KENNESAW, Ga. — After all the wins, after all the consecutive undefeated regular seasons, Stanford finally got the one victory that had eluded it for three years: a win in the national championship game.
Capping one of the best three-year runs in women’s soccer history, Stanford defeated Duke 1-0 on Sunday before 9,241 for its first national championship in Division I women’s soccer. It capped an undefeated season for Stanford (25-0-1), which had made it to the two previous College Cup finals and lost.
As the celebration ended on the field, Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe gathered his team for one final time. The previous two years, he had watched as the other team celebrated. The team circled around the Ratcliffe and the national championship trophy.
Stanford had won 101 national championships in its history, but never one in women’s soccer. “Stanford has a tradition of excellence in athletics and academics,” Ratcliffe said. “We want to keep that going on the soccer stage.”
That’s what Ratcliffe told his players to remember about Sunday. “I told them they are going to go down in history as the first team to ever win a national championship for women’s soccer at Stanford.”
The players broke into the loudest cheer of their prolonged on-field celebration. It was a celebration that had been a long time coming.
For three years Stanford had been nearly unbeatable. Three years they never lost a regular season game. The four seniors — Camille Levin, Teresa Noyola, Lindsay Taylor and Kristy Zurmuhlen — never lost a home game and advanced to the College Cup four times.
After losing in the semifinal game three years ago, they lost tough 1-0 games in the national finals each of the past two years.
So it was only fitting that two of the seniors, Levin and Noyola, would combine for Stanford’s only goal in a national championship game — and the game winner.
The goal epitomized Stanford’s perseverance: Levin got the ball on the right side of the box, saw Noyola breaking toward the back post and tried to cross the ball. The attempt was blocked, Levin fell to the ground and the ball trickled toward the end line. Levin got up, scrambled to the ball and delivered a perfect cross to Noyola, who was alone for an easy header into the back of the net.
The goal was a bad omen for Duke. Stanford has not lost in more than five years when they score a goal, posting a record of 123-0-5 that dates to 2006. They also have not given up a lead in 147 games.
A team that had to deal with the bitter disappointment of coming so close twice was not about to relinquish the lead. And those disappointments made Sunday’s victory that much better, Noyola said.
“To get over those two heartbreaks and keep our nose to the grindstone and be able to come back — that is something special,” Noyola said.
Ratcliffe understood what his seniors had gone through. During that postgame celebration, he sought out Levin, the team’s sparkplug who was relentless in her play during the College Cup. “I had a private word with her and I said it seems that much sweeter to finally do it in her senior year because we really had to earn this.” he said.
“This win caps off four tremendous years at Stanford. They showed such great character to have all those setbacks and then come back and fight through and finally achieve our ultimate goal of winning a national championship.”
The Stanford players were in no hurry to leave the field. They jumped into the stands to hug family and friends. They dove into the pile of confetti that had showered them and made confetti angels. They posed with the national championship trophy.
Ratcliffe, joined by his wife and two young daughters, watched it all. “Now the pressure is on,” he said later. “We have to keep this rolling.”
|2011||Stanford (25-0-1)||1-0||Duke||Kennesaw, Ga.|
|2010||Notre Dame (21-2-2)||1-0||Stanford||Cary, N.C.|
|2009||North Carolina (23-3-1)||1-0||Stanford||Texas A&M|
|2008||North Carolina (25-1-2)||2-1||Notre Dame||Cary, N.C.|
|2007||Southern California (20-3-2)||2-0||Florida State||Texas A&M|