Sometimes, we forget that real life doesn’t always get Hollywood-worthy endings. Stanford field hockey’s 1-0 loss to Liberty this past weekend in the NorPac Championship finals was certainly indicative of that.
The Cardinal were in the midst of their greatest season as a team, breaking the program record for most wins in a season at 18. They were on a 12-game winning streak and looking to roll into the NCAA Tournament as NorPac Champions. But luckily, this is where the Hollywood script picks up again, as the team gets a chance at redemption in the form of an unseated berth in the NCAA Championships against Louisville this Saturday.
The NCAA Tournament is always the climax to any season, a single knockout tournament designed to crown the national champions. This is the sixth time in eight years that Stanford has earned a seat in the 19-team bracket to decide the field hockey national champion. The post-season is always electrifying, but even more so when you have something to prove.
“Every game is much more intense, and there is this whole atmosphere and feeling that you just can’t really describe,” said senior midfielder Alex McCawley.
“[The] post-season puts everyone on a level playing field, every team’s ranking loses its value and every game will count. There’s no room for error,” agreed sophomore midfielder Fran Tew.
Being the underdogs is something familiar for Stanford field hockey. Away from the field hockey hot beds that make up the eastern seaboard, the Cardinal could have been easily forgotten. However, the Cardinal’s play on the field refused to let that happen. Building an 18-2 record and No. 4 ranking during the regular season, the Cardinal are a team with victories against proven powerhouses such as the University of Connecticut, Northwestern and the University of Michigan. The post-season may be a reboot, but the Card will certainly have something to build on.
Stanford is a well-seasoned team, with great chemistry and a commitment to one another.
“We are cohesive through constant communication in the back field. We have a set of principles that we stick to that help us be predictable to one another and unified in our movements,” said senior defender Kelsey Harbin.
Led by a group of experienced leaders in the back, Stanford has fought many gritty games and emerged victorious.
“We are really writing something special and it’s all because we’re there for each other. We bring a fight that’s unmatched in feistiness,” affirmed McCawley.
While Stanford has talented players, such as team goal-leader McCawley (14 goals) and assist-leader Maddie Secco (8 assists), this is a team where everyone contributes; 11 different players have scored goals this season, and 13 players have individual points. McCawley made sure to mention this when talking about her NorPac offensive award.
“I’ve just been in the right spots and had the right opportunities. Really, all I’m doing is capitalizing on the fantastic work of the people behind me,” she said.
First up in the NCAA Tournament is No. 8 Louisville, a team that Stanford has not faced since Nov. 1, 2009, when Louisville claimed a 4-1 victory. It is a matchup seemingly brought about by fate: the Cardinal vs. the Cardinals. Louisville has had a strong season as well, finishing with a 14-4 record during regular season play. However, their regular season also ended in disappointment, with a 2-1 loss to eventual ACC Tournament champion Wake Forest in the conference quarterfinals.
If Stanford can overcome the Cardinals, there is a strong possibility of an exciting rematch against UConn to determine who earns a spot in the Final Four. Stanford overwhelmed No. 3 UConn 3-1 in early regular season play, but a rematch would offer the Huskies a chance at redemption.
“We’ve had a long rivalry with UConn, and this is the first year that we’ve actually beat them. So, if we have to meet them again, we’d all really like to continue that streak,” said McCawley.
But the Cardinal are ready for any team that crosses their path.
“We just need to play our game and ignore the name on the opposition’s jersey. We will simply focus on what we do best as a team.” Tew added.
In a tournament where each game means the difference between advancing to another round or being knocked out, it helps to be prepared for anything. Although there are higher-ranked teams with more impressive credentials in the tournament, field hockey is a sport that can be decided by a single goal. Hopefully, Stanford’s Cinderella ending has yet to be written.
Stanford takes on Louisville this Saturday at 11 a.m. PST; live streaming will be available online.
Contact Amanda McLean at ammclean’at’ stanford.edu.