It didn’t take long for the No. 1 Stanford women’s soccer team to ruin Cal’s Senior Day. Less than four minutes into the game, the Cardinal (17-1-1, 11-0-0 Pac-12) took the lead and then held on the rest of the way to finish the regular season with a 1-0 victory over the Bears.
With the win, Stanford completed its fourth consecutive perfect conference season and extended its conference winning streak to 42. This year’s senior class has never lost a match in the Pac-12.
“Every year our goal is to win every single game in the Pac-12,” senior captain Alina Garciamendez told GoStanford.com. “We really wanted to finish strong, but not just because of what it would mean to our senior class. It was a true team effort.”
It was a tale of two halves for the Cardinal on Sunday morning in Berkeley.
Stanford quickly seized the lead in the fourth minute when freshman defender Laura Liedle brought the ball down the left side and passed it off to sophomore forward Chioma Ubogagu. Ubogagu slashed through the box and slotted the ball back to redshirt junior Courtney Verloo, who smashed a shot over Cal goalkeeper Emily Kruger. It was Verloo’s seventh goal of the season, tying her for the team lead.
Stanford kept the heat on the Bears’ defense by earning three consecutive corner kicks almost immediately after the goal. The pressure continued throughout the first half as Stanford dominated possession and chances. The Cardinal had 10 shots from seven different players in the first half.
Just before halftime, the Bears mounted their first serious attacks on Stanford goalkeeper Emily Oliver’s net, including a shot by Cal forward Grace Leer that smashed off the crossbar.
The late Cal pressure would be a forewarning of what was to come after halftime. In the second half, it was the Bears who maintained control of the ball and created opportunities.
Early in the half, Cal forwards Leer and freshman Ifeoma Onumonu continually broke down the Cardinal defense but struggled to put shots on frame. Onumonu got behind Oliver twice but shot high both times.
A Bear shot off the post with about 20 minutes left appeared to re-energize the Cardinal attack. Verloo made two strong runs down the right side, but Stanford was unable to capitalize on the ensuing crosses. Two minutes later, Ubogagu and junior Sydney Payne both fired long-range shots that skimmed just wide of the Cal net.
The last 10 minutes of the match featured end-to-end action as both teams had dangerous chances.
With six minutes left, the Cardinal had the opportunity to close out the game when Ubogagu broke in alone, but Kruger stretched high to make the save. Sophomore Alex Doll got to the rebound, but a Cal defender blocked the shot. Although the ball appeared to hit the arm of the Cal player, no whistle came, so play continued.
An insurance goal would have allowed the Cardinal to breathe easier for the final five minutes as the Bears tried desperately to equalize. After a corner kick with three minutes left, Cal had series of opportunities, but Oliver and the Cardinal defense were able to preserve the win. The junior goalkeeper made one save to earn her fourth shutout of the season and 20th of her career.
One cause for concern for the Cardinal is the status of starting midfielder Nina Watkins. The senior left the game in the 20th minute with an undisclosed injury, although she did return for the final 90 seconds.
For part of the second half, sophomore Lo’eau LaBonta took Watkins’ place in midfield, where LaBonta played most of her Stanford career before moving to forward earlier this season.
After the game, the Cardinal officially celebrated its fourth consecutive Pac-12 championship, which it clinched last weekend by coming back to defeat UCLA. The Cardinal’s last three games have all been decided by a single goal. “There are no easy games in the Pac-12,” said Stanford head coach Paul Ratcliffe. “That’s going to prepare us for the playoffs.”
Stanford will begin its NCAA title defense on Friday against an opponent to be announced Monday afternoon.
“From here on out, it’s a different mindset,” Verloo said. “You lose and you’re done. Every game is going to be hard from the beginning. Today was a great reminder of that.”