STANFORD, Calif. – They may have been the easiest goals Lo’eau LaBonta ever scored. And the biggest.
Sparked by the first multi-goal game of LaBonta’s collegiate career, Stanford rallied past UCLA 2-1 in an NCAA women’s soccer quarterfinal Friday night and advance to its fifth consecutive NCAA College Cup.
Consider that every player on the team has never known a season without reaching the College Cup. The standards indeed are high.
Stanford’s 10-player senior class never lost at home, going a 52-0-1 at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium, which was sold out Friday, with 1,961 in attendance.
“I didn’t want to jinx it, so I’ve never spoken about it,” Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said. “They’ve never felt the feeling of losing here at home, which is truly incredible.”
In all, the Cardinal extended its home unbeaten streak to 67, completing its fifth consecutive unbeaten home schedule.
To reach its fourth consecutive NCAA final, the top-ranked Cardinal (21-1-1) will have to go through North Carolina (13-5-3), a team it’s never beaten. In 2009, Stanford lost 1-0 in the NCAA final in College Station, Texas. In all, Stanford is 0-8-3 against the Tar Heels. In their most recent meeting, on Aug. 27 in Chapel Hill, they tied 2-2.
LaBonta scored both Stanford goals after corner kicks by Courtney Verloo. LaBonta tied the match in the 55th minute when a shot by Sydney Payne to the far post was redirected by LaBonta from point-blank range.
In the 69th minute, she scored the winner when a shot by Alex Doll was blocked into LaBonta’s path. Her first-touch shot from five yards scored easily in the 69th minute. The goals were her fourth and fifth of the season.
UCLA (18-3-2) opened the scoring on a 25-yard shot by Samantha Mewis in the eighth minute, and outshot Stanford 13-12. But Stanford ultimately earned its seventh consecutive victory in the series and third in four years for the Bruins in the NCAA tournament by settling down in the second half and playing a more patient, possession game.
It was similar to Stanford’s 2-1 victory at UCLA on Oct. 28, when the Cardinal also scored two second-half goals to come from behind.
“We really are a second-half team,” LaBonta said.
Indeed, Stanford has outscored opponents 36-7 in second halves this season and improved to 12-1 in one-goal results. This also marked the eighth time this season that Stanford has scored a second-half winner.
“This team has so much energy and everyone just wants to win,” LaBonta said. “We’re all fighters. Nobody stopped fighting.”
That seemed evident before Stanford extended its season winning streak to 19, and its NCAA tournament win streak to 10.
It was “a heavyweight battle,” UCLA coach B.J. Snow said.
Zakiya Bywaters, the Bruins’ Pac-12 Player of the Year and the conference’s leading goal-scorer with 15, came up empty against Stanford, and especially outside back Rachel Quon, who urged her team on from her outside back position and then moved into the attack after the UCLA goal to help create some kind of spark.
“I think we knew we needed to step up and be leaders on the team,” Quon said of the seniors. “We knew we had everyone behind us.”
UCLA regained control late in the match, but the Cardinal stifled a series of Bruin attacks to run out the clock and punch its ticket for San Diego.
“It was an entertaining game for the fans, and it was a great spectacle for the sport, because there was some real quality soccer played both ways,” Snow said. “But it hurts. It hurts a lot.”
Stanford has certainly endured such pain in its recent past, falling short in College Cups from 2008-10, before breaking through last season. Now, the Cardinal gets a fifth consecutive chance in college soccer’s final four.
“It shows great consistency, which is the thing I’m most proud of,” Ratcliffe said. “We’re hoping we can come back with another national championship.”