With two hard-fought victories over Los Angeles rivals USC and UCLA, the No. 1 Stanford women’s soccer team clinched its fourth straight Pac-12 title this weekend.
On Friday night, senior Alina Garciamendez scored in the 103rd minute to give the Cardinal a double-overtime victory against USC. On Sunday evening, the Cardinal (16-1-1, 10-0 Pac-12) used two goals in two minutes to cPaul Raome back against previously undefeated No. 2 UCLA.
In the weekend’s first match, the small field affected the style of play. The game took place in the Los Angeles Coliseum, a stadium intended for another type of football.
“It was difficult to open up the play,” Stanford head coach Paul Ratcliffe told GoStanford.com. “You couldn’t play wide, because there was no width. And you couldn’t play over the defense because there was no depth.”
Stanford outshot USC 25-12 over the course of the game but was unable to solve USC goalkeeper Caroline Stanley during regulation.
In the first overtime, USC appeared to win the match when junior Elizabeth Eddy beat Cardinal goalkeeper Emily Oliver from close range. The goal was disallowed because of an offside call.
Stanford’s three senior captains teamed up to score the goal that kept Stanford’s Pac-12 title hopes alive. Rachel Quon served in a free kick from just beyond midfield. Mariah Nogueira found the ball and flicked it on to a charging Garciamendez, who directed the ball past Stanley to give the Cardinal the win. It was the senior defender’s sixth goal of the season.
“It was a crazy game,” Ratcliffe said. “And if you look at how tight the field was, it was a good win.”
The Cardinal then traveled to UCLA’s Drake Stadium for a matchup between the nation’s top two teams. The game began at a relentless pace as both teams showed off their speed and athleticism. Seven minutes into the match, sophomore midfielder Alex Doll had Stanford’s first opportunity when she cracked a shot from 12 yards out that bounced off the post.
UCLA answered in the 18th minute when sophomore Sam Mewis challenged Oliver with a long shot, but the junior answered with a clean save.
As the half continued the pace didn’t let up, but Stanford was able to establish longer stretches of sustained possession.
With 15 minutes until halftime, Stanford had a beautiful passing sequence down the middle of the field that led to a dangerous chance by Stanford forward Chioma Ubogagu. The sophomore’s shot from eight yards out went just over the crossbar.
Four minutes into the second half, Mewis knocked Garciamendez off the ball deep in the Stanford half. The Cardinal bench appealed for a foul, but no whistle came. On the ensuing play, the Stanford defense blocked three consecutive UCLA shots before the ball fell to Bruin freshman forward Taylor Smith on the right side of the six-yard box. Smith hit a slow roller that Oliver could only watch as it trickled into the net.
Throughout the game, the Cardinal defense struggled to contain the speed of the Bruin attack. Senior Madeleine Thompson, who earned her third consecutive start in the UCLA game, and Quon had their hands full with speedy UCLA forward Zakiya Bywaters, who is currently leading the Pac-12 in goals.
In the 55th minute, Bywaters blazed down the sideline and beat her defender, but her shot was right at Oliver.
In the 68th minute, Ratcliffe substituted defender Annie Case for forward Lo’eau LaBonta, pushing freshman defender Laura Liedle to the right side and Quon into the attack. Immediately after the substitution, Bywaters broke through once again, but Oliver made a leaping save to tip the shot over the net.
The substitution began to pay dividends, as Stanford was able to move the majority of the play into the UCLA half. With 13 minutes left in the game, Ubogagu received the ball in the center of the field approximately 30 yards away from goal. The forward turned and ran at the Bruin defense before taking a sneaky shot that slid inside the right post to tie the game—it was just the seventh goal UCLA had allowed all season.
Quon made Ratcliffe’s choice look even better when she gave the Cardinal the lead in the 79th minute. After sustained Stanford pressure, Ubogagu crossed the ball in from the left side. Quon took one touch to settle the ball and calmly slotted it past Rowland. It was the first time this year that the Bruins had allowed more than a single goal.
“Quon is a fantastic player and I know she is capable of playing central midfield,” Ratcliffe said. “She is capable of creating goals and scoring goals, and she scored a great winner today.”
UCLA didn’t go down without a fight, but Oliver and the Cardinal defense refused to break. With eight minutes left, the All-American goalkeeper made another diving save on a long-range effort from midfielder Chelsea Cline to close the game for the Cardinal.
With the win, Stanford broke UCLA’s 24-game undefeated run and extended its own winning streak within the Pac-12 to 41 consecutive games.
“[The girls] work so hard,” Ratcliffe said. “They showed their character. I was very impressed with how they came back and won that game, because UCLA is a fantastic team.”
“We had two goals at the beginning of the season. The first was the Pac-12 championship, and the second was another national title,” Ratcliffe continued. “Our focus now is to prepare for the postseason, and hopefully we can go on a good run.”
The regular season finale is next weekend against Cal, leaving Stanford one win from its fourth straight perfect conference season. After that, the Cardinal will all but assuredly host its first NCAA tournament match on Friday, Nov. 9.