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Women’s soccer falls in NCAA semifinals

Top seed Stanford was unable to overcome Florida State in the semifinals of the College Cup, breaking a 45-game unbeaten streak.

Sophomore forward Catarina Macario (above) was unable to generate her usual brand of offense in the semifinal match against FSU. The Cardinal lost as Macario drew a yellow card after getting frustrated late in the game. (ANDY MEAD/isiphotos.com)

There was no storybook ending for Stanford women’s soccer (21-1-2, 10-0-1 Pac-12) as Florida State (19-4-3, 5-4-1 ACC) chopped the Cardinal’s season one game short of competing for its second straight national title. Stanford could not overcome two first half goals from two Seminole defenders, and dropped the contest 2-0.

The Cardinal had been the No. 1-ranked team in every poll since the preseason and came into NCAA tournament semifinal in WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina as the No. 1 seed with a 45-game unbeaten streak.

“Last year, Stanford took us apart,” said Florida State head coach Mark Krikorian. “We weren’t close. The score was close — 1-0 — but there were so many elements in the game that going back and looking at it, it was clear that we needed to improve in a lot of areas.”

Florida State improved, and it made for a game that was not very close this year either. “Credit Florida State for really bringing it tonight and earning the result,” said Stanford head coach Paul Ratcliffe.

“We knew that if we allowed them to completely control and dictate the tempo of the game, it would be a long game for us — as it’s been for the past 45 opponents that they’ve had,” said Krikorian, “so it was going to be really important for our kids to play brave and make sure that they had the ability to hold the ball under some pressure, knowing the pressure was going to come.”

Florida State did just that and beat Stanford at its own game, dominating possession, controlling speed of play and exposing holes in the impermeable Stanford defense. The loss was Stanford’s first since Aug. 25, 2017 against Florida.

The loss was also the final match for the Cardinal’s five graduating seniors: forward Averie Collins, defender Alana Cook, midfielder Jordan DiBiasi, defender Tegan McGrady and forward Michelle Xiao. “The Mob” finished an absurd 82-6-5 over their four years on the Farm.

Cook started all 93 matches of her Stanford career at center back. Cook and her co-captain, DiBiasi, along with sophomore forward Catarina Macario, are among the 15 semifinalists for the MAC Hermann Trophy, awarded to the top player in college soccer. McGrady is a full member of the United States’ Women’s National Team, and Xiao is the Pac-12 scholar athlete of the year.

“This team has had an incredible season, and I’m so proud of all they’ve accomplished from start to finish,” said Ratcliffe.

The Seminoles’ first goal of the semifinal match was the result of unassisted heroics by Gabby Carle. In her own words, “I started going inside and kept going until I realized I could score, and then I shot, and it went in.” A Stanford defense that allowed only 10 goals all season simply did not track Carle, and the Cardinal were facing a deficit in the 29th minute.

The Cardinal had an immediate opportunity to respond, but the Seminoles’ backup keeper, Caroline Jeffers, tipped a Xiao shot away from the top corner. On a night when Stanford outshot Florida State 12-11, the Seminoles tested Stanford’s redshirt senior goalkeeper Alison Jahansouz six times while Xiao’s shot was the only effort the Cardinal could put on frame.

Florida State got its second goal with a similar college try. With under three minutes left in the half, Malia Berkely, the Seminoles’ center back, caught Jahansouz off her line and heaved a shot from distance. The keeper, coming off the best game of her career, was fooled by the dipping shot and watched the wet ball slip through her fingers. The goals were the first of the season for the two Seminoles’ defenders.

“The second goal was the one that really deflated us because it was an unfortunate mistake,” said Ratcliffe. “And then it’s hard when you’re down against a team that is good in possession, keeping the ball. They could just play keep-away a little bit.”

Entering the game, Stanford had trailed for a little more than seven minutes all season. At halftime, the Cardinal had been down for almost 17 minutes. At the break, Ratcliffe said in an interview on ESPNU that the Cardinal needed more patience, to set a higher defensive line and to control the tempo. The Cardinal did none of that and were unable to answer in the second half.

Ratcliffe mixed around his lineup looking for a spark, but the Cardinal could not break through against a Seminoles defense that allowed only six second-half goals the entire season. Frustration came through in the form of an 83rd-minute yellow card on two-time ESPNW player of the year Macario.

“Honestly, I don’t think we’ve played our best soccer the whole season,” said Ratcliffe. “I think we’ve played really well — well enough to have a great season. But with all the pieces we had, if everyone was at full strength and training all the time, we could have been that special team again and won the national championship and competed with Florida State.”

As with the past two matchups between the Cardinal and the Seminoles, the winner went on to win the championship. After three straight victories over the last three national champions, Florida State defeated the preeminent program of the sport, UNC, 1-0 for the title on Sunday.

 

Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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