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W. Soccer: Card overcomes slow start to cruise in NCAA first round

After 30 scoreless minutes in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Stanford’s top-ranked women’s soccer team was clearly a little frustrated on the field. The Cardinal seemingly had the edge over its opponent—the University of Montana—in every aspect of the game, on paper. Yet the Grizzlies were pressing relentlessly, and although Stanford’s defense was not unduly taxed, the offense was stagnant.

Junior midfielder Mariah Nogueira scored the first goal of the game for the No. 1 Stanford women's soccer team, and it would be all the Cardinal would need in a 3-0 win over Montana in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. (SIMON WARBY/The Stanford Daily)

But a key substitution by head coach Paul Ratcliffe was the right move at the right time, and a slick header from junior midfielder Mariah Nogueira broke the ice and the Grizzlies’ backs as Stanford (20-0-1) secured home-field advantage through the next two rounds of the tournament—should it advance to Sunday’s third round—with a 3-0 victory over Montana on Friday night.

Ratcliffe wasn’t too concerned with the way his team performed early on, particularly since the veteran-laden squad has set very high expectations.

“I want us to be challenged,” he said Friday. “We want to get back to the national championship, and in saying that we have to win next Friday. So I think we’re getting better and better…This team is going to peak at the right time in the big games.”

Montana (6-12-4) snuck into the tournament as the only sub-.500 team in the field, winning the Big Sky Tournament in penalty kicks to make its first NCAA appearance since 2000. But the Griz didn’t play like a huge underdog in the first half, taking three shots in one five-minute stretch as they substituted liberally and pressed forward in waves.

And while Stanford had several opportunities on four corner kicks very early and some nice combinations in the midfield, Montana’s defense held firm in the face of what Grizzlies’ head coach Mark Plakorus said earlier in the week was “possibly the best college team ever put together.”

After Ratcliffe sent in sophomore forward Sydney Payne and sophomore midfielder Taylor McCann, however, something clicked.

Payne created a shot on goal just two minutes later, and senior Camille Levin followed that up with another chance two minutes after that. A nice buildup kept the ball in Montana’s defensive third, and Stanford earned its fifth corner kick in the 39th minute.

Senior forward Lindsay Taylor, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, played the ball to the far post, and Nogueira beat goalie Kristen Hoon with a header for her third goal of the season and a 1-0 advantage.

The Cardinal continued to press, building a 14-4 shot advantage before the break. Hoon was all over the place, forced into five saves in the half—four coming in the final 13 minutes.

She was impressed with what she saw from Stanford’s offense, particularly the team’s speed on the field.

“It’s a step up from what we’ve seen basically all season,” Hoon said. “It was a challenge for us to keep an eye on every player and have everyone marked. I think we did a pretty good job with that. We stayed with them for the most part, and that’s what we worked for.”

After halftime, it was evident that Montana’s players were growing tired after having to spend so much time defending from one side of the field to the other, as Stanford switched the point of attack, repeatedly moving down the Grizzlies’ flanks and avoiding the stacked defense in the middle of the field.

Taylor was brought down in the box in the 58th minute, and she converted the ensuing penalty kick herself for a 2-0 lead.

Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Chioma Ubogagu completed the scoring in the 72nd minute after a nice run up the left side by Teresa Noyola led to a cross from Payne that Ubogagu calmly slotted past Hoon.

Stanford has now won 47 consecutive home matches—13 straight in the NCAA Tournament—and the shutout was the Cardinal’s 14th of the season.

After losing the past two years in the NCAA title match, Stanford still has several tough games ahead on its path back to the top. Next up is a matchup with South Carolina (16-6), which beat Texas in the second round on Friday night. The victor will meet the winner of Friday afternoon’s matchup between Cal and Boston College, also at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium.

The NCAA Women’s College Cup will kick off from Kennesaw, Ga. on Friday, Dec. 2, with the championship game to be played on Sunday, Dec. 4.

 

About Miles Bennett-Smith

Miles Bennett-Smith is Chief Operating Officer at The Daily. An avid sports fan from Penryn, Calif., Miles graduated in 2013 with a Bachelor's degree in American Studies. He has previously served as the Editor in Chief and President at The Daily. He has also worked as a reporter for The Sacramento Bee. Email him at eic@stanforddaily.com