Stanford opened its 2018 postseason run the same same way it closed its 2017 run: with a win. The No. 1-ranked Cardinal (18-0-2, 10-0-1 Pac-12) defeated WAC champion Seattle Redhawks (10-7-3, 6-1-1 WAC) with an emphatic three goal shutout Friday night in the first round of the NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Tournament.
Due to their stellar play all year long, the Cardinal were seeded number one in their own bracket. Stanford will host all of its games at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium through the quarterfinals. The home field advantage was crucial for a Stanford side that has not surrendered a goal at home since Sept. 27.
After the game, Cardinal head coach Paul Ratcliffe was pleased with his team’s effort. “I thought it was solid team performance, and it’s always nice to get a clean sheet, especially in the postseason,” he said.
Sophomore forward Civana Kuhlmann opened the scoring in the 18th minute. Freshman defender Naomi Girma started the game at center back, but began playing in a more advanced role as junior defender Sam Hiatt dropped back from midfield. Girma took advantage of a soft Redhawks defense on an incisive run, and found Kuhlmann in the box. Three touches later Kuhlmann had beat Ariana Romero and found the back of the net.
“I thought it took a little while to take what the other team was giving us, but once we figured it out we got a goal off of it with Naomi [Girma] penetrating,” said Kuhlmann.
However, that was the Cardinal’s only goal of the defense. The Redhawks defense, aided by the woodwork on numerous occasions, kept the game within striking distance for the entire first half. “I was proud of my team because I believe they showed up and they weren’t intimidated,” said head coach Julie Woodward. “I thought they played very disciplined.”
“I’m really proud of all of the effort that all of our teammates put in,” added Seattle senior defender Hannah Carrothers. “Our chemistry on and off the field has been amazing this year and I think that’s what really took us and carried us forward throughout the game.”
Seattle built that chemistry over the course of an up and down season. At one point, the team was 3-7-2 before rattling off seven wins in eight games to close the season. “We had an incredibly tough preseason, we had some adversity and injuries,” said Woodward. “The team is hardworking [and] resilient, and we hit the reset button once we got to conference.”
Nevertheless, in the second half, Stanford’s prowess, class and talent shone through the smoky night. Seven minutes into the second half, Kuhlmann once again caused trouble for the Stanford defense, and her ball to the near post forced a Redhawks own goal.
Seattle’s Woodward was aware she lost to one of the sport’s best: “They have incredible athletes. They play great soccer. They’re smart, they’re fast, they’re strong.”
Carrothers also came out of the game impressed with what she saw from the nation’s top team. “They’re just amazing. The speed of play is incredible, and they can switch the point of attack so easily. They have so much skill and such great players. It was wonderful to be a part of it, and it was a great last game.”
Stanford continued to dominate possession and the game while getting numerous players on their deep roster playoff experience. That depth came through in the final minute of the match. Junior forward Carly Malatskey followed up on a Catarina Macario shot off the post to score the first goal of her career and become the 17th different Cardinal to appear on the score sheet this season.
In Kuhlmann’s opinion, the depth is “incredible,” and Malataskey’s goal was “long overdue.” “I’m just so happy for her. She works so hard day in and day out.”
On the game, Stanford outshot Seattle 24 to three, forcing saves on seven shots. Meanwhile, Stanford goalkeeper Alison Jahansouz secured the shutout without defending a single shot. Still, the Cardinal identified room for improvement. “Our sharpness,” said Kuhlmann. “Communicating [with] who is open and then playing them with confidence.”
That sentiment was echoed by her head coach. “Communication,” he said. “Be more assertive in the final third.”
As the competition improves, expectations for execution increase. Stanford will have its next test in a second round matchup against Ole Miss on Friday at 7 p.m. in Cagan Stadium.