No one is ready to start feeling sorry for Stanford just yet. The defending national champions enter the season ranked first in the nation, haven't lost at home since a 2007 NCAA tournament setback to Connecticut, in which two-time Olympic gold medalist Rachel Buehler played her final game in a Cardinal uniform and who have recorded three straight unbeaten seasons.
"We've always set our standards high," Cardinal junior midfielder Taylor McCann said. "We have been practicing with some of the greatest players in the country and they are always pushing themselves to be better. When it comes time, we have other players who can step in."
Stanford pulls the curtain on the season with a home match against nationally-ranked Santa Clara at 7 pm Friday with a noticeably different lineup, but one that will include Player of the Year candidate Alina Garciamendez along with All-American candidates Mariah Nogueira and Rachel Quon.
Overall, the Cardinal (25-0-1 last year) have seven returning starters, though coach Paul Ratcliffe will be without the services of injured goalkeeper Emily Oliver and forward Chioma Ubogagu, who is currently engaged with the United States U20 national team and will miss the first six games.
Senior Marjani Hing-Glover could also be limited with a knee problem. Returning forward Courtney Verloo has been hampered by injury the past two years and will still need time to round into shape.
None of that, however, dampens the spirits of a team that finally landed a national championship in the sport of soccer following so many close encounters of the trophy kind.
Gone are last year's Player of the Year Teresa Noyola, All-Americans Lindsay Taylor and Camille Levin and College Cup all-tournament pick Kristy Zurmuhlen.
Ready to assume the legacy are returning starters Sydney Payne and Kendall Romine and a strong five-member freshmen class.
"Stanford attracts amazing student-athletes," said Ratcliffe, who is entering his 10th season at the school. "You just keep getting great freshmen with a work ethic that is always strong. There is a tradition here of bringing in new talent who keep gets better."
Ratcliffe also has a history of identifying freshman talent and getting them into the lineup at key positions.
With the experience of a national championship in their collective pockets, the Cardinal will bring a little bit more swagger to the field this season.
Look for juniors Shelby Payne, McCann and Annie Case to make significantly more contributions this season. Seniors Lindsay Dickerson, who will probably get most of the playing time while Oliver recovers, Nina Watkins and Madeline Thompson have plenty of experience from which to draw. Aly Gleason is another option.
"We lost four great players," said Garciamendez, who played with Noyola on the Mexican national team the past year. "But in filling those gaps, I think we have the personnel to match that."
No kidding. Sophomore Alex Doll could also be ready to emerge. She appeared in 23 of the 26 matches and recorded an assist.
Aside from Ubogagu and Doll, the sophomore class hasn't had the chance to display their skills. Haley Rosen missed the season and Hannah Farr was limited to six games because of injury. Lauren Schmidt and Lo'eau LaBonta were similarly limited.
"There's a lot of talent," Ratcliffe said. "There's an opportunity for players to step up and make an impact."
He says all five freshmen -- Kate Bettinger, Laura Liedle, Maya Theuer, Katie Donahue, Sarah Cox -- have a chance to break into the lineup.
"With a new year we have a lot to prove," Ratcliffe said. "We had an amazing experience and now we move on. There will be some growing pains but we have good depth."
Thanks to the newly-formed Pac-12 Network, 13 Stanford games will be broadcast, including Friday night's first ever Pac-12 broadcast.
"It makes us more visible and will help recruiting a lot," Ratcliffe said. "Yes, it will also help scouting each other."
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