LOS ANGELES -- For a team that only lost once all season and outscored their opponents 440 to 90, Stanford has had its share of adversity.
But overcoming challenges has become a point of pride for the team and they did it again Sunday, winning the NCAA championship by defeating No. 2 UCLA 9-5.The No. 1 ranked Cardinal (34-1) were down 5-3 at halftime, but scored six goals in the second half, including three goals in 1:23.
“The story with this team is they have been unified all season,” coach John Tanner said. “We’ve been down a lot in games and the faith they have in one another and that is really unusual and inspiring.”
It was the team’s fourth championship and third in four years. The team is the only one that has made the NCAA’s every year since 2001.
Ironically the only team to beat them was UCLA Feb. 23 and it was that loss that was the turning point of the season.
“I really have to thank them,” Tanner said. “I think that really pulled us even closer as a team.”
The members had a meeting and everyone talked about how the loss affected them.
“I don’t think there was one thing we pointed to,” Senior Annika Dries said, who scored three goals in the championship game. “We heard from everyone from player 1 to 21.”
Coach John Tanner talked about the team’s transformation after that loss.
“They are reminded why they are doing this,” Tanner said. “I think they had that as a reminder, but I think the affinity they have for one another pushed them far more. They fight to take blame in our video session. I haven’t ever been around like that.”
It would have been easy for Stanford to fall apart in the championship game. UCLA scored two of the first three goals and had a 5-3 lead at halftime.
Coincidentally, it was the same lead the Bruins had at the half of the MSPF championship game and Stanford came back and won 6-5.
“Coach asked us last night 'What’s going to happen if we are down three?' and we knew we were to going to come back,” Senior Kaley Dodson said, who along with Ashley Grossman scored two goals. “So when it happened we knew we were going to do it. We knew we had the bench and the speed to win this.”
They tied the game up at five after three periods and then rattled off four goals in the final period.
It was a much different game than last year’s championship where they lost a heartbreaker to Southern California in overtime. Dries remembered that loss all summer and used it as motivation.
“It stuck with me, for sure,” Dries said. “It wasn’t something that I wanted to bring that to the team, but personally it was in the back of my mind.”
Dries also remembered something Goalie Gabby Stone said going into the championship game.
“She said players make plays,” Dries said. “She’s been such a rock for this team. As a goalkeeper getting those goals scored on you can be a big blow, but she stuck with it. She has been so resilient the entire year.”
It was not a surprise to see his team come back so strongly in the second half.
“When things are going badly that’s when they are at their best,” Tanner said. “It’s what we show when our backs are against the wall.”