After an up-and-down season, the Stanford lacrosse team is right where it wants to be going into the playoffs.
“It feels good that the dirty work is done. We’re in great position and now we go out and lay it all on the line,” said Stanford head coach Amy Bokker. “We got to what we wanted — to the MPSF tournament — and now our goal is to win the championship as has been our goal for the whole season.”
That quest kicks off on Thursday night as second-seeded Stanford (11-5, 6-2 MPSF) faces third-seeded Cal (9-6, 6-2 MPSF) in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation semifinals in Oregon.
Cal will be out for revenge after the Cardinal ruined the Golden Bears’ Senior Night last week. On April 27, Stanford junior Rachel Ozer scored with eight seconds left on the clock to give the Cardinal a dramatic 14-13 comeback victory in Berkeley.
“It’s weird playing the same team consecutively, but I think it’s helpful to have them fresh in your mind,” Ozer said. “You know their tendencies, remember what it was like and are able to have a good game plan.”
The win capped off a slightly rocky closing month for the Cardinal that Bokker attributed partially to a tough travel schedule. Stanford lost three of its final seven games, including a shocking overtime loss to unranked UC-Davis in the penultimate game of the season. However, every other team that beat the Cardinal this season is currently ranked in the top 11 nationally.
Stanford opened the season with a 12-10 loss to then-No. 9 Notre Dame—although disappointing, the performance proved that the Cardinal could hang close with the top teams in the country. Stanford drove that point home with a 12-10 win over then-No. 13 Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio on March 2, a victory that Stanford junior goalkeeper Lyndsey Munoz said was one of the biggest moments of the season.
“We had taken a crazy red-eye flight and even though they had a dome, we were playing outside in the snow, but we took that and ran with that,” Munoz said. “It made us realize that we could do that — we’re not just Cali girls, we can handle ourselves in the snow and make a statement.”
After a loss to another traditional powerhouse, then-No. 11 Georgetown, the Cardinal ripped off a string of five straight wins including two key victories over Vanderbilt and James Madison during a spring break trip.
“To come out of that break for finals and the switchover in the quarter and play at a high level was one of the high points for me,” Bokker said. “We really dominated at Vanderbilt which is typically a really tough opponent, then [travelled] to Harrisburg and still [did] well.”
Stanford’s two conference losses came against No. 11 Denver, the top seed in the conference, and UC-Davis. If Stanford wins its first-round game, it may get another shot at the Pioneers, who play fourth-seeded USC in the other semifinal.
“We’re looking to get a good game against Cal and then we lost to Denver earlier this season, so we’re looking to get back at them,” Ozer said. “We do expect to pull off the wins and get to NCAAs.”
Ozer said that the Cardinal is looking to use its extended time in Oregon to recreate the spring break magic. The team flew to Oregon on Tuesday and has been training and preparing since then, and according to Ozer, the space allows the team to avoid distractions. Bokker concurred that the team will focus on one game at a time and, specifically, the goals the team sets for each contest.
“We have individual game goals that we try to reach for each game,” Bokker said. “I think those are really realistic for leading us to a championship.”
Bokker said that the offensive keys will be limiting turnovers and taking advantage of shooting opportunities. On defense, Bokker said her team will try to use its familiarity with Cal’s attack to take control of the game.
The biggest emphasis for the entire team, however, will be draw controls. In the last meeting, the Cardinal won 16 of 29 draw controls, but according to Stanford players and coaches, that wasn’t good enough.
“We want to do a much better job on the draw controls since they were getting more of those than we would like,” Munoz said. “Their draw taker, Megan Takacs, is very good at winning draws to herself and we want to get more of those.”
The Cardinal will counter Takacs, the two-time MPSF Player of the Year, with junior defender Megan Lerner, who set the Stanford school record by tallying 55 draw controls this season.
“[Lerner] has a total nose for the ball and just a ‘see ball, get ball’ mentality,” Bokker said. “We’ve been really lucky to have her in that position and I’m really happy for her in terms of the school record.”
On Wednesday, Lerner was named a first-team All-MPSF selection along with teammates sophomore Hannah Farr and juniors Anna Kim and Rachel Ozer. Freshman Lucy Dikeou and junior Nina Swanson were selected to the second team. All of those players will be key for the Cardinal as it tries to advance deep into the playoffs.
“We had high expectations at the beginning of the season and I don’t think any of us have lowered our expectations,” Ozer said. “It’s crazy how fast the season has gone by, but we’re really excited about the postseason.”
Contact Jana Persky at jpersky “at” stanford.edu.