By Fiona Noonan
What a difference one goal can make.
That’s all it took for the Stanford women’s soccer team (10-3-1, 3-3-0 Pac-12) to beat Utah (7-3-5, 3-2-1 Pac-12) in decisive fashion in front of a packed Homecoming crowd at Cagan Stadium Friday night.
Though the match ended in a 1-0 Cardinal victory, the women dominated the Utes in all aspects of the game, finally looking like the team that has won the Pac-12 Championship the last four years in a row.
The difference last night was an energy that had been lacking in Stanford’s previous three games and which Stanford head coach Paul Ratcliffe had been trying to draw out of the team all week. His effort paid off last night.
“They had high energy, worked hard as a team, and it was a good result in the end,” Ratcliffe said after the game.
Stanford’s attack was an offensive firestorm, ending the game with 22 shots to Utah’s seven. Junior forward Chioma Ubogagu led the charge with three shots on goal, continuing to establish herself as a powerful presence up top. Senior defender Natalie Griffen also contributed two shots on goal, demonstrating 90 minutes of solid play.
Ultimately, the deciding goal came in the 67th minute, when a foul just outside of Utah’s penalty arc resulted in a free kick for the Cardinal. Redshirt senior forward and co-captain Courtney Verloo took the kick off of a touch by Ubogagu, drilling the ball into left back of the net before Utes goalkeeper Lindsey Luke could even react.
It was just what the team — and the crowd — needed.
“It felt great,” Verloo said. “You know, it’d been a while for me, it’d been a while for my team. We had been unfortunate in the past couple of games and just couldn’t get it in the back of the net, so it was just a great feeling to finally do that for the team.”
Utah’s only chance of an equalizer came in the 81st minute, when junior forward Ashton Hall forced a dramatic save out of Stanford’s freshman goalkeeper Jane Campbell, who managed to maintain the Cardinal lead.
The win could not have come at a better time for the Cardinal. Another loss would have extended the team’s longest losing streak since 2006, but the victory sends the women on their road trip to the Pacific Northwest with a huge confidence boost.
The Cardinal also proved itself in front of an audience that held nearly 50 alumni of the soccer program, an impressive group that includes five Olympians, seven active international players and a combined 524 international appearances. These women were honored in a special ceremony at halftime as part of Homecoming Weekend.
Moving forward, the team’s focus will be winning out the Pac-12, then looking to achieve success in the post season.
“I hope we can build on this, and we want to get back to our winning ways,” Ratcliffe said. “This was the beginning of starting a new winning streak hopefully.”
The Cardinal will get a chance to extend its streak next Friday when it faces Oregon in Eugene at 4 p.m. on the Pac-12 Networks.
Contact Fiona Noonan at fnoonan ‘at’ stanford.edu.