2008 Pac-10 Women's Soccer Preview: Stanford

Aug. 15, 2008

Courtesy: Julie Ryder, Stanford Media Relations

In 2006, the Stanford women's soccer team completed its best season since 2002, going 15-6-2 (.696) and making its first trip to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen since the '02 season. In 2007, Stanford further improved, notching a 15-3-5 record (.761), and reaching the Sweet Sixteen for the second year in a row (the 17th overall appearance in the NCAA Tournament). The Cardinal held a top-five national ranking for the majority of the year, including a run in which it was the top-ranked program for a total of three weeks in the fall.

In 2008, the expectations for Stanford soccer will be even higher.Although the Cardinal will be without the services of graduated players Rachel Buehler, Shari Summers, Lizzy George, April Wall, Erica Holland, and Mimi Yuhas, Stanford will welcome back six All-Pac-10 players, two All-Americans, the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, and several athletes from injury. Also, the Cardinal has again brought in one of the top-10 ranked recruiting classes in the nation, of which several will contribute on the field immediately.

Head coach Paul Ratcliffe, who enters his sixth season at the helm of the Cardinal, is confident in this year's squad's ability to continue the strong tradition of excellence on The Farm.

'I have high expectations for a successful season,' said Ratcliffe. 'We hope to build on last year's achievements, capture the Pac-10 title, and hopefully go deeper into the playoffs, namely to the national championship match at the College Cup.''The keys to doing well this season will lie within staying healthy, working hard and building upon each practice and game, and playing to and above our potential,' added Ratcliffe.

Once again, Ratcliffe has challenged his team with one of the toughest schedules in the nation, highlighted by the Stanford/Nike Classic in September that features traditional women's soccer powerhouses, Santa Clara and North Carolina, along with North Carolina-Greensboro. The Cardinal will face 10 teams that competed in the 2007 NCAA Tournament, and seven teams that finished the season ranked in the NSCAA top 25. Three teams on the Stanford agenda are fellow Sweet Sixteen participants, and two are coming off appearances in the 2007 College Cup.

The Cardinal kicks off 2008 action with a home opener on Sunday, Aug. 24 against Pacific. Stanford will remain at home for one more weekend, taking on two East Coast schools, Navy on Friday, Aug. 29, and Boston College on Sunday, Aug. 31.The squad will then take to the air for a cross-country trip to Athens, Ga. for a tournament at the University of Georgia Sept. 5 - 7, where Stanford is slated to face Auburn on Friday and Georgia on Sunday.

The Cardinal will then return to The Farm for the Stanford/Nike Invitational Sept. 12 - 14, which should prove to be a spectacular event. Stanford will host North Carolina in the second game of a doubleheader (the first being Santa Clara-UNC-Greensboro) Friday evening, and will face UNC-Greensboro in the second game of Sunday's doubleheader.

The Cardinal will remain in the Bay Area Sept. 19 - 21, but will travel down El Camino Real to take part in the Santa Clara/adidas Classic. Stanford will play Yale in the first game of Friday night's doubleheader, and will take on Cal Poly in Sunday's opener.

The Cardinal will then play a set of single-game weekends in which they will face two West Coast Conference squads. Saint Mary's comes across San Francisco Bay to Cagan Stadium Friday, Sept. 26 and local rival Santa Clara will host Stanford Friday, Oct. 3 in the Cardinal's final non-conference game of the season.

Stanford begins the Pac-10 season with a pair of games against the Oregon schools at home the weekend of Oct. 10 - 12, taking on Oregon Friday. Last season, the Pac-10 produced the national champions, USC, and another College Cup participant, UCLA. The Cardinal will be looking to improve upon their third-place finish in 2007, and in the Pac-10 coaches' poll were selected as the favorites to win the conference title in 2008.

Following the Oregon games, Stanford will then travel to the Northwest, taking on the Washington and Washington State on Oct. 17 and 19.

The Cardinal will complete their regular-season home schedule against Arizona (Friday) and Arizona State (Sunday), the weekend of Oct. 24 -26, before taking one last trip south to face UCLA (Oct. 31) and USC (Nov. 2).

Stanford will close out the regular season on the road against California on Saturday, Nov. 8.

