Nov. 4, 2009

Stars Shine As Pac-10 Powers Collide

By Jim McCurdy
Special to

COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Stanford's dream season lives to see another day. The most important day, in fact.

Stanford maintained a perfect season by beating Pac-10 rival UCLA 2-1 in overtime Friday at the Women's Soccer College Cup semifinals at Texas A&M's Aggie Stadium in 37-degree weather.

"We have to stay humble and realize the job's not done," Cardinal coach Paul Ratcliffe said after his No. 1-ranked team had moved to 25-0.

Stanford will play for its first championship at noon Sunday.

Christen Press scored the game-winner at 93:25 on an unassisted blast just when overtime started to develop the quick pace of the second half.

"It was just a great relief," said Press, who also assisted on the game's first goal. "I was just so happy to see my teammates out there."

Stanford's Kelley O'Hara, the nation's leading scorer, broke a scoreless draw when she fielded a pass, turned and rifled a shot under the crossbar from about 22 yards out. Her 26th goal of the year came from just outside the top of the box. O'Hara, who leads the nation with 65 points, ranks second in Cardinal history with 146 points.

"I hadn't taken that many shots," O'Hara said. "They were kind of dropping off. I was just able to turn, and I got a good shot off. Right when it left my foot when I made contact, it felt right."

It was true, all right.

UCLA's Lauren Cheney, another one of the most dynamic scorers in the country, tied the match 1-1 in the 76th minute when she turned and ripped a shot just out of the reach of Stanford keeper Kira Maker's hands. It was Cheney's 18th goal of the season and 71st in her four-year career, which tied Traci Arkenburg's school record set in 1997. Kylie Wright and Lauren Wilmoth had assists on the play.

"Kylie played me the ball. I spun the girl, and I just took a look and had a shot," an emotional Cheney said.

With just over three minutes remaining in regulation, Bruins sophomore forward Sydney Leroux beat a defender to the ball in the box and had just enough of an angle to unleash a shot, but it sailed high.

It marked UCLA's seventh straight trip to the Cup. The Bruins finished 21-3-1.

"The journey's been super fun with this team," Bruins defender Lauren Barnes said. "It was a great season we put together. We're going to learn from it."

Stanford authored the more prevalent attack in the early stages as the Cardinal built a 5-1 shots advantage in a scoreless first half. UCLA closed the half with a steady diet of chances to even the shots at seven apiece by the intermission.

"I thought my team left it all on the field," UCLA coach Jillian Ellis said. "I thought we played with great heart, with great passion. I told my team to step off the field with their heads held high. We don't come away with the hardware, but certainly the level of consistency and the level of play ... it was incredible."

For Stanford, it has been downright dynamite.  

"I think there was a lot at stake," Ratcliffe said. "Both teams really wanted this game. It was just getting more and more intense as time wore on."

Imagine what Sunday will offer.