KENNESAW, Ga. – How does a team handle the disappointment? How does it deal with being so amazingly dominant only to come up heartbreakingly short twice in a row?
Stanford will get another shot at redemption Sunday when it faces Duke for the Division I women’s soccer national championship.
Consider Stanford’s dominance:
• Three consecutive undefeated regular seasons.
• Stanford’s four seniors – Lindsay Taylor, Camille Levin, Teresa Noyola and Kristy Zurmuhlen – never lost a home game in their career.
• A current 50-match home winning streak, the second longest in NCAA Division I history.
• 14 consecutive years in the NCAA tournament.
• Four consecutive trips to the College Cup, including three consecutive appearances in the national championship game.
It just makes the heartbreak so much harder to comprehend:
• Back-to-back defeats in the national title game the past two years.
• In 2009, Stanford lost to North Carolina 1-0.
• Last year, they lost to Notre Dame 1-0.
In the past three years, those are the only two games they have lost.
“The disappointment has been there the entire year, since we lost,” Stanford goalie Emily Oliver said. “We still feel that pain and that loss. But at the same time we’re not dragging it with us. It’s something we’ve learned from.”
The players and their coach, Paul Ratcliffe, have tackled the heartbreak head on. “Our goal coming in is to win the national championship this time.”
The players say they have used the heartbreak to motivate them – and have worked hard to make sure it didn’t consume them. “It’s important to remember it and to remember the feeling and to learn from our mistakes,” said Teresa Noyola, who assisted Chioma Ubogagu on Friday’s crucial first goal in the semifinal victory against Florida State.
“But it’s also really important to move past it. I think we’ve all done that. We’ve talked about it. We’ve really taken our experience from the last couple of years, and losing, into this season and really just focusing on our training – and just really finish this thing.”
Added Ubogagu: “I loved that going into preseason this team was so determined. One of the first things they did was set their goals to get to the final four – to not only get there but finish off the job. I was right on board with that mindset.”
Ratcliffe said the team has embraced the challenge and not backed down from the pressure. “There’s always going to be pressure,” he said. “We’re all just competitive people. There’s a lot of pride in this group; ultimately that is what it comes down to.”
Senior Camille Levin wants one more chance to win the school’s first national title in women’s soccer. But she worked to make sure the heartbreak was not a burden. “We’ve really focused on enjoying the journey through it all and really taking it one day at a time, each training session and every game — rather than looking too far into the future — but all with the goal of winning a national championship.”
National championships are common on Stanford: the school won it’s 100th national championship earlier this year – second only to UCLA.
“Stanford is a special place just because people there, in all areas, strive to be the best,” Noyola said. “Whether it’s academics, athletics. That kind of rubs off on everyone there whether it be managing your time, making sacrifices, learning to be the best you can be every day.”
That atmosphere has allowed the team to get within one game of erasing the heartbreak, to move forward. “I can say that we’ve moved on and we’re looking forward,” Oliver said.
“I think it’s about creating a legacy that this program gets to the final four every year. I think we’ll be confident — the experience is priceless — we’re ready to go.”