For nearly three years, conference play has been anything but tough going for the No. 1 Stanford women’s soccer team. But on a weekend where the squad had a chance to break the record for the longest win streak in Pac-12 history, things got hairy for the Cardinal for the first time in a long while.
It took goals in the 86th and 94th minutes in a pair of 1-0 wins to put Stanford in the record books, as the Cardinal narrowly escaped Washington and Washington State to extend its conference win streak to 23 games.
Stanford (11-0-1, 3-0 Pac-12) remains undefeated on the season and has not lost in Pac-10 (or -12) play since Oct. 2008. Yet as long as that run may seem, the bulk of the streak’s drama has come over the past four days.
Before this weekend, the Cardinal had outscored its opponents by nearly three goals per game during the streak, notched the winning tally by the 60th minute over 75 percent of the time and been on the board by the 29th minute on average. Only once did it take the team more than 75 minutes to score its opening goal–in a 2009 match against the Washington St. Cougars, Stanford needed an 87th-minute goal by Christen Press to send the game to overtime before the Cardinal could take the game 2-1 in the extra frame.
The team’s first trip back to Pullman, Wash. since that game was just as dangerous. Stanford outshot Washington State 22-6–as opposed to the 22-7 margin in 2009–and, yet again, nothing was finding the back of the Cougars’ net.
But in the waning moments of the second half, senior forward Lindsay Taylor–whose cross in 2009 found the head of then-teammate Kelley O’Hara for the overtime winner in Pullman–found herself at the center of the action once again. This time, however, she would be tasked with finishing off the match, diving for a header off a pass from senior Camille Levin for the game winner at the 85:09 mark.
The Cardinal got off to an even slower start on Sunday at Washington, failing to get a shot off until 10 minutes into the match and going completely dry for two other extended periods in the first half alone. Stanford did have several quality shots, including a 25th-minute header from senior midfielder Kristy Zurmuhlen off the crossbar, but the Huskies played physical defense to keep the Cardinal from capitalizing on its chances from within the box.
Withstanding a late-second-half push from Stanford to send the game into overtime scoreless, Washington–coming off a 1-1 tie with Cal on Friday–looked poised to draw yet another match with the tight defense that had halted the Cardinal all afternoon. But just two minutes into the first overtime period, Husky sophomore forward Hillary Zevenbergen found herself all alone in front of sophomore goalkeeper Emily Oliver, who came up with a game-saving stop on Zevenbergen’s low shot.
After turning away the ensuing corner kick, Stanford pushed the ball upfield, and a cross from junior midfielder Mariah Nogueira found senior midfielder Teresa Noyola at the far post. Noyola’s header snuck through the defense to extend the Cardinal’s conference win streak with the squad’s first overtime victory since a 2-1 decision over Georgia on Sept. 10, 2010.
Stanford also continued its dominant defensive run, which includes a staggering 567 minutes and 26 seconds of game time since giving up its last goal over a month ago. Oliver has been key to that success, posting a stellar .920 save percentage on the season to lead the Pac-12 in that category.
She’ll have to be at the top of her game next weekend, as Stanford faces its toughest two-game test of the season against USC and UCLA. Picked to finish fourth and second in the conference, respectively, the two squads have had quite different seasons–the Trojans (3-9-0, 0-3) have lost six straight games by a single goal, while the Bruins (10-0-1, 3-0) are ranked second in the country after outscoring their opponents 19-4 on the year.
Stanford head coach Paul Ratcliffe will be going for his 200th career win against USC on Friday night at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium, before UCLA–the last team to beat the Cardinal in conference play–comes to town Sunday afternoon.