Here's a look at the 2008 Stanford Cardinal by position:

Stanford returns two talented goalkeepers, sophomore Kira Maker and senior Alex Gamble, who will battle for the starting job. Both goalkeepers bring winning experience to the box, as Maker split time with Holland in 2007, while Gamble was instrumental in the Cardinal's stellar 2006 outing.

Maker, who started all 10 of her appearances as a freshman in 2007, recorded 850 minutes in goal and allowed only eight goals, earning a 0.85 goals-against-average. She gathered five wins and two shutouts, while saving 28 shots and posting a .778 save percentage.

Gamble saw action in just two games in 2007, playing the second half of a 4-1 victory over Saint Mary's and coming in for the shootout against California in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, making two saves to boost the Cardinal into the third round. In 2006, Gamble played in and started 14 games, posting five shutouts and a 0.86 GAA. She currently sits seventh on Stanford's career shutout list with 12.

Stanford's back line is known as one of the stingiest in the country, having proven it by posting their seventh consecutive season with a GAA below one goal per game in 2007. The Cardinal loses one starter, All-American and U.S. Olympian Rachel Buehler, and one reserve, April Wall from the 2007 roster.

The back line will see a variety of players visit each of the four positions, as Buehler's exit from the center will leave some big shoes to fill. Look for senior All-Pac-10 honorable mention and co-captain Allison Falk, sophomores Allison McCann, a freshman All-American last season, and Alicia Jenkins, and freshman Kristy Zurmuhlen to share duties as the two center backs, as Ratcliffe will use preseason training and the opening games to determine the best combination. Falk and Abegg have played and started every single game over the past three years and will bring valuable leadership to the defense. McCann will be a key contributor in the back, and may also see time at midfield.

At outside back Abegg, a U.S. youth national teamer and New Zealand international Ali Riley, fresh off competing at the Olympics, will most likely start the season for the Cardinal. Incoming high school All-American Cami Levin and redshirt sophomore Katie Riley, who is returning from injury, will vie for time on the flanks as well. Ali Riley may very well see time at other positions on the field, being an exceptional utility player.

The Cardinal will tout a highly skillful and creative midfield this season, with a mix of both college-game veterans and internationally-experienced newcomers who will help fill the void left by the graduated Summers. The crew in the center of the field will also be a dangerous one that will be able to create numerous scoring chances for Stanford.

Rookies Shira Averbuch, Lindsey Forte, and highly-decorated, top-ranked recruit Teresa Noyola will join a solid core of senior Kelley Birch, junior Kristin Stannard, and redshirt juniors Lea MacKinnon and Hillary Heath to control the pace of play for Stanford. Stannard returns as the top-scoring midfielder, finishing fifth on the team in goals last season with four tallies and two assists, while Birch added a goal early in the season against Virginia. MacKinnon, who is returning from injury, was second in the Pac-10 with a team-leading seven assists in 2006. Heath, also returning from injury, was third on the team in points scored as a forward, notching three goals and six assists in 2006.

As for the newcomers, Noyola could very well be a starter in her first season. The 2008 Gatorade High School and NSCAA/adidas National Player of the Year has played on numerous U.S. youth national teams and spent the summer training with former international and collegiate stars in order to prepare her for collegiate play. Youth All-American Averbuch, who is known for her spectacular shot amongst her other talents, and Forte also boast successful youth careers that will no doubt give them a head-start advancing into the college game.

Stanford's offense is highlighted by All-American junior Kelley O'Hara, a 2007 MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist. The All-Pac-10 selection and frequent U.S. national team player followed up a stellar 2006 rookie performance to lead the team in goals (9), points (23), game-winning goals (4), and shots (65), and was second on the team in assists (5) in her sophomore effort.

Another top returning striker for the Cardinal is Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and freshmen All-American Christen Press. Press, now a sophomore, led the team in assists (6), and was second in goals (8), points (22), and shots (60) last season.

The top-line is rounded out by returners redshirt junior Austinn Freeman and sophomore Morgan Redman, who added four goals and two assists herself last season. Rookie Katie Finley will also challenge for playing time on one of the nation's most dangerous and dynamic front lines.

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