Oct. 10, 2010

Courtesy of Stanford Athletics

LOS ANGELES - First-half goals by Christen Press and Mariah Nogueira allowed No. 1 Stanford to beat No. 14 UCLA, 2-0, in a pivotal Pacific-10 Conference women's soccer match at Drake Stadium on Sunday.

Press scored her national-leading 16th goal of the season on a penalty kick in the 23rd minute, and Nogueira followed with a close-range 36th-minute shot off a scramble following a corner kick, allowing Stanford to complete a road sweep of Pac-10 powers USC and UCLA.

"We knew the first weekend was going to determine who's going to have the best shot of controlling the Pac-10," senior captain Allison McCann said. "This was huge."

It's early, but Stanford now has the clear advantage in the Pac-10 race.

"It was something I spoke to the team about, so they understood the importance of this week," Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said. "But the job's not done. There are plenty of tough teams in this conference."

Stanford (11-0-2, 2-0) and UCLA (8-4-1, 1-1) have earned shares of the Pac-10 title in 15 of the 16 years the conference has sponsored the sport, including the past nine. In their most recent previous meeting, at the 2009 NCAA College Cup semifinals, Press scored an overtime goal to give Stanford a 2-1 victory in College Station, Texas.

Stanford drew further motivation from Jim Harbaugh, unbeknownst to the football coach himself. During Saturday night's telecast of Stanford's 37-35 football victory over USC, an excerpt from a Harbaugh note to one of his players flashed on the screen:

"Now is the time to think of only one thing, that which I was born for," Harbaugh wrote. "The thousand times that I've proved it meant nothing. Now I am proving it again."

McCann quickly jotted it down and sent the quote to Press specifically and the team as a whole, helping spark a round of inspirational e-mails that included song verses and inspirational mantras circulating from hotel room to hotel room.

Motivation aside, Stanford was facing UCLA's Sydney Leroux, a prolific scorer for the United States under-20 national team and who recently spent two weeks in the U.S. senior national-team camp. But rather than focus on marking her individually, Stanford stayed with its regular defensive scheme, and held Leroux to only one shot.

"It was more about us taking care of the ball, using a good possession style and taking chances when we got them," Ratcliffe said.

On such chance set up the penalty. Stanford was applying pressure when USC was called for a hand ball, setting up Press' goal, which extended her goals streak to seven consecutive matches.

"When you're in a tight game, especially away from home, and get a goal, it can break the ice," Ratcliffe said. "This one broke the ice. It was big."

Nogueira's third goal of the season provided a fitting highlight to her strong play during both weekend matches. Nogueira collected and controlled the ball before firing from six yards out. Her defensive play also was crucial in limiting UCLA to seven shots, and limiting Leroux to only one.

"Mariah was fantastic in both games," Ratcliffe said. "She dominated the midfield."

With a two-goal lead, Stanford was able to control the tempo, using its back line as the catalyst to keep the ball away from the Bruins, though reserve Kristy Zurmuhlen nearly added to the lead with two headers that UCLA goalkeeper Chante Sandiford did well to turn away.

The victories over USC and UCLA on the conference season-opening weekend marked Stanford's first sweep of the Los Angeles trip since 2002, and the first time in coach Paul Ratcliffe's eight seasons.

Stanford returns home Saturday with a 5 p.m. match against Washington State in the first match of a doubleheader that also includes the Stanford men against UCLA at 7:30 p.m.