By Fiona Noonan
The No. 17 Cardinal (14-5-1) will experience deja vu tonight as the team kicks off against No. 14 South Carolina (17-3-2) at UCLA’s Drake Stadium for its second-round NCAA tournament match.
The teams have played each other only once before, but the last time was a second-round NCAA tournament match two years ago, when Stanford beat the Gamecocks 2-0 and went on to win the national championship. This time, however, Stanford goes in as the underdog. Though the Card won’t have home field advantage this time around, playing at UCLA is familiar territory, and the seasoned women’s team knows how to succeed on the road, having lost only one road match during the entire regular season.
“We know that environment, and it’s a good field that we’re playing on,” said head coach Paul Ratcliffe. “We’ve got to go down there hungry, and we’ve got to give our best effort and see what we can do.”
Stanford’s biggest challenge will undoubtedly be scoring against a solid South Carolina defense, which has allowed only 13 goals all season.
Despite an absolute barrage of shots on goal against Cal State Fullerton in the first round, the Cardinal managed to convert just once, on a goal by junior Taylor Uhl.
“I think we need to do a better job of finishing our opportunities,” Ratcliffe said after the Fullerton match. “But that comes with time, and hopefully we’re saving the goals for later rounds.”
Uhl, who leads Stanford for goals scored with 11 this season, could be the go-to player again tonight, especially if she is given quality minutes on the field for the second consecutive match. Senior forward and co-captain Courtney Verloo, who was named to the All-Pac-12 First Team last week, may be critical on the offensive end as well. The Cardinal will look to take advantage of her ability to score on set pieces.
Junior forward Chioma Ubogagu, who received an All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention, has also been an offensive presence all season. She had four shots on goal against Fullerton, and she could certainly have an impact again during tonight’s match.
On the South Carolina side, players to watch will be sophomore Raina Johnson and senior Danielle Au, who lead the team in goals and who both scored in the Gamecocks’ first-round match last Friday.
Though third-seeded South Carolina has huge momentum coming off of a 5-0 blowout against Furman in the first round, the Cardinal has the advantage in terms of playoff experience coming into this match.
The second round is a chance for Stanford to prove that it is still a contender, despite a rocky regular season, and the team is looking forward to that challenge.
“It’s a huge honor to still be playing at this point in the season,” Uhl said. “We’re just very happy that we’re still playing.”
Stanford kicks off its second-round match tonight against South Carolina at 5 p.m. in Los Angeles.
Contact Fiona Noonan at fnoonan ‘at’ stanford.edu.