According to the Senior CLASS Award website, candidates worthy of recognition must have notable achievements in four areas: community, classroom, character and competition.
With those criteria in mind, it’s easy to understand how Stanford senior Mariah Nogueira was recently named a finalist for the 2012 award.
For four years, the holding midfielder has patrolled the center of Cagan Stadium, proving to be a dominating presence for the women’s soccer team.
“Mariah is a great leader on the field, and [a] great competitor,” said Stanford head coach Paul Ratcliffe. “She can make plays and she can win the ball. She’s just the heart in the center of midfield for us.”
While nominally a defensive player, Nogueira contributes plenty to the Cardinal attack as well. During her career at Stanford, she has recorded 14 goals and 14 assists for 42 points. Much of that can be attributed to her prowess in the air; over the past two seasons, the 5-foot-8-inch midfielder scored 10 of her 11 goals with her head.
“She’s the best header of the ball that I’ve ever seen in the college game,” Ratcliffe said. “Both defensive or attacking, she finds the ball, but I think the special quality is that she has the ability to score with her head. It’s not just getting up and winning it<\p>–<\p>she can direct the ball right into the goal.”
Nogueira credits her family for developing her heading ability.
“My dad and my dad’s mother were huge soccer players and fans,” Nogueira said. “As a child, my grandmother would literally throw balls at my head so that I would learn to head.”
During the 2011 season, the early training paid off in a big moment. In the 88th minute of a tied game against defending national champion Notre Dame, Nogueira rose up to redirect a corner kick for the winning goal. It was a play that teammates and coaches say they will never forget.
“She’s had a lot of clutch goals in her career, but one that does stick out is the game we won against Notre Dame where she scored on a header,” said fellow senior and tri-captain Rachel Quon.
“That’s the kind of presence she has and the competitive drive she has,” Ratcliffe added. “She wanted to prove that we should have beat [Notre Dame] because we lost to them in the [2010 College Cup final]. That was a great moment.”
Although a top recruit out of Marina High School in Westminster, Calif., Nogueira wasn’t always destined for Stanford.
“Stanford wasn’t even on my radar for a while, because I didn’t even think that I could get in,” Nogueira said. “Then my mom kind of threw it out there as an option, and when I heard that [Ratcliffe] was interested<\p>–<\p>it’s really hard to imagine anyone who has that opportunity and turns it down.”
Nogueira seized a starting role her freshman year and hasn’t given it up since.
“From the beginning of her freshmen year, she made a big impact,” Quon said. “I think her presence on the field is huge. You always know that she’s on the field and she always leaves it all on the field.”
This past season, Ratcliffe chose Nogueira as one of three captains of the team. “She has great leadership qualities,” Ratcliffe said. “In fact, she probably could have been a captain last year as well, but we always have so many great leaders here at Stanford.”
Among the numerous awards accumulated over her career, Nogueira has been selected to the NCSAA All-American third team, the NSCAA All-Pacific Region first team and the All-Pac-10 team. The Cardinal has a record 87-3-4 over that time, and won the 2011 National Championship.
“I think that our team has a huge amount of respect for each other, so for them to pick me and for the coaches to pick me was really humbling,” Nogueira said. “I’ve always tried to be a leader by example, but now there’s more of a responsibility to be a little bit more of a vocal leader.”
Off the field, whether it’s studying, volunteering or playing the ukulele, Nogueira also excels. It is this well-rounded success that helped the senior stand out when applying for the award.
Nogueira is currently on track to graduate in 2013 with a degree in psychology. She also participates in several other volunteer activities such as the Special Olympics, the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative and tutoring programs for students in East Palo Alto.
“The most memorable [program] was a trip to the Dominican Republic through an organization called Kids Alive,” Nogueira said. “That was a huge eye-opening experience and an opportunity to be completely selfless and help others who are less fortunate.”
“I also really enjoyed when our team tutored in East Palo Alto my sophomore year. That was a lot of fun, since working with kids is always the best.”
Despite her many commitments, it’s not all work and no play for the senior.
“I love all outdoor activities. During preseason, we always go fountain-hopping, and we went kayaking and surfing a lot,” Nogueira said. “I also love music. I will do self-proclaimed jam sessions with [sophomore midfielder] Alex Doll. She’ll play the piano and I’ll play the ukulele.”
Teammates and coaches say that Nogueira is somewhat shy about her musical talent.
“I’m actually still waiting for her to play the ukulele,” Ratcliffe joked. “I hear she’s pretty good, so I’ve been wanting to hear that.”
After the close of her Cardinal career, Nogueira hopes to continue playing soccer. “[My plans] after graduation are still kind of up in the air. I’m most likely going to try to play professionally, either abroad or here if the league in the U.S. ends up working out,” Nogueira explained. “So that’s probably the plan for a year or two, and hopefully I will continue with the youth national team program. Eventually, I will probably come back to school for grad school, most likely in psychology.”
In the meantime, Nogueira has her sights set on a second consecutive national title.
“Hopefully we can win another [championship]<\p>–<\p>that’s the ultimate goal,” Nogueira said. “I’m looking forward to enjoying every possible second that I can. I know everyone says it, but the girls on your team become your best friends. I’m going to miss them a bunch.”
The winner of the Senior CLASS Award will be announced during the Women’s College Cup on Dec. 1. Fans can participate by voting at www.seniorclassaward.com through Nov. 19. Fan votes will be combined with votes from Division I head coaches and the media to determine the winner.
“I think it’s a great honor, and it’s great that people are recognizing her for her talent and all she’s done for Stanford soccer,” Ratcliffe said. “My hope is that she can win the award and represent Stanford.”