Closing out a near-perfect season on Saturday, the No. 1 Stanford women’s soccer team added another piece of history to its repertoire by becoming just the second school to ever go undefeated in the regular season three years in a row.
Following the lead of North Carolina, which accomplished the feat twice between 1986 and 1993, the Cardinal (19-0-1, 11-0-0 Pac-12) knocked off No. 23 California 2-0 on Senior Night and undoubtedly secured yet another No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The outgoing seniors have entered the tourney with a top seed each of their four years on the Farm.
In the driving rain, Stanford would get strong contributions from all four seniors, three of whom made it onto the scoresheet.
“It was great,” said senior midfielder Kristy Zurmuhlen. “I mean, just playing against Cal and just being a part of this team has just been so amazing all four years, and I really think the team this year is really special. I couldn’t have asked for a better night. Regardless of the rain, it was awesome.”
Stanford took a while to settle in against Cal (12-6-2, 5-4-2) in a physical, slippery game, but the Cardinal players weren’t going to let the rain get to them.
“I think that we’ve taught ourselves that no matter what the conditions, we’re just going to go out and play our hardest, and we try to look at the upside of things,” Zurmuhlen said. “I don’t think it affects us at all. If anything, we plan celebrations and things around it.”
Stanford would be doing quite a bit of celebrating in the 20th minute. Drawing a free kick from 30 yards out when she tripped over a Golden Bear defender, senior forward Lindsay Taylor drilled a seeing-eye shot off the crossbar, straight down and in to put the Cardinal ahead at 19:19. It was a career-best 17th goal of the season for Taylor, the reigning Soccer America National Player of the Week and the Pac-12’s leading scorer.
Just 40 seconds later, senior defender Camille Levin found Zurmuhlen at the low left side of the box, and the midfielder put it home to extend Stanford’s lead.
The Cardinal took control of the action, and several speedy plays by freshman forward Chioma Ubogagu fell just short of great scoring chances. A shot by Cal freshman midfielder Taylor Comeau just missed off the crossbar early in the second half, and neither team would come very close to scoring again. The tallies by Taylor and Zurmuhlen would be enough for Stanford in a 2-0 win.
“I’m so happy to see two of the seniors score goals, and Cami and [senior midfielder Teresa] Noyola were fantastic too, so it was great to see all four seniors have a fantastic game in their last game,” said head coach Paul Ratcliffe.
It was hardly the only fantastic game that the seniors have played at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium, where the quartet has never lost a match. And it wasn’t a completely dominant performance either, but rather a back-and-forth, gutsy battle against a determined Cal team.
In other words, it was a fitting end to a season that saw the Cardinal lose standout junior Courtney Verloo to injury, fail to score in an early-season draw against a strong Maryland squad and squeak by the Washington schools in a trying midseason road trip—but persevere, nonetheless.
“Record-wise, we probably couldn’t have done too much better,” Zurmuhlen said, “but we’re all kind of perfectionists, and we all know we have things to work on. So going into the playoffs, we definitely want to nitpick and try to fix those things. We’re excited, and we’re ready to go.”
The NCAA Tournament selection show airs at 1:30 p.m. today, and the Cardinal will likely host the first round of postseason play on Friday. Then the Stanford women will have to put their noses to the grindstone yet again as they hope to reach the goal that has barely eluded them for two years running: a College Cup title.