The No. 11 Stanford field hockey team’s 2012 campaign came to a close on Saturday morning in Chapel Hill, N.C. The Cardinal (16-7, 6-0 NorPac) was eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament with a 4-1 loss to No. 1 North Carolina. Four different Tar Heels registered goals, while Kelsey Harbin scored for Stanford.
North Carolina, the two-time national runner-up, opened the scoring just 10 minutes into the game when sophomore Charlotte Craddock blasted a hard shot from the top of the circle.
In the 28th minute, the Tar Heels doubled their lead when Emma Bozek put a shot past Stanford goalkeeper Dulcie Davies and into the upper left corner of the cage.
Davies and the Cardinal defense fought off five penalty corners in the first half to keep the deficit at two through halftime; in the final game of her freshman season, Davies tallied four saves.
Immediately after the break, North Carolina took a 3-0 lead on a deflection from the left side of the net.
The Cardinal finally answered in the 60th minute, when Harbin scored her fifth goal of the season on a penalty corner assisted by senior Becky Dru. Until the sophomore’s goal, Stanford had not scored in an NCAA Tournament game since 2010, also against North Carolina.
Stanford had 10 shots and four penalty corners on the day but was unable to add a second goal. Cardinal attackers Dru, Harbin, Alex McCawley and Maddie Secco each had two shots as Stanford unsuccessfully tried to close the gap and extend its season.
In the 68th minute, the Tar Heels all but put the game out of reach when junior Sinead Loughran finished a cross from Bozer for a 4-1 lead.
The Cardinal previously lost to the Tar Heels 6-2 in September. With this most recent loss, Stanford fell to 0-12 in NCAA Tournament games.
Stanford ended the year with a 16-7 record and a NorPac championship.
“This season was a great success,” said head coach Tara Danielson. “We were absolutely undefeated in our conference and decisively, I should say, won our conference.”
According to Danielson, the team’s tough nonconference schedule was designed to prepare them for the postseason. Stanford played three of the four NCAA semifinalists in the regular season. Stanford also played the nation’s top team (at the time of the game) four different times over the course of the year. Although it never defeated the top-ranked team, the Cardinal did record signature wins against then-No.10 Iowa and then-No. 18 Drexel.
“Our path in preparation for November was aggressive,” Danielson said. “We really controlled the controllables. The only way to get to the top is to play against the top teams. The experience of this season will build upon itself moving forward into next season as well.”
This Cardinal will lose six seniors from the 2012 squad. Dru, Emily Henriksson, Kelsey Lloyd, Katie Mitchell, Colleen Ryan and Alysha Sekhon recorded a 65-22 overall record during their careers–the best four-year record in school history. They also won three NorPac championships and qualified for the NCAA tournament in all four seasons.
“They’ve done a fantastic job and they’ve obviously had a lot of success,” Danielson said. “Being diligent and working hard over time caused them [that success].”
Dru’s presence will be especially missed as she graduates as one of the best players the program has ever seen. The 2011 All-American and two-time NorPac Player of the Year compiled 54 goals and 36 assists during her time on the Farm.
“[Dru’s] a stat leader, but she’s also a good team leader. She led by example, she played hard and she has a big heart. Her legacy is her passion to play and leave it on the field,” Danielson said. “She did a good job [improving the team] through being competitive and bringing the best out of her teammates. That’s the true sign of a good leader.”
Despite the losses, the future is bright for the Cardinal. Eight of 11 NCAA Tournament starters, including five All-NorPac selections, are likely to return for the 2013 season.
“There’s a lot of motivation to work hard over the winter and strive to get that win in the NCAA tournament, to be part of the Elite Eight and the Final Four,” Danielson said. “This group is very capable of getting there and having that success. I think it’s kind of put out there that now it’s close. The girls have seen what the top looks like and that’s going to be a real motivation factor going forward.”