Ubogagu steps up on biggest stage
Freshman calm, collected as Cardinal advances to final
KENNESAW, Ga. -- For the first 20 minutes of its Division I women’s soccer national semifinal game on Friday, Florida State was dictating the tempo. Stanford, undefeated and seeking its third consecutive trip to the national championship game, was feverishly fending off one attack after another.
“In the first 20 minutes, it was a difficult game for us,” Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said. “We had to weather a few storms.”
FSU set up for another corner kick and launched a high arcing shot toward the middle of the box. “You’re basically just clearing the ball when you’re heading it out defensively,” Ratcliffe said. “But then the attacking players are looking to win that ball and counter if you can -- if you have numbers up there.”
Freshman Chioma Ubogagu saw her teammate head the ball out and it floated toward the middle of the field. Ubogagu took off, because she knew: “We talked about it in the scouting report, how they send a little too many players on corners.”
Ubogagu got the ball and was gone on an 80-yard breakaway. “Great awareness,” Ratcliffe said. “I mean she just accelerated with the ball.”
Streaking up the field, Ubogagu saw teammate Teresa Noyola on her right. FSU midfielder Kristin Grubka was the only defender in front Ubogagu. “I tried to stay composed -- I knew it was a [two-versus-one],” she said. “I think a lot of it is you have a lot more time than you think and you just try to be calm about the situation.”
Ubogagu passed it Noyola, who took a couple of dribbles and passed it back to Ubogagu in the middle of field, Grubka still in front if her. She faked right, stuttered and then bolted left. Grubka fell for the move. “It’s a move I use a little bit,” Ubogagu said. “I guess I’ve had that move, I don’t think I just pulled it off for the first time.”
She still had FSU’s stellar goalie, Kelsey Wys, to beat. Ubogagu didn’t hesitate and blasted it between her legs, five-hole as they say in hockey.
Did she do that on purpose? “Yes. Paul [Ratcliffe] actually taught us that during practice. We watched English Premiere League on TV. It’s not on accident, it’s on purpose, they look for that. I actually saw Kelsey open up her legs a little bit.”
Less than three minutes later, Ubogagu streaked down the left side and fed a perfect cross to Kristy Zurmuhlen, who slid feet first in front of a closing defender and knocked inside the near post.
Just like that, it was over.
Stanford (24-0-1) has not lost a game in more than five years -- 145 games -- when it has held the lead. The Cardinal added a second-half goal to make the final score 3-0 and advance to its third consecutive College Cup final on Sunday against Duke, which defeated Wake Forest 4-1 on Friday night.
Stanford has yet to win a national championship in women’s soccer but it will get another chance Sunday thanks in large part to Ubogagu.
“She is really a special player,” Ratcliffe said. “She is a big time player. It seems like in the big game she steps forward. Tonight you saw it again in the first two goals, when she scored one and created the other one.”
Even though it’s her first year on the team, Ubogagu knows first-hand how Stanford has come so close the past two years: She was in the stands for those games, watching as a fan, surrounded by club and high school teammates.
Last year, Ubogagu and her teammates were given the option of going to a movie or watching the College Cup final (Notre Dame beat Stanford 1-0). “There was no debate, I went to the game,” she said.
Friday, she was on the field. “It was a big stage, it was my first College Cup because I’m a freshman,” Ubogagu said. “I just felt really comfortable, I wasn’t nervous going into the game.”
Ratcliffe wasn’t concerned how his freshman would handle the atmosphere. “Honestly, I wasn’t surprised because I know how special Chioma is as a player,” he said. “She a very mature kid. I would never think she was a freshman.
“Usually freshman are a little bit -- you know, they don’t want to talk to the coach too much, they’re all nervous. She’ll come sit down and talk to me like an adult. And she showed her character on the field [Friday] with how she performed in a big, big game.”