Heading into the weekend, the women’s soccer team was riding a 34-game winning streak in conference play, having not lost a league match since October 2008, an impressive run of dominance.
But trailing on the road against a hungry Colorado team searching for its first-ever Pac-12 victory, the No. 2 Cardinal (11-1-1, 5-0 Pac-12) was in trouble. Seniors Mariah Nogueria and Alina Garciamendez didn’t blink, scoring two goals within 37 seconds of each other with 10 minutes remaining to keep the streak alive.
Friday’s 1-0 conquest of Utah (8-3-2, 2-2) was the second straight victory that left head coach Paul Ratcliff with at least a few grey hairs.
The end result on both days, however, was positive for Stanford, which is once again atop the Pac-12 standings as it searches for its fourth consecutive conference crown.
“I was very happy with our performance, especially with our possession and style of play,” Ratcliffe said after downing the Utes. “But we can get better in the final third.”
His comments certainly seemed prescient as Stanford struggled to finish its chances against the Buffaloes (6-5-3, 0-4-1) for 75 minutes. And a goal from Colorado’s Emily Paxton just seconds before halftime put Stanford behind for the first time since Aug. 26.
It wasn’t for a lack of chances, as the Cardinal kept Colorado goalkeeper Annie Brunner on her toes with nine shots in the first half alone.
With his team still trailing late in the match, however, Ratcliff’s hand was forced and he pushed defensive midfielder Nogueira and defenders Garciamendez and Rachel Quon into the attack.
Nogueira struck first, receiving freshman defender Laura Liedle’s pass and knocking a shot past Brunner into the upper left corner from inside the box. It was her team-leading sixth goal of the season, but the first not to come off of a header.
Stanford stripped Colorado off of the ensuing restart and quickly counterattacked as Quon found a streaking Garciamendez. The Mexican national team player snuck the ball past Brunner as the goalie charged out, putting the Cardinal back in command.
But it was another senior, Nina Watkins, who gave the Cardinal the win over Utah. Coming off the bench in the 30th minute, Watkins took full advantage of a slip up in the Utes defense. As the defenders raced up on a long free kick from Quon, they caught four Stanford attackers in an offsides trap. Watkins, however, continued her run from an onside position and found herself all alone in front of the goal. A calm finish past goalkeeper Lindsey Luke into the side net gave Watkins her second goal of the season and the fourth of her career, and proved to be the game winner.
“Her composure was amazing,” Ratcliffe said of Watkins, but had to be at least slightly upset that his team could not capitalize further in the attack half—Stanford dominated possession and outshot the Utes 12-4 in the match.
The result was nevertheless a good one for Stanford, which will take the field again on Thursday against the Arizona Wildcats. The game will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks from Tucson, Ariz.