W. Soccer: No.1 Card kicks off conference play

Oct. 8, 2010, 1:34 a.m.

With the close of non-conference play, the undefeated Stanford women’s soccer team is looking forward to the start of Pac-10 play. After defeating No. 13 Santa Clara (7-3-2) in a game that tested the stamina of the Cardinal offense, No. 1 Stanford (9-0-2) plans on keeping its momentum alive in conference play.

In its first match of conference play, Stanford will face No. 20 USC (7-2-2) on Friday before taking on No. 13 UCLA (7-3-1) on Sunday. Given the tough test that Stanford faced Sunday against the talented Broncos across town, the Cardinal should be in good shape to move on to a pair of tough southern California squads.

Even as the clock ticked on and nerves escalated both on the field and in the stands last weekend, the Cardinal kept its cool and continued to press the Bronco defensive line until it put away two goals for the win.

“If teams tactically are dropping a lot of numbers back, it’s going to take time,” said Stanford head coach Paul Ratcliffe. “We have to be patient and maybe it’s the 80th minute, maybe it’s the 90th minute, that we score the goal. So we have to stay true to our game plan and be patient.”

The game against Santa Clara marked the end of non-conference play for Stanford and the beginning of its quest to repeat as Pac-10 champions.

“I think every game is important,” Ratcliffe said. “So we take every game seriously. The Pac-10 has a significance to us because we want to win the Pac-10 championship this year.”

Both the Trojans and the Bruins are coming off 1-0 losses to unranked teams. On Oct.1, UCLA fell to Pepperdine, while San Diego defeated USC.

W. Soccer: No.1 Card kicks off conference play
Christen Press, above, has been a critical leader for the Cardinal offense this season. The senior forward scored the game-winner last weekend against Santa Clara and currently leads the nation with 14 goals (SIMON WARBY/The Stanford Daily)

“They’re both great opponents,” Ratcliffe said. “They’ll be very tough games. We’re looking forward to some really good competition.”

In 2009, Stanford faced UCLA twice. The Bruins put up a fight each time, keeping the Cardinal at two goals a match, while Stanford managed four goals in its sole game against USC. Although Stanford came out of the two games against UCLA with two victories, (a 2-0 victory in the regular season and a 2-1 overtime win in the national semifinal), the Cardinal expects a challenging face-off this Sunday.

“I think traditionally, UCLA has had an amazing team,” Ratcliffe said. “Jillian [Ellis, UCLA head coach] has done a great job down there and they have fantastic players. They’re always one of our toughest games through the whole year.”

The Stanford offense promises to be a force to be reckoned with throughout conference play. Senior forward Christen Press was just named one of 10 finalists for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award, awarded to a player that exemplifies both on-the-field contributions and support in the community. With her goal in the Santa Clara match, Press tied Sarah Rafanelli for the school record for total career goals scored, which stands at 59.

Behind the offense stands the Stanford defensive back line. Stanford’s defense has kept goals allowed to a minimum with freshman Emily Oliver planted in the net.

“Emily’s done a great job,” Ratcliffe said. “I think her decision-making and organization of the box and her decision-making coming out on crosses and dealing with crosses has been incredible. I think she’s brought a real presence and leadership to the back line.”

With Oliver in the net for the past few weeks, senior goalkeeper Kira Maker has made strong contributions to the Stanford team on and off the field.

“Kira’s been great,” Ratcliffe said. “She understands the situation, she’s still working hard and she’s pushing because she could be in the next game, for all we know, as the starting goalkeeper. She’s that close to being a starter. She’s been a great supporter of Emily, a great teammate, and everyone really respects her.”

Last year, the Cardinal had a record of 25 wins and one loss. Stanford made it to the NCAA championship after a perfect regular season and fell by one goal to now-No. 3 North Carolina (10-1-1).

“I think we play a distinct style,” Ratcliffe said, “in that we try to keep possession. The team is fast when it’s on. It’s more like a rhythm of play and then a change to a fast speed when we get either equal numbers or numerical advantage. That’s kind of what we’re trying to teach.”

The Cardinal will face USC on Friday at 7 p.m. in Los Angeles, Calif., and will take on UCLA on Sunday at 1 p.m. in Westwood, Calif.

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