By Dylan Fugel
At first glance, the contortion of the body and the tangle of legs associated with the flip throw-in seems gimmicky, a gymnast’s plaything dragged onto the soccer field. In the right hands, however, this maneuver, designed to launch the ball over huge distances into opposing penalty boxes, can be deadly.
The Stanford Cardinal (10-7-4, 3-5-2 Pac-12) learned that lesson the hard way on Sunday night as its dreams for the College Cup came to a shuddering halt at the hands of the Pac-12 champion Washington Huskies (16-1-4, 7-1-2), who will now advance to an Elite Eight matchup against New Mexico with a 1-0 win.
Stanford could only watch as Husky senior defender Michael Harris twisted his body one last time, sending the ball soaring through the brisk Lake Washington air and onto the head of sophomore defender Ian Lange, who dispatched the chance. Game over; season over. Stanford fought valiantly for the last seven minutes, but to no avail.
Coming in as the unseeded underdog, Stanford knew that it would have to play the Huskies tight, hoping to cut down on mistakes and perhaps sneak a goal that could give it the crucial advantage.
For much of the game, this plan worked to perfection as the fourth-seeded Huskies only registered two shots on goal for the entire game. The defense held stout, marshaled well by senior goalkeeper Drew Hutchins, who was often called upon to punch clear the crosses and throws that flew into the box. Alongside fellow seniors Tyler Conklin and JJ Koval, it seemed that he was trying to ensure that he didn’t have to go home quite yet. In total, both teams only managed to register five shots for the entire first half, all of which were off target.
However, the game began to open up in the second half, as Washington freshman forward Mason Robertson curled a shot just high and wide before Stanford senior midfielder Bobby Edwards replied with a shot that stung the palms of Husky goalie Ryan Herman. Chances were few and far between, with Stanford freshman forward Jordan Morris coming closest with a shot that he hit just over the bar in the 80th minute. Finally, though, Washington got the breakthrough it had been seeking when Harris notched his 10th assist of the season — all of which have come on throw-ins.
“I’m extremely proud of the way the team played all season and the way we played tonight,” said Stanford head coach Jeremy Gunn.
Gunn had reason to be proud, as Stanford returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009 and was one of only four unseeded teams to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
Stanford will look to reload and regroup next year, having secured what appears to be a very strong recruiting class, as it will try again to return to the dizzying heights of the tournament. This year was not its year, but the moments created and the run through the tournament will be something that the team, especially the leaving seniors, will never forget.
“It was an outstanding season,” Gunn said, “and we have a great group of guys; the whole group bought in and worked hard.”
That sentiment was shared by the Pac-12 conference, which awarded eight Stanford players all-league honors. The Cardinal placed three players on the first team — tied with Washington for most among conference teams — as junior forward Zach Batteer, senior midfielder JJ Koval and freshman forward Jordan Morris achieved this distinction. Sophomore defender Brandon Vincent was named to the second team while senior defender Ty Conklin, sophomore midfielders Aaron Kovar and Ty Thompson and senior goalkeeper Drew Hutchins were all given honorable mentions.
In the darkness of the Seattle sky and the cold night air, Stanford’s season reluctantly came to a halt. The future, however, is beginning to look brighter and brighter.
Contact Dylan Fugel at dfugel ‘at’ stanford.edu.