JJ Koval and Zach Batteer rose to new heights, Jordan Morris exploded onto the scene and Drew Hutchins was a rock in goal. They are just a few of the reasons the Stanford men's soccer team earned its first trip into the NCAA tournament in four years.
The Cardinal (9-6-3) hosts a first-round match against West Coast Conference champion Loyola Marymount (13-4-2) on Thursday at 7 p.m.
Lions' goalkeeper Paul Blanchette will enjoy a homecoming as the Gunn grad returns to the Palo Alto area for the game. He set LMU's single-season record with seven shutouts and was an all-WCC freshmen pick last year. Jackson Criswell, who played at Carlmont High, is also on the Luions' roster.
The 2009 version reached the Sweet Sixteen before losing to eventual national runner-up Akron. In 2002, the Cardinal reached the championship match before losing to UCLA.
This season, after playing one of the toughest schedules in the nation, the Cardinal appear ready to take on whatever comes its way.
"What's really great is that we are truly battle tested," said Stanford coach Jeremy Gunn, who is attempting to reach his second national title match after leading Charlotte into the 2010 championship game. "These players have been in many close competitions."
Among those contests includes nine matches against teams seeded 10th or better. Top seed UCLA, No. 2 Washington and No. 4 California all represent the Pac-12 along with unseeded Stanford.
The Cardinal was outscored, 10-4, in the six games against conference opponents,. The Bruins beat Stanford by a single goal each time, while Stanford split two games with California. The Huskies won by two goals each time.
Stanford also owns a win over 10th-seeded UC Santa Barbara, tied No. 4 seed Maryland and lost to No. 6 seed Georgetown.
"In any sport the headline is the result," Gunn said. "You don't always recognize the small points. We've put ourselves into great positions all season long."
LMU and Stanford share several common opponents, with the Lions going a combined 5-1 against USF, Sacramento State, Santa Clara and UC Santa Barbara. The Gauchos downed LMU, 1-0. Stanford was 4-0 against the four teams.
"Loyola Marymount had a tremendous conference run," Gunn said. "They certainly earned their way into the tournament."
Batteer scored a career- and team-high eight goals, Koval, the team captain, started all 18 matches as the holding midfielder, being the Cardinal's aerial specialist and also scoring two goals with an assist. Morris led all Pac-12 freshmen in assists (seven) and points (19) while tying Washington's Cristian Roldan with six goals.
"He works so hard," Gunn, in his second year at Stanford, said of Batteer. "He has developed so much since I've been here. It's exciting to see him develop. JJ is a general out there and he's unbelievably consistent in everything he does."
Morris' season may have been a surprise to many, but not to the Stanford coaching staff, who viewed the talented freshman as someone who could contribute right away.
"He's a wonderful talent and plays at an electrifying pace," Gunn said. "He has great attacking instincts and he played well from day one. Sometimes the college season can sneak up on a freshman and it's easy to struggle with your confidence. We knew Jordan had a great quality about him and we were always confident he would step right in."
LMU is also back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009, and is 2-5 overall. The Lions are looking for their first postseason win since 2004. Stanford owns a 2-1 record over the Lions, though LMU won the last meeting, early in the 2012 season.
This story contains 660 words.
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