Stanford Ready for Tar Heels

Dec. 5, 2009


The Stanford women's soccer team conducted its final training session of the season on Sunday afternoon, a session of less than an hour at Aggie Soccer Field, where the Cardinal plays North Carolina on Sunday (10 a.m. PT) for the national championship.


Under sunny skies and without the bitter wind and cold that plagued the semifinals Friday, Stanford did little more than play the college equivalent of sharks and minnows, with defenders trying to reach a ball being passed among a circle of players.

After some shooting practice, coach Paul Ratcliffe addressed the team for a few minutes before practice ended. It was an upbeat session full of levity and laughter.

Since the team arrived in College Station, they've had to answer questions about pressure -- the pressure of the playoffs, being undefeated, of playing North Carolina. To each of those, Stanford has disregarded the idea of added pressure.

'In the playoffs, everybody is undefeated,' senior defender Ali Riley said earlier in the week. 'Nobody wants to lose.'

When asked before the UCLA semifinal whether the Bruins were gunning for Stanford, junior forward Christen Press turned the tables on the questioner.

'We're gunning for them,' she said.

Because Stanford is in its first final and has such a remarkable record (25-0), much of the tone among questions from the press is whether Stanford can handle it.

Again Press found scuttled the thought that the moment is too big for the Cardinal when asked Saturday about playing 19-time champion North Carolina.

'Definitely they are a dynasty and everyone knows it,' Press said. 'For us, it’s just the next team. It's tomorrow. It’s not about the last 20-something years. It's just one game. We're not looking back at our season or their history.'

North Carolina did not practice Saturday, but each team took part in a press conference. Stanford brought Ratcliffe, Press, Riley and senior defender Alicia Jenkins. The following is the transcript from both teams:

Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe

on the evolution of this team since the Notre Dame game last year (a 1-0 loss in the national semifinals) ...
'I think the team has worked very hard. We have a lot of talented players. They deserve to be here, there’s no doubt in my mind. We’ve become more experienced through the years. Hopefully that experience will show tomorrow.'

on North Carolina ...
'Obviously Tobin (Heath) and (Casey) Nogueira are fantastic players, but at the same time, their whole team. They are all very good players. They play a pressure style, so they'll swarm the ball. We just have to break the pressure, play good soccer and keep the ball, and make it our game instead of their style. Hopefully our style will win out in the end. We don’t want to turn it in to just kick the ball long and just get into battles.'

on the new experiences his team has had this year and any confidence coming from that ...
'We haven’t even talked about that or talked in that way. It's been one game at a time for us. Each opportunity we take in stride and want to play our best and put in a good performance. (It's also) just experience. They are just growing in experience and confidence. Each win they get I think they grow in confidence and start to believe more in what they're doing. The belief factor is very important. Last year we came here, and we felt we we performed pretty well but maybe we didn’t believe in ourselves enough to push us over the edge. This year we changed that. This team also has a lot more depth than last year too.'

Senior defender Alicia Jenkins

on losing the lead on Friday for the first time all season ...
'I think we were all ready to go. We were ready to fight back and try to get another goal, in regular time or if need be in overtime. I don’t think anyone lost hope that we’d win, we just knew it would take an extra effort. And that’s what happened.'

on the difference between 2008 and 2009 ...
'Definitely the difference this year has been confidence. We've been down a few times and it hasn’t rattled us. We came back and won those games. It's been different just knowing we can do that.'

on her experience at Stanford ...
'One of the most amazing parts of the last four years is the relationships I've developed and what I've learned from my teammates both on and off the field. Every girl on this team has been incredible. On the field, it has been work ethic and really believing in something and wanting something. There are days where your teammates hold you up and you need your teammates. I definitely realized that over the last four years. I know I’ll have these relationships the rest of my life.'

Junior forward Christen Press

on the motivation taken from last season's semifinal loss ...
'After that last game, as soon as we walked off the field, we wanted to be back here and get another opportunity. That definitely stayed with us. There was definitely a sour taste in my mouth after last season. That motivates me through games. It just takes that last bit of extra effort.'

on playing a program like North Carolina ...
'Definitely they are a dynasty and everyone knows it. For us, it’s just the next team. It's tomorrow. It’s not about the last 20-something years. It's just one game. We're not looking back at our season or their history.'

on her decision to go to Stanford ...
'Stanford as a school is an amazing place to be. It's been a great opportunity. I could give you 100 different reasons. I just sensed as a recruit the close bond as a team, and I thought that was special and I wanted to be a part of it.'

