No one could have predicted the kind of success the freshmen class would enjoy this year for the Stanford women's soccer team. It was one of the most highly touted recruiting classes in the nation with potential off the charts. But, to expect five of the newcomers to make their way into the starting lineup at one point or another? Yeah, right.
Three of those freshmen, including Pac-12 Freshman-Newcomer of the Year Alana Cook, started all 19 games. Another started all but one, and the fifth started nearly half of the matches. All of them were named to the conference's All-Freshmen team.
"They have proven through the regular season that they've earned the right to play in the playoffs," Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said. "With every game they have learned lessons, grown from their experiences and are prepared to play. They are no longer freshmen."
Those freshmen get their first taste of the NCAA tournament beginning Friday when the third-ranked Cardinal (16-2-1) hosts Mountain West Conference champion San Jose State (10-7-4) at 7 p.m.
Stanford, which received one of the four No. 1 seeds in the tournament, also has two dynamic seniors, five outstanding juniors and a pair of talented sophomores who have helped create an atmosphere of success that has led to 25 trips to the postseason, including seven visits to the Final Four, and 10 conference titles.
The Cardinal is one of six Pac-12 teams in the NCAAs, along with Arizona, Washington, USC, Washington State and California.
Fifth-year senior Haley Rosen, the team's leading scorer with 15 points, is Stanford's last link to the 2011 national championship, and senior defender Laura Liedle will be making her fourth trip to the NCAA tournament.
Juniors Stephanie Amack, Maddie Bauer, Jane Campbell, Megan Turner and Ryan Walker-Hartshorn are also playoff veterans. Sophomore team captain Andi Sullivan, an All-America candidate and the team's third-leading scorer with 12 points, and soph Mariah Lee earned a trip to last year's Final Four, where the Cardinal lost to Florida State.
"This has been a team effort," said Ratcliffe, named the conference Coach of the Year. "The leadership has been good with Andi, Jane and Maddie and all of the freshmen have been surprising. They've played beyond their years."
Sullivan, who has been a leader, even when she was the youngest player on the team, most of her soccer life. She's a steadying influence, reliable and has a deep understanding of the game.
"She's one of the best players in the country," Ratcliffe said. "It's difficult to quantify what she does for this team. She's our leader on defense and organizes our offense. She's a key player."
Sullivan was last year's Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year. Cook joins pretty good company.
Campbell earned Goalkeeper of the Year honors. She tied for the conference lead with fewest goals allowed (11) and has regularly made clutch saves.
Sullivan, Rosen and Campbell were all named to the first team, freshman Kyra Carusa, the team's second-leading scorer (13) joined Bauer and Cook on the second team and freshman Michelle Xiao, who has 10 points on the year, joined Turner as honorable mention.
Cook, Carusa, Xiao, Jordan DiBiasi and Tegan McGrady all earned a spot on the All-Freshmen team, which included 11 players total.
Stanford had 12 different players record at least one goal, and 10 of them had at least two; 13 players had at least one assist.
The Cardinal is 6-2-1 against the NCAA field and 3-2-1 against the top 25. One of those losses was to Penn State, which also earned a No. 1 seed. San Jose State did not play anyone in the field.
Spartans Lauren Hanson was named MWC Coach of the Year and Zoe Makrigiaqnnis was named the conference's Defensive Player of the Year.
The teams have two common opponents this season in Fresno State and Cal Poly. The Cardinal beat the Bulldogs in an exhibition game and topped the Mustangs, 1-0. San Jose State also beat Fresno State and lost, 2-1, to Cal Poly.
Stanford can remain at home through the first four rounds if it keeps winning. Next week's second-round matchup will be between the Stanford-San Jose State winner and the BYU-Utah Valley winner. If the Cardinal advances that far, the survivor out a group that includes Santa Clara, Long Beach State, Northern Colorado and Arizona will be the third-round opponent.