It was a tale of two halves in Norfolk, Va., where after holding No. 6 Duke to just one goal in the first period, the No. 10 Stanford field hockey team fell 5-0 and swiftly exited the NCAA Tournament. The blowout ended a season that saw the team tie the school record of 17 wins and climb to a school record of No. 6 in the national rankings.
The lopsided score after a season of offensive domination may leave many scratching their heads. It was only the second shutout of the season against Stanford, with the first coming in the 1-0 loss to California in the NorPac Championship. After routinely blowing out opponents, often by five or more goals, the Cardinal failed to score in its last two games.
Duke scored off its first shot, when midfielder Devon Gagliardi found the back of the net a little over two minutes into the game. But despite being outshot 7-3, Stanford did not give up. Redshirt senior goalkeeper Ale Moss’s four saves finished the period with the team still very much in the hunt for its first ever NCAA Tournament win.
But things would not fall the Cardinal’s way in the second period. Duke came out strong once again, this time scoring within the first minute. Assisted by Gagliardi, forward Emmie Le Marchand snuck the ball into the net for her 17th goal of the season. Marchand scored again just before the 53rd minute to put Duke up 3-0. The last two goals came less than a minute apart in the final five minutes of the game. Forward McKay Ross blasted an open shot behind Moss, and Marchand completed her second hat trick of the season on a deflection.
“It was an evenly matched game, but we lacked the confidence and experience to move forward in the postseason play,” said head coach Tara Danielson. “At end of the day, we just didn’t have the experience. It was an evenly matched game up until the middle of the second period.”
Stanford’s offense never ignited. It managed just three shots in the first period and seven in the second, but four of those came after Duke’s fifth goal. While it held the edge in penalty corners 6-2, the team simply could not execute to find the net.
“At the next level, if we want to be a champion and a title holder, we have to work on having the experience under our belt, put the ball in the net and keep the ball out of the net. Overall, we’re really proud of this team, and they worked very hard,” Danielson said. Stanford can pride itself on a stellar season that brought recognition to the talents of the program. Junior defender Becky Dru earned the honors of West Division Defensive Player of the Year and West Division Co-Player of the Year and was named to the West Division All-Conference Team. Moss, senior attacker Stephanie Byrne and freshman attacker Alex McCawley also earned All-Conference honors.
“There are so many positive attacking structures to build on for the spring and next season,” Danielson said. “The team shows good signs of discipline and understanding of the game at the next level. This year was a real breakthrough year for a young team to perform and execute. [On Saturday,] we were missing the ability to capture that moment and capitalize on opportunity to get to that next level.”
This was a season of personal bests for many Cardinal players. Dru’s career-high 16 goals were enough to make the star defender the leader in goals scored in back-to-back seasons. Byrne’s 16 assists led the team and were the most of the attacker’s career. Moss won seven shutouts, the most of her career as well.
“There are a lot of positive things to build on,” Danielson said. “The outlook is that we’re excited, we’re young, the moment for the program is there and the girls are hungry.”
The Cardinal will see many key players return next fall. Six underclassmen made starts this year, and many others produced off the bench as reserves. The talents of these players, as well as all those returning, will undoubtedly make for a strong team next season, when the Card will look to take back the NorPac Championship and finally break through the first round of the NCAA Tournament.