Senior defender Ali Riley

on the challenges of playing a three-forward team ...
'I think most teams we have played have played with three forwards. The difference for them is three defenders and also their midfield. With our amazing forwards their defense will have a tough time staying with them. The whole team has done such a good job of attacking and keeping possession.'

on keeping possession against a high-pressure team like UNC ...
'I think we need to play with one and two touches. If people are pushing us we have to stay composed through the whole game. It will just take that extra effort and focus with a high-pressure team like UNC.'

on the difference between this match and the big international matches in which she has played ...
'It's definitely different. This is such a great experience to be here and it's such an honor. This is my family here. We’ve spent so much time together. Knowing that this is my last collegiate game is a different feeling than playing in a World Cup or in the Olympics. It's so exciting and I think we want this so badly. It's going to be a good game.'

North Carolina head coach Anson Dorrance

'Obviously, we’re incredibly excited to be in the championship game. (Senior) Whitney Engen really said it best when the game ended against Notre Dame. She said, ‘I get to hang out with my friends for another two days.’ And that’s the philosophy we all have. It’s a wonderful group to hang out with and we’re incredibly excited to be playing in the final tomorrow.'

on Stanford’s Kelley O’Hara and Christen Press ...
'Their whole front line is terrifying. You can’t just stop with O’Hara and Press. (Lindsay) Taylor is a big time player. They have extraordinary attacking talent in every position. Even their outside backs, when they go forward, are terrifying to match up with because of their speed and skill. Stanford is an extraordinary team from top to bottom. They have multiple players that can score a lot of goals. They are a matchup nightmare, not just for us. They have proven it all year. I’m sure that it will be the same tomorrow.'

on the difference in Stanford from last year to this year ...
'We played them last year about a quarter of the way in at Stanford. They were a nightmare then and are a lot better now. What they have is more depth. Their quality players are more experienced. They are hungrier. What was interesting, while watching the golden-goal period last night, we could see the huddles of the two teams. Stanford came out of the huddle so quickly. They wanted to get the game going immediately. When a team has that sort of aggression, that shows tremendous confidence. You could tell they were really aggressive coming out. I think that speaks really positively for their mindset.'

on the seniors ...
'They’re a great class. I remember when we were making decisions in recruiting, I was attending the match between our U-17 and U-16 national youth teams in Bradenton. The 17s were the group we were all recruiting. We saw this matchup, and the 16s, even though they lost, dominated the game. We took a calculated risk and wanted to invest in the 16s. It ended up a tremendous risk-reward gamble for us. That group of freshmen, in the second half (of the College Cup) against Notre Dame their freshman year, and we started seven freshman in the second half of the national championship game. This group is very special to us, not just in terms of on-field legacy. They're just great kids. They're great kids in terms of character. They’re scholars. It's incredible what this group has done for us. I’m going to miss them, I just genuinely like them as people. In this age of parity, they’ve been a dominant class. I’m very proud of them.'

on the positives and negatives of not having a loss and playing in the national final ...
'It's actually quite terrifying. There are certain teams you coach that you really want to see them win, for the reason that they're so extraordinary that you don’t want the game to beat them. The trouble with soccer is there are all sorts of different ways to lose. The pressure an undefeated team always has is this desire to cement the legacy. So what you want is for the team to win in the worst way, for that reason. There is an additional pressure on you for that reason. There are one thousand different ways to lose. There are all kinds of elements brought to bear in a match. If you come in undefeated, you just don’t want any bad luck, you don't want the other team to have good luck, you want your team to play to its potential. There are all these elements flying through your head. But then, if that team is successful, the relief is overwhelming.'

North Carolina Senior defender Kristi Eveland

on playing alongside Whitney Engen the last four years ...
'Whit is a very unselfish player. She moved to defense after her sophomore year. She had never played it before. She came in the very first game and was amazing. She kind of went past anyone's expectations and has become an amazing player. She makes it very comfortable to play next to her. She's very good on the ball and talks a lot. She's a very good leader. Being next to her is always comfortable. Having her next to us in the back there is a big part of our success.'

on the pressure of playing for Carolina ...
'I think it is in a way a lot of pressure, knowing the tradition that Carolina has. But I just try not to think of it that way. I think of it as our true motivation is to spend another week with our teammates and for the seniors to have another game in college. There's always going to be pressure and it's always in the back of your mind though.'

on Stanford and their speed ...
'Looking at their record and what they've done this year, you can't deny they are an amazing team. We are not taking them lightly at all. We know they have a lot of weapons all over the field and we have to play well to beat them. But we are excited and are looking forward to the challenge.'

North Carolina junior forward Jessica McDonald

on playing for the championship and the pressures of the history of UNC soccer ...
'It’s (that and) also our team chemistry. We’re pretty much a big family. We all get along, and being part of this tradition, we try not to think about it. But we know we are, and it’s great to be a part of such a great dynasty. We motivate each other on the field.'

on transferring to UNC and her experience ...
'I had somewhat of a clue because I kind of grew up playing with a lot of girls on the team today. Obviously it’s a different level of competition, from where I came from (Phoenix College) to D-1, but I kind of knew what to expect from the start.'

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