They say that the third time’s the charm, but that proverb didn’t prove true Sunday afternoon in USC’s L.A. Memorial Coliseum, when No. 9 Stanford women’s lacrosse (15-5) fell to No. 5 USC (20-0) for the third time this season in the NCAA second round. The 14-8 defeat ended Stanford’s tournament run and its hopes for a first-ever trip to the Final Four.
In the program’s seventh appearance in the NCAA tournament, the Cardinal advanced to the second round — after beating James Madison 9-8 on Friday — for only the second time in school history, though both games ended in losses. With the win, USC became the first team from the MPSF to make it past the second round of the tournament.
While Stanford’s top three goal scorers were limited to a combined 3 goals — Kelsey Murray had two, Anna Salemo had one and Kelly Myers went scoreless — others stepped up to challenge the Trojan defense, which boasts the fewest goals allowed per game in the nation. Yet USC’s offensive explosion — which included hat tricks from three different players, including star Michaela Michael — would be the defining factor that lifted the Trojans over the Cardinal.
The Cardinal uncharacteristically struggled with draw controls in the first half, winning only four of 12 before Alexandra Crerend took over in circle after halftime. The switch helped Stanford win the ball off draw controls in second half (9 of 12). Stanford also struggled with turnovers, recording 8 in the second half alone and preventing it from establishing offensive rhythm.
Although USC scored first, Murray and Dillon Schoen gave Stanford a 2-1 edge with 22:42 to play in the half, the only lead the Cardinal would secure throughout the game. USC’s offense went into high gear after that point, as the Trojans responded with a 6-2 run to close the half, which included 5 unanswered goals over a span of 12 minutes. While Mackenzie Tesei and Salemo stopped some of the bleeding, getting Stanford back on the board with goals off a free-position shot and a man-up situation, USC would close out the half with a somewhat comfortable 3-point lead.
A goal from Alex Poplawski less than a minute after the second half started brought the Cardinal within two, the closest the team would get to catching up to the Trojans for the rest of the game. USC put together another string of 4 unanswered goals to stay ahead for good. While the teams traded goals over the final 17 minutes, the damage had been done, advancing the still-undefeated Trojans to a quarterfinal matchup against Syracuse and ending Stanford’s season.
Despite their early exit, the Cardinal ended the season with a top-1o ranking for most of 2016 as well as their second NCAA win in program history.
Contact Alexa Philippou at aphil723 ‘at’ stanford.edu.