In the football world, it’s big news whenever a top recruit makes a decision and chooses to play for a certain school. And even before then, there is always endless speculation by fans and experts alike all around the nation debating the possibilities and adding to the general hype. But outside of football, baseball and even sometimes basketball, new players on a team often don’t get the attention that they deserve.
With that in mind, it’s not astonishing that many Stanford students haven’t heard of junior forward Taylor Uhl of the women’s soccer team, who turned heads — though not as many as she should have — when she chose to transfer to The Farm from the University of Minnesota. But everything about her performance screams that it should be astonishing.
Taylor Uhl isn’t just any transfer from around the nation. She was the nation’s leading scorer last year on an 11-7-2 Minnesota team, was All-Big Ten first team, Big Ten All-Tournament team and Big Ten All-Academic team among a much, much longer list of accolades. She left the Golden Gophers as the No. 5 player in Minnesota history with her 85 points and her 36 goals. And this all was just in two collegiate seasons. The sky was truly the limit.
And despite Uhl’s loaded résumé, her decision to transfer to Stanford was one that many failed to note the significance of despite her national star status and its implications for a Stanford team that had fallen just short of a national championship in three of its last four seasons.
The significance, however, was not lost on Stanford head coach Paul Ratcliffe.
“It means a lot to me,” said Ratcliffe on Uhl’s decision. “It’s a great honor to coach one of the best players in Division I soccer. It’s something that I always want. It’s always a goal of mine to coach the best players, and I think Stanford attracts the best players. So we’re really fortunate to have her here, and hopefully we can take advantage of her abilities and try and compete for a Pac-12 championship and a national championship.”
It caught many around the nation off guard when Uhl decided to transfer, but in her mind, focusing on her current status with her new teammates holds a much higher importance than dwelling on the circumstances that brought her to a new team.
“It was a tough decision for sure,” Uhl said. “I have nothing bad to say about Minnesota. There were great people there and it was an amazing program. Stanford just brings so much to the table. It’s an amazing place and I’m so happy to be here.”
Uhl is happy to be here, and her performance is definitely making Stanford fans happy that she’s here as well.
Halfway through her first season with the Cardinal, the junior is making a huge splash as her nine goals and 18 total points pace the No. 2 Stanford team in a season in which the Cardinal hopes to make a sixth straight Final Four run and push itself over the edge to claim its second national championship in the last three years.
The junior from Eden Prairie, Minn. is fully aware of the Cardinal’s championship aspirations and capabilities and actively makes it a goal for herself to help her new team as much as she can. However, she prides herself first and foremost on her goal scoring abilities, which have found a welcome niche on a Cardinal squad with a team-first mentality that gives Uhl as many opportunities as she could ever want to drill the ball into the back of the net.
“What I bring to the table is goal scoring so I go into most games and try to be as dangerous as I can and get as many shots on goal as I can,” Uhl said. “But I like to get assists too, and just whatever the team really needs, whether that’s bringing a ton of energy to the game, high defensive pressure, being a vocal leader, I try to adapt to the situation. But the bottom line is, I really pride myself on getting the ball in the back of the net.”
And Uhl takes full advantage of those opportunities, as exactly half of her 18 shots on goal have found the back of the net so far this season. Her nine goals account for just under 40 percent of the Cardinal’s points in 2013.
Although Uhl is the player that racks up the statistics as the season progresses, she is always very quick to credit the team around her — a much more complete and skilled team than her former team at Minnesota — for her accomplishments. She thinks of her goals as simply what they are for a tight-knit, team-first unit like that of Stanford — just the end product of a strong, united team effort.
“What I bring to a team is usually goal-scoring, and that’s kind of what I do and that’s the gift I’ve been given, but a goal’s just, you know, the final pass into the net,” Uhl said. “That’s what an amazing team brings and they make my job easy. They set me up really amazingly — I’m happy to be the one on the other end finishing it, but again it’s a lot of behind-the-scenes and dirty work that gets me those goals.”
In that way, she has fit extremely well into Stanford’s system on the pitch and has integrated herself seamlessly into the team effort that happens on the field. And by all accounts, she has readily become a true member of the team’s off-the-pitch community as well.
“I think she’s adjusting really well,” Ratcliffe commented. “She’s very popular with the girls on the team. I’ve been really impressed with her maturity and her work ethic.”
“It was really cool getting to come early,” Uhl remarked. “We came six weeks before school started, so I got to bond with the team a bit before school’s actually started here, so I got a good group of friends going.”
Although she was playfully given a hard time by the team when she first joined — as is the tradition for freshmen and other new players — Uhl has rapidly become a central part of the Cardinal women’s soccer community and was quick to dive into the chemistry that holds the team together.
“[Adjusting] wasn’t easy, but a great coaching staff here, they made it really welcoming for me,” Uhl commented. “You know, they always give freshmen a hard time, but that brings the team closer together in the end.”
And the Minnesotan isn’t always on the receiving end of playful banter with her teammates. She knows how to dish it as well — just another element of truly becoming a part of the team that helped her to endear herself to teammates.
“I like to make fun of the California girls because I think they’re a little more high-maintenance than the Midwest girls, but that’s just all in good fun,” said Uhl with a grin.
Her transition to The Farm as a Stanford student — outside the athletic realm — has also been seamless, as many elements of her situation appealed to her and helped her feel at home early on. Uhl remarked that a substantial proportion of the transfer community this year — much more so than in years past — was comprised of fellow Minnesotans, with whom she shared geographical roots.
Even after the first week of class — by no means an easy challenge for a Stanford junior — Uhl was still having fun. She commented that the weather was amazing and she was really finding a place on campus. And even as the full force of Pac-12 play looms — eleven straight conference games, including last Saturday’s win over Colorado and today’s home match against Arizona — she is enjoying life on campus, both as a Stanford student and Stanford athlete.
She has truly embraced the Stanford athlete lifestyle — practices and classes intertwined every day in a daunting schedule — and has found enjoyment in it as well.
“It’s a great training environment in general because there’s so many good players on the team and you come to training, you get better every single day and then you go to the games and you just get to have fun,” she said.
And with her eyes on the ultimate prize of a national championship — a goal that is more within her reach here at Stanford than it has ever been before — she knows that she’s in the right place to do it.
“However I can contribute to the team doing well is why I’m here. It’s exciting to say that your team’s challenging for a national championship. What more can you ask for?”
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu.