Record-breaking Press Leads Top-ranked Cardinal
By Alyssa Green
Not only has the No. 1 ranking by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) put the spotlight on the Stanford Cardinal, but so have the feet of Christen Press, the most prolific scorer in the country.
After going unbeaten in its non-conference schedule and extending its home winning streak to 27 games, the top-ranked Stanford women's soccer team will open the Pac-10 schedule on the road against rivals USC and UCLA, Friday and Sunday respectfully. Press, from Palos Verdes Estates, Calif., looks to continue her already-impressive season.
Press leads the nation in scoring with 32 points, including 14 goals and four assists this season. She has already shattered the school record for most career points with 153, topping Sarah Rafanelli's previous mark. Records are nice, but helping her team win games is what motivates the senior forward.
"My parents have both had a big influence on my soccer career," Press said. "Aside from giving me a decent gene pool, the most important thing they have taught me is to go for my goals and never be satisfied with myself. It's something both my parents harp on; never rest on your laurels, never read into your own heights because it's never enough. I could break every record this year and score a ton of goals but it won't matter unless we win a national championship and there is no time to stop."
Scoring has come naturally to Press, but she attributes much of that success to being part of a great program at Stanford that focuses on attacking. The numerous hours spent in front of the goal during the last 10 years certainly have helped make her a weapon on the field.
"She is an incredible goal scorer. I think she is one of the best players in college soccer right now," said head coach Paul Ratcliffe. "Christen is critical in so many ways. She is an amazing leader, she is one of the captains this year, she is a goal scorer and just a hard worker. She has been incredible the whole year."
Becoming such a prolific scorer came with hard work and confidence in her game. Press is comfortable with the type of player that she is and embraces the idea that you have to take shots to make them.
"If you have noticed, I have probably the most shots taken at Stanford," she said. "That is how I play, I take a lot of shots. Since the team is so strong, we always keep the mindset that it is going to go in and that you just have to stay confident. Eventually, it will come."
The biggest change Press has had to make to her game is to be tuned in for the full 90 minutes of each game. Changing her mentality has lifted her game.
"When I was younger, I used to be the type of player that I only played my best during big games," Press recalled. "It was hard for me to concentrate and really focus when I knew we were going to win. Then coming to Stanford, when I was on a team that wins a lot of games and we dominate a lot of teams that we play, I had to become engaged in every game. I had to come out with the mentality that every game is a big game because that is how it is in college."
She and her teammates will get a pair of big games this weekend in Los Angeles.
"Both games will be very difficult tests for us," Ratcliffe said. "It is always difficult playing away from home. USC and UCLA both have amazing programs so they will both be difficult games."
Press recognizes the tough road ahead this weekend and in the conference season ahead.
"I would say the UCLA game every year has been like a championship game for the Pac-10," Press said. "Conference is always harder than preseason play and you always get to a point in the season where everyone is a little tired and it's hard to just come out with consistent victories, which is what you need to win the Pac-10. It is a highly competitive conference. There won't be any easy games."
Winning the Pac-10 is one goal, but Stanford is also focusing on grabbing the national championship after coming up short in previous years.
"Our goal this year is to win a national championship. It was [the same] last year and the year before that, and we were unsuccessful," Press said. "It would mean the world to me and my teammates to be able to do that and we will be unsatisfied with any other result this season. Being in the finals last year and losing was heartbreaking. Everyone is saying this is our year and we need to make that thought become a reality."
After rising to No. 1, Stanford is determined to stay there. The prolific feet of Christen Press certainly give them a great shot.