stanford.
"It has been an amazing run this year," Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said. "We are disappointed. We wanted more. The game kind of felt like it slipped away from us at times we started to get our rhythm but didn't play to what wee are capable of so that is disappointing. But overall, I'm proud of them and it was a great season."
The Cardinal returned to the Final Four after missing out last season and will return eight players who made significant contributions this season.
Stanford was playing in its sixth College Cup in seven seasons, but was unable to play its preferred ball possession-style that has become its trademark. It didn't help that the Cardinal got in trouble early.
Doll, guarding the near post on a corner, cleared a header off the line in the opening minutes. Shortly after, Campbell leaped to tip a floating cross into the crossbar.
They have a really good counter attack style with the girl up front that scored the two goals (Cheyna Williams)," Ratcliffe said. "She is a great athlete and they played it forward to her and she can keep you under pressure with her pace. I think it was a difficult formula for us."
In the 51st minute and with the Cardinal down 1-0, senior forward Chioma Ubogagu found room on the run in the penalty area for a left-footed shot that got past the Seminole goalkeeper, but was saved off the line by a defender racing to the goal-line to back up the play.
"We didn't change anything because we played FSU," Ubogagu said. "We just tried to stick to what we were doing. We always try to find the player or person then swing the ball and keep it moving. We struggled a little bit today. It is unfortunate."
In all, Stanford loses seven seniors. Target forward Taylor Uhl finished her career with 58 goals, the fourth-highest total by an active player in the nation. Two-sport star Hannah Farr, a first-year starter at outside back, and multi-purpose sub Lauren Schmidt local products from the same high school league also will be missed.
The senior class went 81-10-6 over the past four seasons.